Mozilla releases demo of Gladius game engine

Let it never be said that the Mozilla Foundation isn't willing to try new things: in addition to its various other projects on the go, the Firefox creator is working on a new 3D gaming engine for browser-based play.

In addition to hints of an open store for web-based applications and an entire web-based operating system known as 'Boot to Gecko' - plus, of course, the Foundation's popular Firefox and Thunderbird web browser and email client - details have emerged of a project which aims to push gaming on the web.

Dubbed Gladius - a Latin word for sword, usually used to describe a certain type of sword used by Greek and Roman soldiers - the project is in the early stages, but has already resulted in a prototype game being released.

"Don’t you hate it when you’re traveling at light speed, and your pet space fox escapes to an asteroid belt? I know it drives me nuts," writes Mozilla coder Dan Mosedale in a somewhat more bizarre blog post than is usual. "Fortunately, you have an invisible fox detector to figure out where she is, and you can use a tractor beam that pulls you from asteroid to asteroid to the fox herself. And you’ve got about 90 seconds until she runs out of air."

While you'd be forgiven for thinking that RescueFox, as the prototype game has been named, would only work in Mozilla's Firefox browser and its various derivatives, the Foundation appears serious about its intentions for an open web. "The game works in current versions of Firefox, and cursory testing suggests that works in Chrome on MacOS, albeit more slowly and without sound," admits Mosedale.

That's a promising start for the Gladius project: while it doesn't work in alternative browsers yet, Mozilla is clearly hoping that other browser makers will contribute to the codebase in an effort to further the cause of in-browser 3D gaming.

Based initially on the CubicVR.js engine, the creation of the prototype game - which Mosedale has confirmed does not represent work towards a full game release - helped shape the Gladius engine. "As we progressed, the game coding started to make clear to us that some of the factoring of the existing APIs was actually making the game more complex to build rather than easier," he explains.

"After more work, a super simple prototype engine that Bobby whipped up, and more discussion, we came to the conclusion that we needed to do some refactoring on Gladius. This was great, because it meant that we figured it out much sooner than we otherwise would have.

"Note that we think we’ve learned most of what we can from RescueFox and don’t intend to drive it forward any further at this point - though that shouldn’t stop anyone who feels inclined to fork it," Mosedale adds. "But we’ll be prototyping another microgame soon once the Gladius refactoring is a bit further along, and we’ll be very interested in having folks help out there."

Thus far, the Foundation hasn't offered any hints as to when Gladius might see a general release beyond a vague commitment to releasing more details in "the upcoming weeks."