Build Facebook Playable Ads with PlayCanvas!

PlayCanvas are very excited to announce official support for Facebook Playable Ads! 🚀

What are Playable Ads?

Playable ads are small, interactive previews of a game or app that give a taste of the experience before the user choses to download it. These ads from Facebook are normally shown in the news feed or with ‘rewarded ads’ in other games and apps in exchange for an in-game/app reward.

Facebook case studies consistently show that playable ads:

  • Increase click-through rates
  • Increase install conversion over traditional ads
  • Increase return on ad spend
  • Reduce cost per install

Combine that with the fully featured PlayCanvas game engine which includes:

  • Best in class visual editor with live updates across multiple devices
  • 3D models and animation with physically based rendering (PBR)
  • 2D animated sprites
  • Responsive user interface authoring

And you have a very powerful combination to create fantastic and engaging experiences to reach your audience.

Sounds great! How do I get started?

We’ve published the official exporter tool on GitHub with instructions in our User Manual Documentation. It’s very simple to set up!

Once configured, creating the file(s) for upload to Facebook is just a single command, shown in real time below.

That is how quick and easy it is! 💪 And it supports both the single 2MB HTML and 5MB zip bundle formats used by Facebook. 🙌

If you’re new to PlayCanvas, why not sign up today for free. We can’t wait to see what you make! Let us hear your feedback in the forums!

Useful links:

P.S We are considering doing a follow up technical post on how the tool works under the hood. Let us know in the comments below if that is something you would be interested in. 👇

WebGL Case Study: Rebuilding the Star-Lord PBR Demo

Way back in 2014, PlayCanvas was the first WebGL Engine to integrate PBR (Physically Based Rendering). To mark the event, we built the Star-Lord tech demo:

In the intervening 6 or so years, PlayCanvas has moved on dramatically. So we decided to leverage all of the latest engine features and republish it.

The most significant improvements are related to load time. Let’s start out by comparing some key stats:

Star-Lord 2014Star-Lord 2021% Change
HTTP Requests22039↓ 82.3%
Preload Transfer (MB)10.15.6↓ 44.6%
Total Transfer (MB)13.79.9↓ 27.7%
Total Resources (MB)26.012.1↓ 53.5%
Load Time (s) *1.81.2↓ 33.3%
* Cache disabled on 100Gbps connection

Those are some pretty significant wins! So what are the differences between the two builds of the demo? Let’s step through them one by one.

Convert JSON Meshes to GLB

In October 2020, PlayCanvas officially switched from JSON to glTF 2.0 (GLB) for storing all model and animation data. While gzipped GLB is reasonably similar in size to gzipped JSON, it is up to an order of magnitude faster to parse a GLB file once it has been downloaded. Plus, a GLB file occupies less system memory than the equivalent JSON file. Converting all of the assets from JSON to GLB is a simple process. First, flip the project setting ‘Convert to GLB’ in the ‘Asset Tasks’ group to true:

Now, simply reupload all FBX files and a .glb asset will be generated rather than a .json asset. The last step is to use the Replace command in the right-click context menu to replace the .json asset with the .glb asset (plus any materials as well).

You can then delete the old JSON asset (plus any unreferenced related materials).

Basis Compress Textures

Last month, we announced the integration of Basis texture compression into the Editor. Star-Lord was originally configured to use DXT, PVR and ETC compressed textures. A download size comparison is as follows:

Texture FormatDownload Size (MB)
DXT7.56
PVR6.09
ETC17.18
Basis2.38

This explains much of the download savings in the updated version.

Fortunately, applying Basis compression to the app’s textures is literally a two-click operation:

Prefilter Cubemaps in the Editor

When PBR first arrived in PlayCanvas, the Editor could not prefilter cubemaps. This conversion had to be performed externally with RGBM format cubemap faces being added to the Editor:

Each cubemap had 6 mip levels with 6 faces for each level. And with 5 different cubemaps, that meant 180 of the demo’s 220 HTTP requests were for these PNGs!

These days, the Editor makes is super easy to import 6 HDR cubemap faces, build a cubemap and then prefilter it.

