Interview

Not all HTML5 devices are created equal, warns Toy Studio's Evan Gilbert

Not all HTML5 devices are created equal, warns Toy Studio's Evan Gilbert
If a recent study by Spaceport is to be believed, HTML5 runs – at best – six to ten times slower on a smartphone than it does on a laptop.

Such results caused Spaceport to conclude that complex games could be a leap too far even for high-end handsets.

 

It's somewhat troubling assessment, given the enthusiasm developers looking for a cross-platform solution have shown for HTML5 to this point. Not that Chicago-based HTML5 developer Toy Studio seems particularly worried, however.

In the studio's view, bigger and flashier doesn't always mean better - a comparatively simple HTML5 game can be just as absorbing as a big budget blockbuster.

We caught up with programmer Evan Gilbert for his take on the tech - including its challenges and limitations - and to find what out how he thinks developers the world over should approach the forthcoming HTML5 revolution.

Pocket Gamer: What are the advantages of writing games for HTML5?

Evan Gilbert: The biggest strength is you instantly have a cross-platform game that you can bring to a lot of different marketplaces.

Tablets, smartphones, computers and consoles are all extremely social devices, but there used to be these 'walls' preventing players from interacting with each other since there wasn’t a common language they could all speak.

Since HTML5 is - in the very simplest terms - an 'interactive website', it breaks down those walls and lets players play no matter what device they are using.

It also means your games can be persistent across all those platforms. With our first HTML5 turn-based game, Word Off!, we have players start a game on their laptop, continue playing on their iPhone, and then finish their game from an Android Tablet. They never have to skip a beat or juggle multiple accounts.

We didn't have to reinvent any wheels or systems through porting - HTML5 made this possible from the beginning.

Some suggest HTML5 on smartphones often runs much slower than it does on laptops. Does developing in HTML5 limit what you can practically achieve on mobile?

If you are looking to create a 3D MMO world full of detail and characters, then, yes, you are going to notice a big difference between platforms. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a fun game right now.

When we started development on Word Off!, we had the idea for the game well before developing it in HTML5. We then asked, how can we make this game a reality using, and improving upon, HTML5 development practices?

We invested a significant amount of time into our HTML5 technology and all our future games will be based on it. The flexibility it offers and cross-platform benefits have been incredibly powerful tools for us to use.

What are the main challenges when working with HTML5?

It is important to note all HTML5 ready devices aren't created equal.

Overcoming device specific challenges and knowing when to just let them go below the minimum supported line is a tough choice to make, but necessary. With our tech, we are able to get games playable on the vast majority of smartphone devices out there while continuing to improve performance.

A specific challenge is achieving maximum performance with JavaScript. Modern browsers can get you great performance, if you know where JavaScript can slow things down and fix it. We’ve learned where JavaScript causes problems and found ways to optimise for the devices we bring our games on.

Lastly, the challenges with HTML5 are similar to any other platform to develop with. You will always have big lofty ideas about what you want your game to end up like and will always have to make compromises. That's just games development.

How do you see HTML5 landscape changing over the next few years?

The best part of any technology is that it keeps improving. HTML5 isn’t any different.

Smartphones are improving, our own HTML5 technology is improving, and HTML5 standards are being adopted faster.

Ideally, we’d like to see the HTML5 landscape change so that more people are using it to program games. In fact, we believe in HTML5 so much that we offer our slice of HTML5 development open source to get other developers started with it.

It’s what we built Word Off! on and all our future HTML5 games will be based off it too.


Thanks to Evan for his time, and thanks to Toy Studio's Billy Hand and Colin Godsey for their contributions to the discussion too.You can find out more about Word Off! on the game's website. More details on the studio's HTML5 work can also be found on the Toy Studio website.
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PocketGamer.biz's news editor 2012-2013

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