December 12, 2013

Monster Madness Offers New Glimpse at Gaming’s Web-based Potential Future

Browser gaming isn't exactly new. There have been browser games around almost as long as there have been Web browsers on which to play said games. But the new breed of browser games is offering up something new and exciting, really; the ability to play it in any browser without the need for an extra plugin. This is the kind of development that's set to turn browser gaming on its ear with a little help from HTML5, a new system that's already changing the way a lot of people think about video games.

Monster Madness currently exists in the pre-alpha state, coded in C++ then brought to the Web via the combination of ASM (News Alert).js, Emscripten, and the Unreal Engine 3 engine, or at least its direct Web port version. That's an interesting combination, and has paid off at last word; Monster Madness is said to run rather nicely at 60 frames per second, a feat that's rather impressive given that ASM.js is still awaiting its first birthday.

Despite its less-than-advanced age, however, ASM.js still seemed to represent exactly what the company behind Monster Madness, Trendy Entertainment, was looking for. The company's chief technical officer, Jeremy Stieglitz, described ASM.js as a way to “future proof” games made. Essentially, as Stieglitz put it, “if it can run ASM.js, it can run the game.”

The rapid development time involved also caught Stieglitz somewhat off guard, noting “graphics, audio and input took only a week,” and getting a basic demo version running took substantially less than that, right around one day. The final version is set to arrive this May, but for those with browsers that can run ASM.js—currently Chrome, Firefox and Opera—a rough preview of the game is currently available for play. This likely wouldn't have proven the case with some of the alternative platforms out there that Trendy Entertainment could have turned to, including a Flash code compiler which was said to be not only having difficulties between browsers, but was also regarded as generally “slow.”

Additionally, the company looked at Google (News Alert) NaCl and PNaCL, but discovered there were issues between different kinds of processors. But after trying ASM.js, and subjecting it to some of the most rigorous testing around—including what Stieglitz describes as the “mom test”, in which he sent a link to the game to his mother, who began playing the game without the need for instructions—it proved to be well worth the effort.

There's still some work to be done, of course, both on the game and on ASM.js as a whole, but what's really becoming clear here is that HTML5 has a lot of opportunity to shake up the gaming market, and is generating a lot of buzz. In fact, the HTML5 event DevCon5 in California took place this very week. When games can be roughly put together in a matter of weeks, and be sufficiently easy to use that the “mom test” can be passed with flying colors, it bodes well for browser gaming development as a whole.  Some users are, at last report, having some trouble getting the game up and running, but others are reporting little in the way of trouble, suggesting that this platform is really only likely to get better as time goes along.

With independent gaming becoming a bigger part of the overall gaming equation, there's certainly more room than ever for browser games to make a mark. This requires better tools to make more games, better and faster than before. ASM.js may not be a silver-bullet solution, but it will certainly go a long way toward making a difference for many producers.

Edited by Alisen Downey


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