So instead of loading 180 PNGs, the demo now loads just 5 DDS files. Much faster. 🚀

Asynchronously Load Assets

To achieve an optimal load time, it is important to only load what is required to make your app functional. It is arguable that music is not strictly a necessary precondition for your app to start. Therefore, the demo now asynchronously loads the mp3 asset that contains the music track and auto-plays it as soon as it is downloaded. It is 3.9MB which accounts for nearly 40% of the app’s payload! So be sure to carefully audit your app for assets that can be streamed instead of preloaded.

Read more about preloading and streaming of assets in the User Manual.

Useful Links

Basis Texture Compression arrives in PlayCanvas

PlayCanvas implemented the fantastic hardware texture compression workflow in 2016 which allowed users to build bigger and better WebGL apps, even on low memory devices like mobile phones.

JPGs and PNGs are great formats for transmission over a network because they tend to compress nicely. But once the images are downloaded and handed over to WebGL, they must decompressed to raw RGB(A) data. Using hardware compressed textures is important as decompression is performed in silicon on the GPU which avoids the need to utilize lots of memory.

This 4096 x 2048 Earth texture is a 1.81MB JPG but takes a huge 33.6MB of VRAM when uncompressed!

With hardware supported texture formats, we can retain a similar file size while massively reducing the amount of VRAM as seen below.

Now, what if you reduce file sizes as well as the VRAM usage?!

That is what Basis gives us and it is available right now to all PlayCanvas users! Compressing the same Earth texture above, produces a 521KB Basis Texture.That’s a 68% saving over the smallest file size from the hardware supported formats 💪

Basis is an open sourced, texture codec that produces a highly compressed intermediate file format (.basis) that can be converted at runtime to a format that the hardware supports in GPU hardware. This means that there is only a single (and often smaller) file that is created to support a wide range of platforms.

As shown by the numbers above, Basis offers huge savings in download times for the end user which in turn, can lead to improved user engagement and click to open metrics for your application.

Let’s check out a real world example. The Space Base Texture Compression Demo from our previous blog article achieves the following VRAM usage and download sizes (gzipped) on desktop in Chrome:

Note that VRAM usage for Basis would ordinarily be the same as with legacy compression. However, PlayCanvas compresses normal maps to YYYX format instead of XYZ for improved quality so utilization is marginally higher.

That’s a big saving of 52% (19.5 MB) in download size from updating the project to use Basis while using a similar amount of VRAM!

And all it takes is a couple of clicks in the asset inspector to get started with Basis compression!

To recap

  • Only need one compressed file vs many (DXT, PVR, ETC1, ETC2, etc) for every texture
  • Up to 2.8 times smaller files and faster download times for your users
  • Up to 10x faster compression times with Basis
  • Similar savings in VRAM usage as hardware supported formats
  • Same one click process to compress textures

Basis texture compression is available to everyone right now so start crunching down those textures! More information can be found in the documentation including a migration guide.

And if you’re new to PlayCanvas, why not sign up today. We can’t wait to see what you make! Let us hear your feedback in the forums!

PCUI 1.1.0 Adds Tree Control and Array Control

Back in October, we launched PCUI, an easy to use framework for building web-based tools. It already powers the PlayCanvas Editor and glTF Viewer applications.

Today, we’re excited to announce our next major release for the library: PCUI 1.1.0. Check out the release notes for the details. But let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

TreeView – Tree Control

Many web tools display data in a hierarchical or tree-based representation. But building a tree control in HTML and CSS can be tricky. PCUI 1.1.0 introduces a very easy to use tree control. And it incorporates some useful features such as:

  • Drag and drop of tree view items
  • Built-in ‘double-click to rename’

ArrayInput – Array Control

Also arriving in PCUI is ArrayInput. It allows you to create input controls for arrays of numbers, strings, booleans or vectors.

Resizable TextAreaInput Control

The TextAreaInput control has been augmented with a new resizable property that can be set to ‘none’, ‘horizontal’, ‘vertical’ or ‘both’.

