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The Test Drive was originally aimed at developers who wanted a head start in building new sites and revising old ones to work better in IE9. It's still that; and it's a trove of informative documents, videos, applications, and links for such tech heads. It's also the home page for what are called IE9 "platform previews" -- the latest versions of the underlying IE9 code packaged into a bare-bones interface. But beyond all that, the Test Drive is just an awesome collection, suitable for anyone, of fun and impressive Web programming feats.
There are four main sections: speed demos, tests of how fast your browser can process demanding calculations and animations; HTML5 demos, interactive demonstrations of how the new standard works; graphics demos, which focus on the incredible flexibility and power of HTML5's canvas element and of the third generation of cascading style sheets; and browser demos, which show off features unique to IE9, which have to do with its integration with Windows. Each of these sections has fun and fascinating stuff, but the two most fun and fascinating are speed demos and graphics demos, both of which contain more than 20 samples.
One fun and challenging entry, simply named "Maze," challenges you to race against the clock and complete five mazes of increasing size and difficulty. Using your keyboard's arrow keys, you move a blue square through the maze, hoping to reach the green exit square in as few steps and as little time as possible. It's simple but addictive -- and infuriating when you realize you've entered a dead end and have to retrace your steps.
Entanglement is played on a board made up of hexagonal tiles. You start from the red point in the center: it marks the beginning of a path that you create as the game proceeds. Your goal is to create the longest path, twisting and turning around the board, while trying to avoid dead ends at the edges of the board as well as the center tile. The longer the path you create, the more points you receive.
The 10K Apart contest mentioned here with increasingfrequency has spawned a really impressive number of beautifully-executed HTML5 games. For my penultimate Beautiful Website of the Day post, I'm going to feature one more outstanding work that deserves attention and that takes advantage of some spiffy new technologies supported by Internet Explorer 9.
(One helpful feature: The board shows you what colors the next three balls will be, even if you can't predict where they'll be placed. And you can skip a turn at any time by simply clicking on the three-ball preview.)
When a Russian computer engineer unleashed "Tetris" on the world in 1984, he couldn't have known how addictive the game would prove, or how many billions of dollars in lost productivity it would cost worldwide. But given how things played out, it's no surprise that -- like Asteroids, which I covered here a few days ago -- Tetris has been ported to virtually every platform known to mankind. And for those who did eventually tire of the original version, there are all sorts of other so-called polyominoes games on which to waste hours and hours of time.
"Torus" is actually three games. There's the traditional game, which is essentially "Tetris;" "Time Attack," which challenges you to clear as many rows as possible in three minutes; and "Garbage," a fiendishly difficult variation which starts out with a tower of sparsely arranged shapes and asks you to whittle it down to three rows as quickly as possible. It isn't for the faint of heart.
In today's world of increasingly complex websites that use increasingly powerful code to build slick interfaces, there's something quite refreshing about "Canvas Rider." It's a simple game with humble graphical pretensions, and it's based on the HTML5 canvas element. It's rendered incredibly well by Internet Explorer 9, which leverages your computer's graphics processing hardware.
The game involves guiding a stick figure on a bike over landscapes drawn with primitive pencils and paintbrushes. It's reminiscent of ASCII art and the earliest video games, and yet in a way it's also very sophisticated. You may only have two bike choices and a few basic keyboard-controlled movements (lean forward, lean back, turn around, go), but the way your stick figure responds to your guidance is uncannily lifelike. When you crash, you can almost feel yourself tumble down into that ravine or slam into that wall.
All that is great fun. Even more fun is that you can build your own track and submit it for the community to play. The "Canvas Rider" site provides a built-in HTML5 drawing program, which gives you a simple set of tools for using brushes and pencils and line tools to build an obstacle course with optional buildings and creatures. You set the goal point, which the player must reach without crashing in order to complete your track; if she does, she can post her score. (The plays that earn the best scores are saved so you can load and play along with them to see how your action compares.) You may also add checkpoints to your track, to which players are returned after crashing so they can try again from that point on, and localized effects such as boosts, gravity modifiers, and bombs.
FrozenDEFENCE is an attractively designed tower defense game that builds on the power of the HTML5 canvas element. The object of tower defense games, which go back to Atari's "Rampart" (1990), is to acquire and deploy towers on a map in order to defend territory and destroy enemies before they make it all the way across the map. Eliminating enemies earns you virtual money to buy or upgrade towers; if a certain number get through, it's game over.
Created by a Finnish developer, FrozenDEFENCE grants you 1,000 euros and five hearts to start. The money is enough to buy two cannon towers (the most basic piece), or to buy one gatling tower (a faster but less thorough piece) with change left over. You place your towers so that their firing range intersects the enemies' path; you collect more euros as you shoot them down. As you get richer, you can afford the more powerful laser and shake towers, and you can also spend money to improve your existing towers' ranges. But if your towers let an enemy through the maze, you lose a heart. The game ends when you lose all five hearts.