What Are HTML5 Games?

HTML5 Game Definition

HTML5 games are predominantly played in the web browser and are compatible with a wide range of devices, from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets.

HTML5 (as the term is most commonly used) encompases modern web standards (HTML 5 markup, CSS 3 and Javascript) to create complex multimedia applications. Content runs directly in a modern browser without the need for third party plugins (that aren’t available on mobile devices). So it has largely replaced the (soon to be discontinued) Flash player and the (already discontinued) Unity web player, as the preferred technology used to make browser games. It will become the only platform for developing online games by 2020.

Downsides of HTML5 Games

Although it has the advantage of providing the ability to play on mobile devices in the browser, HTML5 has some significant downsides when compared to plugin based technologies.

Most of these issues arise from the fragmented nature of the various browsers used to play. Many of these browser related issues can now be overcome by using tried, tested and actively maintained libraries and engines to make games.

Some of the main issues are:

Outdated Browsers

Computers with an outdated browser installed may not be able to play HTML5 games. A modern compatible browser that supports all the features the game needs has to be installed in order to play.

This can prove especially problematic in situations such as where older PCs are used to play, e.g. in corporate environments where they have outdate operating systems and browser software installed with no way to upgrade.

Browser Updates Can Break Content

Browser vendors are essentially left to their own devices when choosing how to interpret and implement the ever changing standards. This means updates to browser software can have adverse effects on games when running in that particular browser.

This can in some instances mean updates to games are required down the line to fix these issues if/when they arise.

All Assets & Code Are Loose Files

HTML5 games have to load individual assets, much the same as a standard website page would. They are not packaged in a single file. This makes it easy to download loose asset and code files in an easily readable and usable format.

Audio, video and code assets could be stolen and reused without permission. This can be particularly problematic if a game uses licensed assets created by a third party.

There are some ways to minify and obfuscate (to a limited degree) Javascript code (such as Google Closure Compiler, UglifyJS and YUI Compressor). This only provides limited protection for code only though.

HTML5 Game Development

Although it’s possible to make HTML5 games by writing from scratch, existing libraries/engines not only help speed up the HTML5 game development process, but handle cross-browser compatibility for you. This can be done via a collection of individual code libraries to handle individual task, or an all-in-one, game specific engine.

Game Engines, Frameworks & Tools

A plethora of code libraries and game specific frameworks & engines are now available for HTML5 game development. Even commercial 3D game engines, such as Unity and Unreal can now be used to make HTML5 games for use online (although still fairly experimental in most cases, for 3D games and needing a hefty machine to run graphics heavy content).

Some of the currently available options are:

Graphics Libraries

  • PixiJS – Fast, fully featured, WebGL accelerated 2D canvas graphics library.
  • Three.js – One of the few 3D graphics libraries.
  • EaselJS – A graphics library based around the Adobe Flash animation timeline.

Sound Libraries

  • Howler.js – Fully featured Web Audio sound player library, with HTML 5 Audio fallback.

Complete Game Engines & Frameworks

  • Constuct 2 – Self contained game creator software that builds games as HTML5
  • Euge.js – Easy to use and powerful 2D HTML5 game engine. Includes lots of high level game specific features.
  • Phaser – Popular 2D HTML5 game framework.
  • ImpactJS – One of the very first 2D HTML5 game engines.

Building HTML5 Games As Software Applications

Third party tools have enabled HTML5 content to be built as stand-alone offline software applications. This means HTML5 can now be used to make games as Windows PC executables and mobile apps for offline play.

In fact some commercially released computer games have already been developed this way.

Using this method does have the downside of performance not being up to par, when compared with game applications created using other technologies.

Some of the tools that can be used to build HTML5 games as software applications are:

  • NW.js (formerly Node Webkit) – Can target Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.
  • Electron – Another way of building Windows, Mac OSX or Linux applications.
  • Apache Cordova – Build HTML5 games as mobile apps for iOS and Android.