To get started making awesome web tools with PCUI, here are some useful links:

Introducing JSON Script Attributes

JSON Script Attributes Preview

We have levelled up the Script Attributes that makes it much easier to organize and group related attributes together.

Using JSON, developers are able to define a schema for a data object that has multiple attributes and have them grouped together in the Inspector.

In the example below, we have created a JSON schema with the name ‘settings’ and has the attributes ‘gravity’, ‘startingHealth’ and ‘godMode’.

GameManager.attributes.add('settings', {
    type: 'json',
    schema: [{
        name: 'gravity',
        type: 'number',
        default: -9.8
    }, {
        name: 'startingHealth',
        type: 'number',
        default: 20
    }, {
        name: 'godMode',
        type: 'boolean',
        default: false
    }]
});

In the Inspector, the data object is shown as a collapsible section:

Collapsible script settings

Even better, these data objects can made into an array! This is a huge improvement over having to organize multiple attribute arrays that was difficult to update and error prone to maintain.

Example JSON schema for an array of enemies:

GameManager.attributes.add('enemies', {
    type: 'json',
    schema: [{
        name: 'health',
        type: 'number',
        default: 10
    }, {
        name: 'type',
        type: 'number',
        enum: [
            { 'Close Combat': 1 },
            { 'Range': 2 },
            { 'Both': 3 }
        ]
    }, {
        name: 'templateAsset',
        type: 'asset',
        assetType: 'template'
    }],
    array: true
});

Becomes the following in the inspector which is so much cleaner!

Arrays of JSON objects

Read more in the documentation and let us hear your feedback in the forums!

Copy and Paste Assets between Projects

PlayCanvas has a pretty cool (but not widely known about) feature that allows you to copy and paste entities and entity hierarchy between two instances of the Editor. This can save a lot of time, particularly when setting up new projects.

Many of you have requested the ability to do the same with assets. Well, we listened – and now you can! 🚀

So if you need to grab some assets from another project, no more need to download from Project A and then upload to Project B. Just copy and paste in seconds, directly from project to project.

This makes it super easy to share reusable code and assets with your team and the rest of the PlayCanvas community, especially in combination with the recent launch of Templates to setup preconfigured Entities.

Use the context menu or the Ctrl/Cmd + C and Ctrl/Cmd + V hotkeys to copy assets across to your projects. 💪

Check out the documentation for more details.

Faster Load Times with glTF’s GLB Format!

The PlayCanvas team is super excited to announce the Editor support of glTF GLB conversion with model and animation imports.

This gives developers an order of magnitude reduction in load times compared to the JSON format while keeping similar gzipped download size.

Using the Stanford Dragon model (2,613,679 vertices, 871,414 triangles), we can compare GLB and JSON parse times on a Macbook Pro 16 inch.

The JSON format took over 3 secs just to parse the data, a peak memory usage of ~498 MB and a gzipped package size of 28.1MB.

JSON

GLB speeds ahead taking only 0.193 secs which is 17x faster, uses a peak of ~25.2 MB of memory and a gzipped package size of 25.7MB 🚀!

GLB

That’s a huge saving in time and means applications will become snappier and more responsive to users, especially for content heavy games and product showcases.

We will be deprecating the use of JSON and the default format that model and animations files. Newly created projects will default to converting to GLB and in existing projects, this can be enabled in the projects settings:

If you would like to replace your current JSON assets with GLB, the User Manual has more information about the process to migrate over.

The conversion to GLB supports the importing of multiple animations in a single FBX which will help improve content workflows.

Remember our awesome glTF 2.0 Viewer? That is now integrated into the Editor to inspect any GLB asset from the project. Just right and select ‘Open In Viewer’!

Also, we have exposed Animation Import Settings under Asset Tasks in project settings. These will allow developers to adjust a balance between animation quality and fidelity against file size.

Animation Import Settings

Our next steps are to add support for viewing and editing a model hierarchy in the Editor which will lead onto support for the importing of GLB files.

The team is hard at work designing and implementing these features so watch this space!

Introducing PCUI – An Open Source UI Framework for the Web 🚀

Today, PlayCanvas is launching PCUI: a new, open source front-end framework for the web.

