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Firefox Becomes Gaming Platform With Unreal Engine Support

By - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 14 comments
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SAN FRANCISCO — You'll soon be able to stream and play highly realistic three-dimensional video games from within the Mozilla Firefox browser. Mozilla recently announced that the most recent version of its Firefox browser can run games developed with the Unreal Engine by Epic Games, which forms the backbone of many major 3D video games.

You may ask: Why would people want to play streaming games in Firefox, or in any browser? If you want robust computer graphics, there are plenty of games downloadable from the or Steam and Origin platforms, and many more playable on CDs. Firefox will be capable of running games almost as quickly as if the games were running as stand-alone programs, but Firefox is always going to be slightly slower than so-called "native speeds."

MORE: 10 Great Indie Games Coming to Xbox One

We put that question to the Firefox team on the show floor at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The Firefox team's primary answer was: Because of convenience. Not only would you not have to download a game in order to play it, but you could launch a game just by clicking a Web link. This would make it much easier for players to jump into new games and open up new avenues of promotion for game makers.

Firefox's gaming capabilities don't even require a Web browser plugin to function. The gaming functions are written entirely in JavaScript, specifically a type of JavaScript called asm.js, and WebGL, a JavaScript API for creating interactive 2D and 3D graphics in a browser. The games run equally well on a Windows PC or on a Mac, and, presumably, on Linux boxes as well.

Console-quality graphics in the Firefox browser.

The lack of plugins isn't merely convenient. Web plugins often create new avenues for cyberattackers, so removing plugins from the equation increases the security of the browsing experience. Because mobile browsers don't support plugins, using asm.js also makes it easier to share games on mobile devices.

The ability to run the Unreal Engine, even the new Unreal Engine 4, without plugins isn't just limited to the Firefox browser. Google's Chrome browser can run it as well, and Mozilla says just about any modern browser should be able to as well. However, the most recent version of Firefox is optimized to run games using asm.js and WebGL best.

"We are proponents of the Web," said Martin Best, Mozilla's Game Platform Strategist. "And anything that makes the web successful is good for us."

Currently, the only game playable using asm.js and WebGL is "Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia," developed in Unreal Engine 3 by developers Artificial Studios and Immersion Games.

At GDC, we also saw a demo of the Unreal Engine 4 in Firefox, and a preview of "Dead Trigger 2," currently out on iOS, Android and Facebook, which runs on the Unity engine, a different game-development engine. 

Currently, Unity games are only playable on browsers with an additional plugin, but when Unity 5.0 comes out later this year, it will come with a WebGL add-on that should make it playable without a plugin in Firefox or any other modern browser.

As a gaming platform, Firefox works differently than Chrome, which has offered games such as "Bastion" and "Angry Birds" through its Chrome Web Store for a few years now. Instead of offering games from a central location such as a store or even limited to a single browser, Mozilla's WebGL and asm.js development lets developers host games on their own sites, accessible via any browser.

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  • 1 Hide
    j5689 , March 24, 2014 9:36 AM
    Maybe EA could do this with the Frostbite engine as well and then it wouldn't feel so disjointed to have to launch games through a browser
  • 1 Hide
    DroKing , March 24, 2014 10:42 AM
    Looks cool but is using "console quality" really necessary? why cant it be "PC" or the dreaded "triple A quality". however I am pumped for this support. it better bring us some good games. Im not a big fan of unity engine myself.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2014 10:46 AM
    "Slightly less" than native speed? Wasn't it like 35% less than native? Not really "slightly".
  • Display all 14 comments.
  • -2 Hide
    bloodroses75 , March 24, 2014 11:01 AM
    Even without the hit, what happens to users that try to use their Dell or Best Buy special computer on one of these games? Especially with how high the system requirements are for the Unreal Engine 4 in native mode: (quad core, 8gig ram, GeForce 470gtx or AMD 6870 source: The average user thinks that if it's on the web, their computer can handle it, which won't happen here. Very cool that it is possible at least.
  • 0 Hide
    JD88 , March 24, 2014 11:18 AM
    Like all cloud computing innovations, the big thing about this is that it is platform agnostic. No matter what device a user is on, they can play these games. That means a lot more freedom from something like a Microsoft monopoly that puts a tight stranglehold on innovation.
  • 0 Hide
    JQB45 , March 24, 2014 11:45 AM
    At first I was skeptical, but after reading the story and comments I'll have to give it a try when it becomes available. And then of course test it again, later once its had a few rounds of improvement.
  • 1 Hide
    Spac3nerd , March 24, 2014 11:56 AM
    We've had reliable in-browser 3d for three years with WebGL. It really isn't ground-breaking news. What would be great news is to hear that IE finally has full support for WebGL, so that we can make useful applications and libraries for everyone. .
  • 1 Hide
    hoofhearted , March 24, 2014 12:09 PM
    I'a apprehensive of this "convenience". I am afraid of with this "convenience" will come a market like the Android or iPhone portable market. No real AAA games, just a crapload of freemium and microtransaction junk.
  • 0 Hide
    funguseater , March 24, 2014 12:32 PM
    Java is garbage, no sorry most people code Java as garbage so not a real surprize at the %35 overhead. This looks like it will just open more people up to Java infections from malware infested game streaming sites, just like the sneaky movie/TV Flash streamers. (Noone ever updates their Java its going to be horrible) I do look forward to more virus removal business, thanks firefox.
  • 0 Hide
    Spac3nerd , March 24, 2014 12:37 PM
    "Slightly less" than native speed? Wasn't it like 35% less than native? Not really "slightly".
    If browser performance is within an order of magnitude of the 'native' version's performance, the degradation is not important considering the type of applications that will likely be developed with it in the near future.
  • 0 Hide
    saymi , March 24, 2014 12:45 PM
    I was able to play the game on fedora 20. There was not any challenge. I did not measure performance. I believe this has lots of potential. I am looking forward to see noticable titles (I prefer RTS titles)
  • 0 Hide
    ferooxidan , March 24, 2014 3:14 PM
    around 2009 there is this amazing browser games from Instant Action. Now they went bankrupt because that was the time when pc game goes booming and nobody pay attention to browser based games. If only they'll come back....
  • 0 Hide
    sonofliberty08 , March 24, 2014 4:42 PM
    so is it possible to game on linux now with firefox ?
  • 0 Hide
    caspy7 , March 27, 2014 8:12 AM
    We've had reliable in-browser 3d for three years with WebGL. It really isn't ground-breaking news. What would be great news is to hear that IE finally has full support for WebGL, so that we can make useful applications and libraries for everyone. .
    These games would not be possible without the near-native speed of Javascript enabled by asm.js. Also the folks who make Unity and Unreal didn't (and probably would not) have to build their own game engine in Javascript, but simply converted it to asm.js from C++.
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