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Dec 14 12

The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 3: Beyond Games

by Rita Turkowski

Beyond games,WebGL has broad applicability in the education, scientific and simulation space as well. In my opinion, the best compendium for WebGL experiments can be found on the Google Chrome site, with my favorite being the 3D aquarium: this one rivals similar ones I’ve seen built in the Unity engine. But I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention how gorgeous Alexsandar Rodic’s jelly fish experiment is which I first encountered back in spring or summer of 2010 at a WebGL MeetUp in SF. There are likely many strong use cases for WebGL outside of gaming.

To categorize just a few, here are just a few cool non-game related applications WebGL is being applied to:

WebGL Aquarium for the Chrome WebGL experiments page

Earth and Space

CAD Display and CAD Tools

More can be found on Pearltrees – CAD in the browser with WebGL 

CAD in the Browser by Pearltrees

CAD in the browser with WebGL

 Scientific Visualization

…and this is but a few!

3D Books

Not long ago I ran across a spectacular Google Chrome WebGL experiment showing a 3D flip books. Stunning. But also noteworthy is Google’s WebGL bookcase from their Chrome experiments workshop.Oh so useful WebGL bookcase!

3D Imagery

It was fun to add more daughter’s photo to Surface by Paul Lewis. This screen shot of Marielle inside Surface does not do justice to the fact that you can change some given parameters and make the image interactive. You can tweak the magnitude, elasticity, auto orbit, wireframe, and even add some raindrops to interject some mood into the your image demo.

Marielle in Surface

Surface by Paul Lewis. Model: Marielle Turkowski

Rutt-Etra-Izer is another fun image manipulation app from the Hongkiat.com WebGL Chrome Experiments site.

Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment

Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment

But wow, what a completely different look Marielle has ;). Lastly, if you’re into image data collection, check out the WebGL Demo – Picture map.

3D Printing

I recently came across a nice compendium of WebGL enabled 3D printing applications on the Developing Dream blog. One of the early WebGL supporters for 3D printing that stands out is My Robot Nation, acquired by 3D Systems, as has Cubify, (recall that I used a photo of the WebGL 3D “print” I made at Cubify as the first image in part 1 of this series) been acquired by 3D Systems. And while it’s undeniable that WebGL holds great promise for 3D printing technology, 3D printing is not without its detractors, as evidenced by being at the top of the 2012 Gartner hype cycle, where 3D printing is one of the technologies identified as being at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in this year’s Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.

WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen VerhagenWebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen

WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen

A thought…

At last count, there were hundreds of WebGL experiments on Google’s Chrome Experiments site, and some very impressive GL experiments on the Google code site for WebGL samples. As you can gleam from this post and the one before it, I think it’s becoming more and more apparent WebGL is on its way to catching up with the 2D and image manipulation applications already out there on the web. Sure, there is a way to go still until their UX catches up; in fact, I think this is the part of WebGL application development that gets sorely underserved but as soon as the framework developers and spec engineers take a step back, and the UI and UX web designers step up to work on the WebGL end-user applications, I think we’ll start to see some very cool stuff that will rival the best coming out of other 3D application development communities. I also predict there will be more and more scientific and enterprise applications taking advantage of WebGL over the next few years as the technology stabilizes, but more on that in Part 4! Please feel free to point me to what I may have missed, correct any mistakes I’ve made in this post or just plain rant.  I’m all ears!

 

Dec 5 12

The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 2: Game Development

by Rita Turkowski

Hello Racer by HelloEnjoy

With that prediction, where is WebGL popping up today for end user applications? Since I’m mostly interested in games, let’s start with games. Here’s what I’ve found so far: Applications for WebGL are popping up like snowdrop flowers in the winter, but still there are not so many that it’s hard to classify them. Beyond the few WebGL games and other applications for immersive interactive 3D experiences, I am also starting to see some of the necessary support and infrastructure for WebGL developers. For instance, one of the most important things WebGL games will need is publishing support.

Currently the only obvious choice I found for this is Market.js. While started for web game developers, here most all developers can get the support they need while getting the word out about their game and most importantly, monetize their game.

