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Web tech year in review: 2015

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The web platform is moving as quickly as ever. It's interesting to take a look back over the year and see how web technology improved over 2015, as well as taking a peek at what 2016 may bring.

Browser updates

The biggest browser news of the year was definitely the release of a whole new browser for Windows 10: Microsoft Edge. Browsers are such large and complex software engineering projects that it's incredibly rare to see genuinely new browsers released, so it's fair to say this is a significant event in the history of browsers. Edge is still based on the Internet Explorer browser engine, but it was so significantly revised and modernised that one Microsoft called it further diverged from IE than Blink is from WebKit, referring to when Chromium split WebKit in to Blink, its own independent browser engine - another major event in browser technology. So it seems fair to consider Edge as a new browser engine despite being a descendant of Trident (the Internet Explorer engine).

In terms of new features, Edge was equivalent to an IE 12 release. (Edge appears to continue the version numbering, referring to itself as "Edge 12" in the first release.) It added support for major new features like Web Audio, Gamepad input, User Media support, HTTP/2, more standards-compliant XML support, and a much faster Javascript engine which could match or even exceed Chrome on many benchmarks. Microsoft have indicated they intend to have a faster release cycle, which is great - we previously criticised the slow release cycle of IE, and it looks like they mean business, since Edge 13 was released in November with even more new features (although not much directly affecting C2). The downside is it still came as an OS update, tieing browser updates to system updates, which was still one of our criticisms of IE updates in the past. We'll be watching how this works out through next year, but it's largely a very positive change.

For other browsers, Chrome released versions 40 through 47, with lots of web platform updates ranging from Web MIDI support to major Javascript support improvements. Firefox released versions 35 through 43, with a similar range of improvements including notably the recent addition of the ability to record the canvas as a video, and new availability of a 64-bit version for Windows (which Chrome and IE/Edge already have). Safari 9 was released with disappointingly few web platform features, and remains easily the slowest updating and furthest-behind browser for web platform support. We hope this changes in 2016!

Construct 2 releases

We made 32 releases in 2015 (including point releases) of which 5 were stable releases, starting with r193 in January. This is actually a relatively low number, as we've been diverting most of our resources to working on Construct 3 this year. Even so, improvements this year have included significantly revised and improved Cordova export, asm.js physics improvements for better performance, the return of the Scirra Arcade, the all-new Local Storage plugin to replace WebStorage, support for Chrome for Android's web app install banners, support for exporting Windows 10 Universal apps, support for the new Microsoft Edge browser, and support for the much improved NW.js 0.13+ (formerly "node-webkit"), which will continue being worked on in to the new year. The latest betas also include canvas video recording, touch pressure support, and more. There's been an absolute boatload of bug fixes and other smaller improvements along the way this year - remember you can review the release history for the full story.

Scirra news and updates

The biggest news this year was our announcement of Construct 3! This is still in the works and a long way off, and no, I'm afraid I don't have any more news to add right now! However we'll be sure to keep you up-to-date with any news we have to announce through 2016. Remember you can sign up for updates at Construct3.com.

In other news this year, improvements in mobile platforms and Cordova meant we deprecated the problematic "non-browser" platforms in favour of real browser-engine based platforms. In particular Android 5.0+ has an auto-updating system web view, which allows Cordova apps to reap the benefits of the improving web platform without requiring a system update (interestingly, a significant advantage over traditional native apps). iOS 8's release last year brought WebGL support to the web view, making it a far better option for many games at the start of the year too.

We also launched the new and much-improved (if somewhat overdue!) Scirra Arcade. It's been great to see it going strong with thousands of games and hundreds of thousands of players!

The Scirra Store has also been going strong, now with well over 1000 items by third-party sellers. It recently got a new Addons section for paid plugin, behavior and effect addons. As ever, keep an eye on the sales and bundles for deals!

This year we also expanded the team and moved our office to a better site in Wandsworth. This has been a really exciting change for us and it's helped us ramp up development speed. The new site is not something that directly affects customers, but we've been really enjoying the better facilities and bigger space, which for me at least has made working here a lot of fun!

We also made an announcement about our Windows 10 Universal app support, which came hot on the heels of Windows 10's general release. We're glad we got this out early, since Windows 10 has already catapulted itself past Windows 8.1 to being the 2nd most used version of Windows, steadily taking share from Windows 7.

