Games on the web are nothing new. About as long as the internet has existed, it seems like there have been games in the browser. In years past we’ve relied on browser plug-ins like Java, Shockwave, Flash, Silverlight, or Unity to play these games, but a new era is beginning as we speak. As browsers get faster and more powerful, they are able to handle the more complex capabilities required by games under their own power without the help of any plug-ins whatsoever. This is also great for mobile platforms which may not support plug-ins in any form. We call these games “HTML5 games” or “open web” games and they are coming to a browser near you whether you know it or not.
This past week I was able to attend the New Game conference on developing HTML5 games to see what’s available now and what will be coming soon to browsers everywhere. There were speakers from some of the biggest game developers and publishers like EA (Lord of Ultima) and Zynga (Empires and Allies), talking about their efforts in this new browser gaming space and what’s just over the horizon.
What’s it gonna take?
In order for HTML5 games to really come into their own they can’t just take the place of plug-ins like Flash. Users don’t care what technology the games they play are built on so long as they work. This new generation of games will need to have features that no other browser games have had up to this point. I got to see a few glimpses of these features from groups like Mozilla (makers of Firefox) and Google (makers of Chrome).
First is Chrome’s Web Audio API that will allow amazing audio processing for games. Sound is one of the most important factors in making a game immersive, and this API will advance sound on the web by leaps and bounds. It allows for filters, effects and even 3D audio that will bring players deeper into their play experiences. Next up is Mozilla’s JoystickAPI which is exactly what it sounds like. This API will let you play your favorite web games of the future with an actual gamepad. The keyboard and mouse work well for many types of PC games, but as consoles have proven for decades, sometimes you just want to hold a controller in your hand. With the JoystickAPI (still a work in progress) you’ll be able to use your PS3, 360, or other compatible console controller to play games in your browser. This will be quite a step beyond Farmville or Glitch which mainly use mouse clicks and a few basic keys to control currently. Also coming is a way to natively create 3D generated graphics (think PS2 level) in the browser through many different avenues such as WebGL, Canvas, and even vector SVG. Lastly, the MouseLock API will allow the type of gameplay required for FPS’s and the like so that you don’t start clicking on other windows and tabs while in the heat of battle.
So the biggest question is: when will all of this happen? The answer is right now! … almost. There are plenty of HTML5 games to play right now but the technology behind them is still changing rapidly. Open Web audio capabilities are still not broadly available in browsers and many games still rely on Flash to handle advanced sound effects. The best current method of doing 3D on the web is also very much up in the air. However, many of these features are available in the newest version of all major browsers right now. It’s time to start dreaming up and building the browser games of the future while enjoying the experimental builds of games available today. Game developers and browser manufacturers are working together as fast as ever to make these games a reality. Hopefully 2012 will be the year of the HTML5 game.
Below are some of my favorite places to find open web games, and browser games in general. Check them out and please post any gems you find in the comments below. As an interactive developer and gaming journalist, now is a very exciting time, and I can’t wait to see what comes next in the world of browser games!
Speaking Code – Informational series about game development and the tools behind our favorite games.