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Monster Madness Online: The first Unreal Engine 3 browser game

While some developers believe that HTML5 will provide the future for browser games, Firefox company Mozilla has plans to bridge the gap between existing technologies and the web.
While some developers believe that HTML5 will provide the future for browser games, Firefox company Mozilla has plans to bridge the gap between existing technologies and open web standards -- and they've brought along some notable friends to help them out. The company unveiled asm.js and Emscripten at the start of the year, upcoming technology that Mozilla says can take C++ code and convert it into Javascript, essentially allowing high-end games to run in web browsers far more easily. Unveiled with examples from Valve and Epic's Unreal Engine 3, Mozilla is hoping that this tech will have major implications for browser games, as AAA studios will soon be able to port their big budget titles directly to browser, and get players set-up within a minute of visiting a game's website. Now another studio has jumped onboard with the tech. Trendy Games, the studio behind 2011 hit Dungeon Defenders, today revealed a new game that will make use of asm.js and Emscripten, and run directly in a browser with little fuss. Monster Madness Online is a free-to-play action RPG shooter from new Trendy subsidiary Nom Nom Games, that will not only implement asm.js, but also work cross-platform to allow players to battle alongside each other in the browser and on separate platforms. Jeremy Stieglitz, co-founder at Trendy Entertainment, and director of Nom Nom Games, explained to Gamasutra that the asm.js and Emscripten Mozilla technologies are allowing his company to compile existing C++ applications directly into an optimized form of Javascript, running in a browser at approximately 50 percent the performance of a native application. "We've compiled and deployed our multiplayer Unreal Engine 3 online shooter into a web application with this technology, and have it playing alongside the desktop and mobile versions," Stieglitz tells us. "This tech, when combined with other newish Web APIs such as WebGL, WebAudio, and WebSockets or WebRTC, makes it possible for game developers to now target the browser -- and its potential hundreds of millions of players -- as a fully featured high-end gaming platform without the need for separate plugins or 3rd party software installations." Stieglitz says that every other solution his company has experimented with hasn't be optimal. HTML5 for example is too slow and unwieldy, says the CTO, while FlasCC does not yet have good enough support. Meanwhile NaCl is Chrome-only, and the Unity web plugin requirement adds friction for many web users. The Emscripten tech, on the other hand, requires no plug-ins, and no friction -- it's a case of going to a game website, hitting playing, and you're in. "And because the code is an intermediate processor-abstract language (a Javascript subset), it doesn't have to be tested on different operating systems or CPUs," says Stieglitz. "If the browser supports asm.js (as Chrome and Firefox do, among others), the application will just 'work' regardless of the underlying machine."

What's the catch?

Of course, there are limitations as you'd expect. For one, the tech is currently not fully supported in Internet Explorer, nor is it supported in Safari. Meanwhile, its performance in Chrome is around two-thirds that of Firefox -- though Stieglitz notes that "it is still very good and entirely sufficient in Chrome." And the real kicker is that it's not yet fully supported for mobile, which is going to be a real stumbling block for many developers. Still, even with its Firefox and Chrome compatibility, you're looking at PC user support of around 75 percent. But are people actually going to play AAA games in a browser? Admits Stieglitz, "I'm not sure anyone fully knows the answer to that question yet." "What we do know is that until recently the tech wasn't really practical to provide a seamless AAA experience in-browser (without a custom compiled plugin, such as Unity, which has its own friction impositions to the end-user)," adds the dev. "What I am pretty sure of is that providing high-end content to more people, to reach an expanded audience in addition to traditional gaming platforms, is likely to be a net win for a developer seeking to reach players directly." The bottom line, says Stieglitz, is that technology like Mozilla's is making it possible to develop for a native platform executable and the web simultaneously in C++, and that can never be a bad thing. Monster Madness Online can now be played in a web browser directly on the official website, while the full game is due for release in May 2014.

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