A Games Programmer at Full Frontal – Javascript Conference

I am a games programmer. I work in GLSL/HLSL, C++ and C#, mainly. What was I doing at a JavaScript conference?

  • The browser is everywhere
  • JavaScript powers programming in the browser
  • JavaScript performance is radically better than it used to be
  • WebGL is in Firefox / Chrome / Opera – GPU access in the browser
  • Browser API are increasingly covering games needs: full-screen, mouse capture

Of course it helps that the conference is in my home town, in the funky Duke of York cinema and has a reputation for being world-class event.

I enjoyed all the talks, but I’m only going to talk about the ones that resonated the most strongly with me:

CoffeeScript

Smoothing over the rough edges of JavaScript it’s a language that compiles into JavaScript. Normally I’d run a million miles from that sort of language translation, but with a mantra of “It’s just JavaScript” this might well be worth trying out. Jeremy Ashkenas spent a deal of time showing the clean, readable JavaScript that gets output in a very convincing way. I was sold on the idea of implementing new language ideas and proposals for JavaScript in CoffeeScript. Right now it feels like I need to do a much bigger project in JavaScript before I jump to the next level.

Excessive Enhancement

Phil Hawksworth’s talk resonated with me. On one level it was a plea to remember the user experience when adding fancy ‘shizzle’ to the web. The whole thing reminded me of front-ends for games. In games often the front-end is often completely bespoke, built on homegrown technology or possibly flash with a bunch of 3D thrown in for good measure. I’ve seen beautiful, logical, fun front-ends in video games, but they’re the exception, not the rule. We need to learn from the web!

Beyond The Planet Of The Geeks

I wish I could bottle Brendan Dawes’ charisma, enthusiasm and wittyness, and keep it on tap for grey horrible days like today! It was great to see someone enthuse and obsess about tools and quality: “whoever said a bad workman blames his tools was a moron and I want to smash his head in with a beautifully made hammer”. There isn’t a single, simple takeaway from this talk. My notes at the time say “explore serendipity, question everything, do more of this every day”. A nice thought!

You gotta do what you gotta do

In his 20% time at Google Marcin Wichary helps out on the Google doodles. He’s got unreasonable enthusiasm and set of smarts to back it up. “Nothing is impossible” he says – you can see that from his work. His presentation setup alone was:

  • presentation running in Safari on a Mac
  • Chrome sending accelerometer information from the Mac to Safari
  • his iPhone connecting to the same site as Safari and remote controlling the slides

I remember him talking about at least these doodles:

What’s so remarkable is not just the ideas, polish, and production values, but also that they really work in almost every browser out there – including IE6. They’re not just the latest html5 and Chrome only shizzle. The dancing 2D animation in the last link was done by exporting a whole image for each frame, calculating the minimum different rectangular image region, packing all these into a single image, then having JavaScript add the next frames difference image to the page on a timer. It’s such a neat hack I’m sure Marcin must have been a games programmer back in the day 🙂

His final thought was if you’re not doing something which feels hacky you’re certainly not pushing the state of the art!

More than that

What I liked most of all was the warmth of everyone that I met. It’s a friendly community, make no mistake 🙂 It was great to see Max Williams again who took the time to introduce me to people.

My only disappointment was that I couldn’t stay at the after-party for very long. Big mistake! Not only did I miss a lot of free beer, but I missed the chance to meet and share with a lot of interesting people. Judging by the tweets from the following morning I also missed a killer hangover. Next year I’ll make sure I have no plans for the next day, and painkillers at the ready.

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