Back to games. All gamers love beautiful games and WebGL game developers are no stranger to this requirement. For some pretty cool WebGL games, check out the popular Turbulenz engine, as well as WebGL Games and Play WebGL.  There’s also a little voxel shooter based game by Voxelman and the list goes on.

For a comprehensive list of all things WebGL games, I suggest visiting WebGL.com.

While Hello Racer is a simple visual joy to behold and fun to “play” with, I would not call it a game per se, which speaks to the truth about the current state of game development for WebGL.  For most of the experiments found on 30 WebGL Experiments That Are Just Wow!, only a few are considered games at all, such as PacMaze (shown above) and Red Shooting Hood, (shown below) and while these two are quite attractive and cool, they are not up yet to the same par as the multi-level 60fps games gamers are kind of used to.

Regardless, most developers interested in WebGL are only interested in it for game dev. Game developers, particularly indie developers, long to get away from proprietary engines and costly application development tools, more or less prefer open source solutions which standards like WebGL inspire, and they definitely want to be free of plug-ins and web player issues for their web based games, but even more importantly, they want “write once, publish anywhere” ability. Is it possible WebGL will promise all of these in a few years? Let’s look at each piece of the WebGL puzzle:

• Plug-ins: gone. ’nuff said.

• Fully supported open standard: This certainly helps beat closed/proprietary technology for encouraging contributions and long term support. Due to the public and open nature of the development of the WebGL Specification, the growing ecosystem of WebGL tools, libraries and applications is promising indeed, thanks to the support of the WebGL community.

• Enhanced support for 2D. Yup. Whilst WebGL is known primarily for enabling 3D in a browser, it should also give developers a better way to manipulate the Canvas2D tag as a texture, thus 2D overlaid on 3D works fine and even 3D textures overlaid on 2D is possible. Feel free to check out Tony Parisi’s slideshare talk on WebGL for Game Development 2012 for more info on WebGL for game development.

• Affordable or no-cost (aka: sweat equity) application development tools: an ecosystem of such tools for WebGL development is growing for sure. Here’s my list of what I’ve found pretty fast for game developers and apologies if I misplaced any of these in the wrong “category” – if so, please comment and correct me:

Game engines:

Frameworks:

  • three.js (the one appearing to be dominant over all the others at this time, late 2012 and perhaps best suited to supporting game dev)
  • SpiderGL (one of the first to come along)
  • GLGE (also arrived on the WebGL scene several years ago)
  • OSG.JS (Sketchfab (see below) uses this one)

For many more frameworks, visit Khronos User Contributed Frameworks.

Content creation tools:

Viewers:
  • Sketchfab – Image courtesy of Sketchfab ©2012

 

• Access to easily-available and/or production quality content. Most WebGL applications and content creation tools import and export COLLADA’s .dae format, and thankfully there are already some useful tools out there to get COLLADA content from existing tools. Even though the scope of the COLLADA standard is quite large and far from adequately supported by proprietary content creation tools, it is an open standard (and like WebGL, supported by The Khronos Group) and thus frequently adopted and supported  by WebGL developers. Additionally, import and export of quality production content via COLLADA is possible from many tools including the Unity game engine, where a COLLADA exporter is available on the Unity Asset Store. Use of such a popular game engine editor’s COLLADA exporter will free up a huge amount of previously proprietary format content to WebGL tools and engines. Speaking of COLLADA in the context of WebGL, currently under development is COLLADA2JSON, which  introduces a JSON format that aims to bridge the gap between COLLADA and WebGL, as an initiative from the Khronos COLLADA Working Group. It includes a sample WebGL viewer (Chrome canary recommanded) that loads and displays a model asynchronously (vertex and index buffers loaded progressivly). The example model contains thousands of independant meshes and buffers (to show progressive loading). It is my hope this project will continue to get support by Khronros and adoption from developers in due time.

• Browser as game application: One not entirely well explored option that HTML5 and WebGL should enable is putting the browser in the driver’s seat, using it’s most powerful features to support and run a single particular application, whether it be a simple game rendering engine or even providing a game console experience, such as Artillery – whose tag line – the browser is the console appears to be doing.

