Js13kGames: the tiniest HTML5 games

If you’ve been playing games for a very long time, you might recall classic 8-bit systems that weren’t exactly drowning in memory: the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64, the BBC Micro and others were systems on which every byte counted. These days, developers quite often take the power of computers and high-speed internet connections for granted. Even the accompanying screen grab on this page is weightier than entire games on the aforementioned systems – and we actually bothered to optimise it.

Hence js13kGames, a JavaScript coding competition for HTML5 game developers, which spent a month attempting to encourage the best tiny games on the web and ended yesterday. We caught up with organiser Andrzej Mazur to find out more about the competition and how the thinking involved in creating its entries could benefit the web.

.net: Why did you set up js13kGames?
Mazur: The competition was created with a very simple reason: to have some fun coding HTML5 games. It's my passion and I'm trying to find new ways to deliberately waste my free time on it! I was thinking about js1k and wanted something similar for the HTML5 game development community.

.net: So why did you go for 13 kB?
Mazur: There were a lot of 1- and 10- contests, and I thought “why not 13?” It just stuck. I was then thinking about the project for months, decided it was 'now or never', and spent an intensive 48 hours getting the first version online, with the help of my wife, Ewa Mazur, who’s a very talented graphic designer.

.net: Was there anything in particular beyond fun that you were trying to achieve?
Mazur: The second most important thing about the competition after the fun part is the idea of learning from one another. When using HTML and JavaScript, you can just right-click a page and learn a lot of cool stuff from the best developers out there. This is a competition where size does matter, so I've added the rule that every entry have to have the submitted code posted on GitHub in a readable form. Thanks to this, everyone can look into the source code of the js13k games with ease, learn some interesting techniques and become a better game programmer.

.net: What do you think the benefit is of limited-size competitions? Do you think there’s a danger in developers no longer optimising in the way they once did?
Mazur: There are countries where people don't have broad access to the fast internet in their mobile phones – you have to pay a lot for a 3G network and then every kilobyte matters. There are a lot of situations where optimisation is needed and a developer with such skills will be highly appreciated.

But it's not just about optimisation itself – smaller games and websites load faster and the overall user experience is better. And it's kind of old-school that you have to tinker with your code to fit in a given size limit, so it's not so easy. This is a serious challenge, because not everything can be done in 13 kB!

.net: Regarding the entries, do you have any favourites and have any of them particularly wowed regarding what they've managed to do in such limited space?
Mazur: There are two entries that forced me to pick up my jaw from the floor. The first one is Johnny Smiter: 13th Knight by Paul Brunt, a game made in WebGL that is a full-blown 3D FPS shooter where you run in the forest and throw your spear into some kind of evil invaders. I've never imagined you could pack so much in just 13 kilobytes of WebGL code!

The second is SpacePi by Jack Rugile. The level of completeness is amazing and I couldn't stop playing, even though I was at work when the entry came by. This game has everything to be a success, even outside the competition: addictive gameplay, upgrades, the fact it’s easy to learn but hard to master, which means you want to improve your score over and over again. You can't tell it's just 13 kB – there's nothing missing!

But besides those two, there are many other awesome entries. It will be very hard to pick the winners and leave the rest, because a lot more games deserve special attention than there are prizes.

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