Flash use required for audio and better experience
On iOS, Cut the Rope is pretty much a permanent fixture in the games charts, and millions of people attempt to feed greedy green blob Om Nom myriad pieces of candy until, presumably, he keels over from a sugar overdose. Earlier this week, the game made its way on to the internet, developed by Pixel Lab, and backed by Microsoft.
But the game has also been criticised for seemingly 'aggressive' Flash use in what's supposed to be an HTML5 game. The developer has now responded. In a lengthy blog post, it's explained that the decision was made to "make the game more fun for as many people as possible" and is centred around shortcomings in the HTML5 <audio> tag and how browsers deal with time-sensitive audio such as sound effects.
According to the developer, the sound was quirky from the start: "As we cycled through different implementation strategies we found quirks in just about every other browser. We tried: recycling audio elements, instantiating audio elements on each play, using audio 'sprites' […] and using different encoding strategies but nothing reliably fixed the issues." As the launch deadline approached, the team realised the user experience was compromised by poor audio, hence falling back to Flash, despite the game being primarily created for IE, which was the one browser to "reliably handle the complex sound requirements of the game." The post continued: "The only browser where we had seen consistent and low-latency audio in every case was IE. That meant making Flash a fallback option for every other browser."
The net result is a game that works, but that also 'forces' Flash on the likes of Firefox, although an HTML5-only version can also be accessed. "The truth is that the Flash decision [was made because] we wanted the game to be great for as many people as possible, regardless of which browser they were using," concludes the dev post; in other words, to make the game as open as possible (in terms of more people being able to play it), a 'closed' technology had to be forced on some users.
We at .net hope the impact of this event isn't to harangue the game's developers over Flash use in an HTML5 game, and instead leads to designers and developers helping and encouraging browser developers to more rapidly plug the remaining gaps in open standards. Cut the Rope for IE and other browsers is an amazing achievement, but it also showcases we're not yet at a point where web standards are suitable for all things. An alternative, as mentioned in our piece on trends for 2012, would be Opera web evangelist Bruce Lawson's worry that 2012 will turn into a year of fragmentation, and Dull Dude Games founder Iain Lobb's suggestion that while clients will increasingly try to steer things towards HTML, "I think often the right thing to do will be steering them back towards Flash".
Are you working on complex HTML5 games and apps with time-sensitive sound? How are you dealing with user experiences across browsers? Let us know in the comments.