• Write once, publish anywhere: now, this one is really interesting. Looking first at the “Write once” part,  if tools for WebGL platforms can provide developers and artists with what they need here, this could be the holy grail for WebGL adoption and success – long term.  Similar efforts into building world class tools have brought Adobe Flash and Unity mainstream, but their content creation and content management tools get less attention than their cross platform run times. But without such tools to build the content for those run times, they would not now be industry standards, or very close to it (as in the case with Unity). Nonetheless, tools that deliver a modern user experience for WebGL are still quite nascent but I’m confident we’ll see some good ones sprouting up very soon.

Back to “publish anywhere.” The obvious question here is how will WebGL work for mobile deployment?  Upon doing a little research regarding mobile deployment of WebGL, it seems this is more involved than what one might expect, even though mobile devices support OpenGl|ES. I will discuss the challenges of WebGL deployment for mobile app development, as well as other challenges facing WebGL adoption, in Part 4 of this blog post.

Part 3: Beyond Games is next up.

Nov 18 12

The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 1: Introduction

by Rita Turkowski
Image courtesy of Cubify’s plastic 3D printed WebGL logo – created at the WebGL meet up in SF on 11/7/2012
Have you noticed how applications (whether desktop or mobile) of all kinds are becoming very niche centric? Small, succinct niche applications for 3D creation, processing, and effects may very well be the best future for WebGL. WebGL enabling libraries such as three.js and complimentary infrastructure tools will only be useful and sustainable depending on how good the web applications and mobile apps are that take advantage of them in a way that either offers solutions to real problems or enable niche 3D applications that are fun, powerful and easy to use.
End users have already shown there is a market for such “mini-tools” as witnessed by the plethora of niche and very specific tool sets that exist as “mini-apps” for image manipulation and 2D. Witness the already strong trend in technologies such as 2D infographics programs such as Visual.ly or Pictochart, in music apps such as Virtual DJ or in image editing applications such as Camera+, Pic Collage or Photo Splash Pro used heavily by the Instagram set. One has only to search on cloud based mind mapping tools such as Gliffy or WiseMapping, web page mock up tools such as Hot Gloo or Mockingbird or the plethora of popular infographic marketing tools to find that development is fast and furious and competition is stiff in each of these niche graphic/visualization tool areas. Beyond 2D, there are so so many image editing apps out there now. Checking out what’s out there already, while imagining the boon of mini-tools or niche apps I can only envision for WebGL, I was inspired to write this post after reading a review of Glaze.
I believe until we see such niche applications for 3D developed with or because of WebGL, WebGL will be all about, well…, WebGL.This said, it is encouraging to see WebGL engine technologies emerging such as those shown on MobileGameEngines.com (even if they missed a few key engines such as Turbulenz and Kick.js…), but open standards inspired engines that minimally provide what’s technically possible today (think of Unity’s awesome engine editor tool) in an HTML5 setting is not enough. Developers and technical artists, even indie-inspired end users, need and expect tools that will enable them to make the kind of apps and cloud tools we see today. I.e.,  powerful solutions yield elegant applications – faster and more efficiently.
If you think about just how long it has taken 2D and image apps to break free of monolithic apps like Illustrator and PhotoShop, it is almost unthinkable that it will take longer for 3D apps built on WebGL platforms to catch up. In fact, with the right infrastructure, amazing WebGL based game engines and HTML5 savvy browsers, I imagine we’ll see cool 3D mini-tools and 3D creation apps as soon as HTML5 and WebGL mature (I’ll write about that in Part 3: WebGL’s challenges).
With that prediction, where is WebGL popping up today for end user applications? Since most WebGL developers seem to be mostly interested in games, let’s start with games, and how I think WebGL will support them, or not, in the next few years.
To be continued… Part 2: WebGL Games
Nov 6 12

Infographic on History of Video Games found on visual.ly

by Rita Turkowski

Videogames history from Visual.ly.com

Videogames History, 1952-2011 by Ilaria Trombi (NDstudio). This is very cool. Hardware and software that made the history of the game industry. Last section data may not be up-to-date as this infograph was completed in late 2011, and originally published in March 2012.