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Mozilla plays with Humble Bundle to push Web games

Humble Bundles are no stranger to games, but the latest pay-what-you-want package of games is built for your Web browser.

Humble Bundle's latest deal offers hot PC games in the browser, thanks to Mozilla. Mozilla

Mozilla's not playing around when it comes to convincing you that the Web isn't dead. Its latest effort to showcase the power of modern Web technology comes in the form of a Humble Bundle of popular games with complex graphics for the humble Web browser.

Released on Tuesday and available for the next two weeks, the pay-what-you-want Humble Mozilla Bundle includes fan-favorite indie titles like Voxatron, FTL: Advanced Edition, Aaaaaa! for the Awesome, and Democracy 3. Eight titles in total are included, with a ninth game to be announced next Tuesday. You can also download the bundle if you pledge more than the current average.

The games can be played via Steam or in your browser, and that's where Mozilla comes in. Mozilla has been promoting for a year and a half its ASM.js technology, a relatively new subset of JavaScript that makes JavaScript run faster. JavaScript is one of the important technologies the Web runs on today, powering the interactive experiences such as automatic page reloading that drive modern websites.

To help promote the Bundle, Mozilla has embedded Voxatron in its home page, similar to a Google Doodle. Bill Maggs, Mozilla's director of product management, told CNET that in-browser games offer a lot to gamers -- if browsers can meet the tough standards for in-game graphics.

"ASM.js is still not ready to take on the entire PC gaming world, but I don't think that the Crysis moment is too far off," Maggs said, referring to when you'll be able to get graphics as complex as those in the popular first-person shooter game.

Spearheaded in 2013 by the inventor of JavaScript and Mozilla's then-chief technology officer, Brendan Eich, ASM.js appeals to developers in part because there's no struggle to get the browser to work with a new programming language. It just works, because ASM.js is part of JavaScript, which browsers already work with. There are certain optimizations that can be made in the browser to make ASM.js run faster, but they're not essential.

Games are nothing new to ASM.js. Mozilla has been looking at games as the best way to convince developers to use the JavaScript subset since it went public with ASM.js in March 2013.

Since then, ASM.js has helped Epic gets its Unreal Engine 4 working in the browser without plugins and port the new Unity 5.0 gaming platform to the Web, major accomplishments that herald the beginning of the end for browser plugins like Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight. Just last week, Unity published its benchmarks for browsers versus native code, and made the benchmarking tool available to anyone who wants to test their browser. Unity found Firefox optimized for ASM.js to be second only to native code, with Chrome and Safari lagging.

Humble Bundle co-founder John Graham said he expects gamers to take to the Mozilla offering not just for the games but also for the more streamlined workflow.

"There's very little left that you don't do in a browser, and native gaming, first class gaming, is one of those," he said. "You can go straight from purchasing a game to playing it, and not have to wrestle with third-party apps."

Even though ASM.js is intended for cross-browser use, it definitely runs faster in Firefox than any other browser. Google has made some ASM.js optimizations to Chrome, and those changes are also on Microsoft's roadmap for Internet Explorer.

Maggs said ASM.js is fast approaching a "theoretical maximum" speed of about 1.2 times the speed of native code, a point at which he said most people would be comfortable playing games with complex graphics.

ASM.js has become a key weapon in the fight by browser makers to prove they still matter, and the strategy to employ gamers to buy in -- literally, in the case of the Mozilla bundle -- shows this war is far from over.