Games in pure SVG

In the “stupid experiments” category… If you’ve got nothing better to do for three hours in an evening, why not experiment a bit with SVG? That’s what I thought, earlier on this evening. So: cave.svg, a game for people with no graphics criticism ability and only one finger. One single SVG file, with all the controlling JavaScript therein. Inspired by SFCave, a game I played a million jillion years ago on a Palm IIIx and which I was astounded to discover has a website and a Java version and everything. I have discovered the following things about SVG this evening.

  1. It is dog slow. I mean, slo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow. You’ve-finished-the-exam-and-there’s-still-an-hour-to-go slow. Sitting in a traffic jam for three hours and the kids keep asking for an ice cream slow.
  2. It works in Firefox and Opera. I’ve tested in Midori, which is a WebKit browser, and it seems to work there too except that the fonts display as black-on-black, which means that either (a) Midori misimplents the spec (10% chance) or (b) I’m doing something wrong (90% chance). It’s probably broken the same way in Safari too, but the game seems to work.
  3. You have to care about XML at inopportune moments. I spent twenty minutes trying to work out why createElement didn’t work before sighing and using createElementNS.
  4. You can specify all the sizes in percentages! So it works at any size at all and the browser handles it all for you! Resize the game while you’re playing and it all still carries on working and scales for you! Do that with canvas!
  5. The previous point appears to be the only thing where SVG scores over canvas. For everything else using SVG on the web seems rather like having your scrotum gently resting between a pit bull’s teeth. It makes everything slightly more awkward than it ought to be… and any moment now you know the pain is coming.
  6. Did I mention slow? Can somebody please tell me what kind of a world we live in where my dual-core 2x2GHz PC can’t render a screen made out of rectangles at more than 10fps without dropping keypress events? I mean, come on.
  7. It’s not very optimised code (but it shouldn’t need to be). It would probably be a lot faster if I actually did things an SVGish way, by which I mean use the transform attribute and so on, but there are so many things I’d rather do than matrix arithmetic that it’s not even funny. Up to and including eating a pound of fish fingers with broken glass in.

In my head for a while has been a slight disappointment that everyone writing games or graphics things using JavaScript has gone for canvas (which is one step away from being a plugin — it gives you a white box and you draw in it) rather than the more web-ish SVG (which works like HTML and can be intermixed and everything). I am no longer disappointed. People don’t avoid dynamic SVG on the web because they’re wrong. People avoid dynamic SVG on the web because it’s quite shit.

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