PixiJS Creator Mat Groves: VR Is Not Going to Take Off — but AR Has Breakthrough Potential

We talked to Mat Groves, a creative coder and the co-founder of Good Boy Digital.

7 min readMay 28, 2019

Mat Groves is not just your regular web developer, he is a young ambitious coder with a creative streak. In this interview with JSNation, Mat talks about his love for web design, shares the story behind PixiJS, a WebGL renderer he helped create, and describes the work his company is doing for such great companies, like BBC, Facebook, and McDonald’s. Mat is coming to Amsterdam to give a talk at JSNation Conference, June 6–8, 2019.

Hello Mat, and welcome to the interview with JSNation! Why do you describe yourself as a creative coder?

Sure! Even though I studied Computer Science, I have always had a bit of a creative streak. My first job in this industry was actually as a designer. Even though it was a great experience I was not entirely awesome at it, so I started to move to the developing side of things and as time went on I realized that my home was in the intersection of the two disciplines. Coding, but for visual ends!

Tell us the story behind PixiJS. Why did you feel the need to create something like that?

I had built quite a few renderers before I created PixiJS. Back in the flash days, I made a little custom renderer for our games and also a few different 3D ones too! It’s something I have always enjoyed doing. Around the time Flash was on the way out, I started playing around with canvas. We made a small game prototype that we tested on my iPhone 4. It blew my mind when I saw this game running in-browser on my phone at 60fps!

I then started playing around with WebGL as it seemed like cool tech. I realized that even though it was super fast, it would be pretty useless as barely any devices supported it. Then I went looking for a renderer that ran in WebGL but would fallback to canvas if required. There was nothing… and with that PixiJS was born. We always knew it would be a project that we would share, but had no idea that it would take off as it did!

How did you become a co-founder of Good Boy Digital? What’s behind the name?

Goodboy is the brainchild of me and my co-founder John Denton. We worked together in a few different companies. He is a great guy and we had complementary skill sets and the same vision for wanting to make cool stuff on the internet. We had seen what HTML5 was capable of, but no one seemed to be pushing it. There was a hole in the market for making a top draw HTML5 content. We decided to try and fill it with Goodboy!

As for our name, you know that feeling you get when you pet a dog or your kid?!? You kind of pat and ruffle their head and you say “good boy!”. That feeling of happiness and warmth is what we wanted to bring the world with our company :) Oh yeah, and there were loads of really hard-edge ‘tech’ sounding companies appearing at the time. As the saying goes; when others zig you zag. So we did!

Among the clients mentioned on goodboydigital.com are BBC, Facebook, McDonald’s, Lego, etc. Can you share something exciting you did for any of those companies?

I think one of the proudest things we have recently released with the BBC is CBeebies Get Creative It’s a really great example of how web tech can be used to build a small, walled garden of downloadable, savable content. We also got to flex our guns with our internal 3D engine!

Another project that has just landed in beta is a full-on multiplayer game, Nightfall. Aside from rendering, making a multiplayer game has always been on my list of dream projects. So happy to be part of this one!

We also have lots of other treats cooking up in the studio, but our clients might not be so happy if I shared too much with you. 🙂

What can your company do for your clients?

Our specialty definitely lies where creativity meets technology on the web. We make all kind of experiences, games, and interactive content. All are underpinned by our core values of delivering creative and technical awesomeness with a smile. From helping clients create incredible WebGL visuals for their websites to smashing out super fun games for global brands, we love it all! We also have a consultancy arm that lets us work with other companies to really get the most out of PixiJS or WebGL in general.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on a few different things! The most interesting is I am working on a new 3D model format for the web. It’s mainly for internal use, but if it goes well then we will likely Open Source it. Or maybe we should sell it?! (Kidding!)

Aside from that, I am working on some tutorials for PixiJS to showcase some of the new features of v5.

What do you think is the future of web development and design? Is it in VR? If so, why?

That is a GREAT question. I definitely see a collision course for web and native. WebAssembly will allow people to run native apps on the web. Whilst web sites already have the ability to be packaged into an app, PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) are a middle ground that gives you the benefits and ownership of an app, but adaptability and openness of the web. I think it’s soon all going to become the same. Eventually, software and apps will be delivered the same way that the web delivers content by streaming.

As much as I want it to, I honestly don’t think VR is going to take off the way it perhaps seemed at first. I don’t think it’s going to be the dead-end that 3D TV was, but its application is just a bit less ubiquitous than I think the world was suggesting it would be. VR is like having a rollercoaster in your garden. Mind-blowing for the first few rides, but it still gets old after a bit. For me, VR’s applications are at two quite polar scales — VERY expensive setups like the VOID experiences and theme parks, and then super cheap, cardboard based web content like viewing the interior of a car from the driver’s seat. It’s really good at communicating the scale, so that’s definitely something I think we’ll see more of.

AR, on the other hand, has true breakthrough potential though. I am super excited about that, especially once it gets small enough for us to stick into our glasses! I also cannot wait for this tech to fully land in the browser. At present, the native version (ARKit) is orders of magnitude slicker and more compelling. It will get there though, I’m sure.

Are you involved in any open source projects?

As our company has grown (along with my family!) time has become more of a premium for me. Which means any time I have for OS is spent on PixiJS! Luckily, I am not the only one who contributes to PixiJS anymore, there is a very bright and talented team that evolve and push the project forward.

Have you given any public talks?

All my talk have been Pixi / WebGL related, mainly as that’s what I know and where I feel I can bring the most value by showing people how some of the bits work under the hood. 🙂 These have been at varying levels, from totally uninitiated audiences to hardcore geeks. I love doing them all though. Sharing the Pixi word always reminds me of just how this ‘bedroom project’ has become a mature, global technology.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do in your free time?

Home life is almost as busy as my work life! Outside of work I am kept busy with my young family. Two kids (1 and 3) demand a lot of my attention, which I am happy to give! In-between all that, I love to squeeze in a little sport (cycling and basketball) and, of course, a little gaming! I love my Switch, and when I’m not on that I take a perverse delight in those crushingly tough titles like Sekiro and Dark Souls!

Are you excited about the upcoming JSNation Conference in Amsterdam this year? What are you going to talk about?

I can’t wait for this year’s JSNation. Super proud to be part of it too! I will be talking about what I know best, rendering on the web. Really keen to show people the different thinking styles associated with using Canvas or WebGL.

The interview was prepared with the assistance of Marina Vorontsova, a copywriter from Soshace.com. Soshace is a hiring platform for web developers: hire a developer or apply for a remote job.

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