It's worth linking to our important update about web publishing again, since it's definitely important. If you're using insecure HTTP (the address starts with http:// instead of https://) then you should consider updating to secure hosting ASAP. Also if you're still on Windows XP or Vista, consider updating soon since browser support will likely be dropped for these platforms through 2016.

A view to 2016

Looking the other way, there are few changes we expect to see come about through 2016. Firstly we expect Cordova-based platforms to gain support for WKWebView on iOS early next year. This will bring a significant performance improvement for Cordova-based iOS apps, as it enables JIT compilation of Javascript code, whereas the current UIWebView is stuck in interpreter mode only. The powerful hardware of iOS devices has helped mitigate this, but full Javascript performance will definitely still be a good thing.

NW.js has started improving quickly with the 0.13 releases. We expect to see a final release of 0.13 early next year, with Construct 2 support accordingly. We also aim to integrate Greenworks for built-in Steam publishing support. Improvements in the NW.js team's development process should mean much more frequent releases which stay up to date with Chrome releases, avoiding some of the past problems we've had ending up stuck with old versions.

Microsoft Edge appears to be on a much faster release cycle than IE ever was, which is good news for the web platform. It remains to be seen just how frequent these updates are, and how quickly the updates are distributed to users. However we think it's likely that through 2016 Edge will gain support for the Multiplayer plugin (likely via a variant of WebRTC called ORTC). Apparently Microsoft are even considering support for open audio and video codecs like Vorbis, Opus, Theora and VP9 in either the Ogg or WebM containers. This would be surprising - resolving one of our last long-standing criticisms of Microsoft's support for the web, generally having stuck to patent-encumbered formats - but could go a long way to resolving our dual-encoding woes for media. Ideally Edge would add support for Ogg Vorbis, since it is the primary format Construct 2 currently encodes and consequently that all existing published Construct 2 content uses. Something like Opus would be a bit of a complication since C2 doesn't currently have any support for that, but it gives us options for avoiding the patent-encumbered MPEG-4 AAC format. Safari would be the last hold-out on patent-encumbered formats so we could not remove them entirely, but as ever we largely have no idea what Apple plan on doing, and they sometimes surprise!

On the browser side, some developments we expect to see next year include finally dropping the old browser plugin model. Chrome has planned to drop NPAPI plugins for a long time, Firefox will likely follow suit, Edge has already dropped them, and most mobile browsers never supported them in the first place. Once support is finally removed, this clears the way to upgrade all existing Chrome and Firefox users on Windows to the 64-bit versions of those browsers (since the 64-bit versions do not support 32-bit plugins, meaning plugins are effectively unsupported). While you can currently opt-in to the 64-bit versions of these browsers by specifically downloading them, Google and Mozilla have held off auto-updating users to them, likely due to plugin support. Next year should see all of this finally wrapped up and begin broad support for 64-bit browsers.

Through next year we should also see some more major web platform updates. These should include WebGL 2 support coming to various platforms. This probably sounds more exciting than it really is. WebGL 2 brings many features useful for 3D games, but for a 2D engine like Construct 2 there's not a lot that WebGL 1 doesn't already cover. Probably the most significant thing is WebGL 2 will have full support for non-power-of-two textures, which should resolve some image quality issues, particularly with non-power-of-two tiling images which can affect Tiled Background and 9-patch. We also hope to see broader support for canvas video recording which Firefox recently added, which is a great feature for recording videos of games without needing any extra tools. If rumours about job postings by Apple are correct, Safari 10 could add support for WebRTC, which means along with Edge it's possible there could be virtually complete browser support for Multiplayer by the end of the year. There are interesting developments we're following closely which make it increasingly possible to run the Construct 2 runtime in a Web Worker, but by now we're more likely looking in to the 2017 time frame and beyond. While we're thinking about that timescale, by then Android 5.0+ should have enough market share that we can drop Crosswalk in favour of its built-in auto-updating webview, allowing for much smaller APK sizes.

See you in 2016!

I know many of you will be keen for more news on Construct 3. We want to avoid making any announcements while it is still under heavy development, preferring to wait until fairly late on in its development when we can be sure the details are confirmed and not subject to change. Still I can assure you it is actively being developed and has become our main focus internally. Stay tuned as we will bring you more news when we are ready to make announcements! Meanwhile Construct 2 remains a powerful tool for game development, and we are still actively maintaining it as the release history shows.

This has been an exciting year for us here at Scirra, and it's been fantastic to see the web platform is stronger than ever, bringing many benefits to Construct 2 users. We hope 2016 will be even more exciting!

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