PCUI is designed with tools developers in mind. It is particularly well suited to building viewer and editor applications, providing a rich set of beautiful and consistent controls. It already powers the PlayCanvas Editor – the world’s most powerful WebGL production tool.

Here you can see tree controls, panels, buttons, checkboxes, toolbars, menus and more. The Editor also relies on PCUI’s observer system, that makes it easy to synchronize the state of your application’s UI with that of the underlying data. Plus, it has a built-in support for history to make implementing redo/undo a breeze.

Also built on PCUI is the PlayCanvas glTF Viewer, a tool for inspecting glTF 2.0 scenes.

Check out the viewer’s GitHub repo to see how a Typescript-based web application leverages PCUI.

If these applications inspire you to build your own browser-based tools, why not get started with PCUI today? Here are some useful links:

PCUI works great with vanilla JS projects, Typescript projects and React-based projects. It’s open source so we encourage you to get involved and help us advance PCUI.

If you’re building any kind of browser-based tool application – definitely check it out today and share your thoughts on the forum!

Supercharge your workflow with Template Assets!

It’s finally here! The PlayCanvas team is very excited to announce the public release of our new Templates feature! 🎉

Templates allow you to create preconfigured entities with all the values and child hierarchy as an asset reference.

This is a huge workflow boost as managing and changing objects in a scene is now easier and faster to do. New instances of the Template can be placed in the scene with the Editor. These instances have a link to the Template asset, so any changes to the asset will change the instances in the scene too.

Now we are able to change and update many scene entities via a single asset which is a welcome change from the tedious manual updating of multiple entities across multiple scenes.

Change all instances of Templates in one click! 🚀

Other features of the Template system also include:

  • Adding instances in the Scene editor (including drag and drop support of template assets to the Hierarchy panel)
  • Overriding properties on a per instance basis
  • Nested Templates which allows referencing a Template in another Template
  • Creating a new instances via code from an asset reference

In terms of how they can be used, we have been beta-testing the feature since early 2020 (big thanks to all those that have given us feedback and bug reports 🙏) and some of the use cases we’ve seen so far include:

  • Designing and creating sections of an infinite runner game
  • Managing UI screens and instantiating them at runtime
  • Different enemy types that a script can reference to randomly generate a level

As you can see, Templates give you a wide range of flexibility of workflow options to manage and modify content in your projects.

Find out more about Templates in the User Manual and give them a try yourself!

PlayCanvas launches glTF 2.0 Viewer Tool

Today, the PlayCanvas team is excited to announce the release of a brand new browser-based glTF viewer application.

Try it now: https://playcanvas.com/viewer

Or click these links to preload some classic glTF models: Boom Box, Damaged Helmet and Fox.

The viewer is open sourced under an MIT license and the code can be found on GitHub.

Fork it now: https://github.com/playcanvas/playcanvas-viewer

The viewer allows you to drag-and-drop any glTF 2.0 file and inspect it in detail. We challenge you to find one that doesn’t work! The viewer has the following features:

  • Visualize wireframe, skeleton, bounds and normals
  • Adjust scene lighting and skybox
  • Drag and drop equirectagular images (including HDR files) or six cubemap face images.
  • See how a model performs on both the CPU and GPU via the viewer’s real-time metrics panel
  • Play animations (including skinned and morphed meshes) – unlimited morph targets are supported
  • Visualize animation curves in real-time as graphs in the 3D view
  • Load models via drag-and-drop or by passing a URL query parameter
  • Support for Draco mesh compression

The release of the PlayCanvas Viewer coincides with the engine reaching 100% glTF 2.0 spec compliance! PlayCanvas passes every single core test in cx20’s glTF Test suite. We are now turning our attention to supporting the full range of glTF 2.0 extensions. The engine already supports:

  • KHR_materials_pbrSpecularGlossiness
  • KHR_materials_unlit

The engine itself can parse and render glTF 2.0 files incredibly quickly. You can expect glTF parse time to be approximately one tenth of that loading the equivalent JSON model.

Give it a try today – you’ll be impressed!