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Google Racer: How, Why, and Where Next?

Google Chrome has fast become the browser most associated with pushing the boundaries of web technologies and this is in no small part due to their showcase microsite, Chrome Experiments. For those unfamiliar with the site, it is a place for the web development community, including some of Google’s own team or hired muscle, to show off their skills in digital technologies, predominantly WebGL, JavaScript and HTML5. The latest to come off the production line is Google Racer: a multi-platform, multi-player, top-down racing game, produced on behalf of Google by Active Theory.

Playing the game is simple:

Step 1: Get together with one or more smartphone- or tablet- owning friends (or just use your own tablet and smartphone if you aren’t very popular)
Step 2: Visit go.co/racer on your mobile or smartphone and create a race
Step 3: Line up your devices using the guides and instructions provided
Step 4: Watch as a dynamic race track spreads across your combined screens
Step 5: Race to the finish line scalextric-style by holding your finger to your screen and trying not to skid off the track

As with all Chrome Experiments, Google are very open about the technology they used to produce it. They employ Paper.js on top of HTML5 Canvas to generate the pretty graphics and animations; the Web Audio API to produce the various audio effects; Google’s own Could Platform (App Engine, Cloud Storage, Compute Engine et al) to provide the brains – storage and processing – of the application; and WebSockets, which is technology designed to give low-latency (near-real-time) connectivity between clients (browsers) and servers and, in my opinion, is the most exciting component of this whole experiment.

WebSockets aren’t new, they have been discussed and explored in great detail for a good few years now. However, the fact that big hitters like Google are championing them in a digestible way as being big cog in the future of mobile multi-player gaming machine is very exciting. It means that there will undoubtedly be a queue of people following in the wake of this campaign trying to explore the possibilities and start getting these away from just being experiments into being the norm for mainstream gaming.

So why should anyone care? After all, games have been on mobiles since the days of snake on old Nokia phones, so what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that I didn’t have to buy the Google Racer game, nor did I have to wait for a prolonged download and more importantly for Google, they didn’t have to build the app specifically for my device. That’s because the game is all completely browser-based. There are no plugins that I need to download, everything is built into my browser (in this instance Chrome for Android) and it could work on the desktop browser just as well as it could on my mobile. That means one code-base has produced a platform agnostic experience that works across all my devices, resulting in a vast potential audience combined with lower development and maintenance costs for the production team than any other gaming platform.

What’s not to love?

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