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Facebook offers speed test for Web-based games

The social-networking giant has released an early version of a test to help developers get a handle on Web-based game performance.

The W3C's new HTML5 logo
The W3C's new HTML5 logo

Facebook has released a benchmark designed to help developers test just how powerful desktop and mobile browsers are at running a new generation of games built with a new generation of Web standards.

One of the most important of those standards is the JavaScript programming language, which is ubiquitous on the Web and ever faster in browsers. Enter Facebook's JSGameBench, designed specifically for measuring game issues such as displaying "sprites," the graphics out of which animated characters are made.

"Although there are many other benchmark suites that measure JavaScript performance, we wanted to build one focused specifically on key game performance metrics," said Facebook engineer Cory Ondrejka in a blog post last night. "JSGameBench exists to explore HTML5's game performance limits," he added, using HTML5 in the broad all-sorts-of-new-Web-technologies sense currently in vogue in some circles.

It's only at version 0.1, so expect lots of changes. So far, though, Microsoft's upcoming IE9 crushes the competition on the speed test, with the Windows version of Google's upcoming Chrome 10 in second place.

IE9 leads the browser pack when it comes to an early version of a Facebook test of Web-based game performance.
IE9 leads the browser pack when it comes to an early version of a Facebook test of Web-based game performance. Facebook

Mobile browsers are particularly important at Facebook, and the new benchmark fits in there, too. "JSGameBench generally works on mobile browsers, but properly abstracted touch and gesture events are key to games working across multiple phones," Ondrejka said.

Ondrejka, by the way, has an interesting history in the digital realm. After a falling out in 2007, he left the chief technology officer job at Linden Lab, which operates the Second Life virtual world, then spent some time at music label EMI. After that stint, he worked on a variety of programming projects then co-founded a start-up called Walletin with his friend Bruce Rogers. Facebook hired the pair before the project got off the ground.

Browser performance is tricky to quantify, in part because there are so many possible things to measure. In that, it's like just about every other benchmark: its relevance is limited by how well its tests represent real-world challenges. A benchmark limited to gaming applications has similar issues of scope, but it is a narrower task than analyzing all possible Web-based programs.

Microsoft, as part of its effort to promote IE9 and its hardware acceleration, is also interested in showcasing performance with a series of browser games and demos on its Internet Explorer Test Drive site.

Microsoft may have idled through the last decade of browser activity, but it's fully awake now with IE9. It's got a competitive browser almost done, it's engaged in setting Web standards, and it's got its technical marketing team in high gear.

A recent example: Yesterday, Microsoft detailed one of its benchmark-esque demos, called Blizzard. The company teased apart how the site exercises many of the new Web technologies. Among them are SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) for durved lines, Canvas for 2D graphics combined with JavaScript to animate their movement, WOFF (Web Open Font Format) for custom typography, built-in HTML5 audio, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) for styling.