Chrome can do a lot more than browse the internet and store bookmarks. It’s a kind of modular secondary operating system, and developers inside and outside Google are constantly discovering new capabilities in the existing code. At the same time, that code and the attendant libraries are constantly being expanded in a kind of benign, collaborative arms race. If that’s the case, then Experiments is Chrome’s open-source, playful Skunk Works.
What are Chrome Experiments?
An Experiment can take many forms. To celebrate the thousandth Experiment (the site launched with just 12), 1000.chromeexperiments.com was created, and is itself Experiment #1,000.
Chosen at random, particles-web-matrix lets you watch as particles form webs of increasing complexity and energy with each other by apparently random motion. More recently, seeing-music visualizes music for the ‘hard of hearing,’ as the description on https://experiments.withgoogle.com/ explains.
Particles-web-matrix is a test of web technologies ability to visualize physics. Seeing-music is part of Google’s Start With One initiative, encouraging developers using open-source web technologies to share projects that aim to ‘make something impactful for them and their community’,’ in the hope that they’ll ‘grow with exposure and impact many more people.’
Other Experiments are games, art projects or training tools.
Here’s a look at the 22 best Chrome experiments.
1: Browser Pong
The classic table-tennis game brought from the arcade to the Atari, and now to your browser. Adblockers stop it working, so you’ll have to disable yours, but once you do, you can get as much bouncing-the-tiny-pixel-ball-back-and-forth fun as your heart desires, right inside Chrome.
The goodies fly these in Star Wars, and now you can too — in your browser, and in questionable-but-adequate graphical quality. Fly the trench run, turn off the targeting computer and use the Force, plus the arrow keys and spacebar.
Blast incoming targets against a time limit — a timeless formula rendered interesting by the first-person viewpoint and the deliberately abstract, psychedelic oddness of the targets. They don’t shoot back, just drift idly toward you, but the game is oddly intense, perhaps because of the very tight time limits. Some targets, when shot, yield packages and power-ups; every so often, one of these will cause your browser to open the website of Martin Laxenaire, who wrote the code.
4: A Dark Room
A Dark Room is a text-based browser game that starts in, you may be ahead of me here, a dark room. Your first job is to light the fire, then follow text prompts to make decisions — readers of a certain age may recall Granny’s Garden and the format invites comparison with Torn. Experiment has the reputation of being much more addictive than you’d think, with clever touches like timers before you can react and teasers for upcoming plot elements.
roTopo is a 3d puzzle game in which you play a stick-figure seeking to escape 3d landscapes by working out the puzzle they represent and completing it. The Escher-ish changes in perspective and the surreal approach to gravity make it a little disorienting, but the puzzles are ingenious.
Plink connects users with other users at random, and lets them make music together via a ‘multiplayer music experience with a super intuitive user interface,’ which allows you to create music with mouse clicks, correcting melodic lines and collaborating with other Plink users.
Named for the Russian abstract artist and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky, who developed a synaesthetic conception of art and music, Kandinsky lets users draw simple shapes using the mouse; the shapes are then converted into music. Building on Kandinsky’s ideas, colors and shapes have specific musical equivalents, letting you learn, in a sense, to write music as you play.
(Also check out Alice, an AI that reads emotion from your drawings.)
8: Poco Apollo
An online generative music project by Icelandic musician Halldór Eldjárn, Poco Apollo creates musical soundscapes from NASA’s photos of its Apollo missions.
Mecabricks gives you a limitless pile of digital Legos to play with. You can pick colors, shapes and sizes and place them to build on a 3D grid map. Along the way, you’re learning not just to build, the way you do with Lego, but to create things digitally — another layer of skill. That’s a great way to sell yourself on spending hours with this Experiment. If you have kids, use that excuse too.
If you want something a bit more real-world than digital Legos, try House Configurator. Starting with readymade templates you can build your own house, then visit and tour it in 3D. You can spend your time building absurdly glorious chalets, or figure out whether getting that extension is really a good idea.
Learning to touch-type is maybe more important now than ever; have we ever typed more? Ztype teaches you to touch-type by teaching you to do something you probably already know how to do: blast aliens out of the digital sky. Words appear on the screen: as you type them, your shop rotates and blasts the targets next to them. If you find your current typing style isn’t fast enough, there are tutorials available in the game.
A trainer to help you learn to type Morse Code quickly and accurately. That could be to more easily communicate, the stated purpose of the Hello Morse project, of which Morse Typing is a part. At first glance this seems an unlikely claim — when would an antiquated tapping code be easier than using one of the overwhelming plethora of communication apps just a download away? But for people whose communication is limited by health conditions like cerebral palsy, it can be a real lifeline. That’s why developer Tania Finlayson created it. You’ll need to set up Morse Code for Gboard to use it.
One part narrative film, one part strange interactive game, this Experiment takes both its form and its content from Jeff Noon’s short story of the same name, which looks at marketing and craving through the lens of a soft drink that tastes different depending on how you twist the cap. In the game, you see a different narrative depending on how you twist the story. If that sounds odd, wait til you see it…
This interactive film uses face recognition technology paired with music from Canadian rock band Young Empires. To change your perspective and see the film from a new angle, lean left or right in front of your webcam.
15: Roger Water
An endless, flying exploration of a generative 3D island landscape, based on earth landscapes and soundtracked by the music of Roger Water by Niagara. It’s interactive — players can steer, launch objects and interact with them, and populate the world with creatures. There’s no point, as such, and that’s kind of the point. Works nicely on smartphones or with basic VR equipment as well — though the website currently appears to be down! It’s still worth including for its ambition and stangeness.
16: Sound City
Explore a neon cityscape whose buildings respond to the music played in-game, changing size, shape and color to provide an immersive synaesthetic experience.
An online trivia game, in essence: given a snippet of a Wikipedia article about a place, you try to figure out where that place is and then identify it by pinning it on a virtual 3D globe. The graphics are more reminiscent of Google Maps than some of the more abstract offerings in this list. Of course you could short-circuit it by Googling the Wikipedia text…
The Searching Planet lets you zoom in and out, rotate and even enter by VR a virtual Earth while a story, supported by graphics, talks you through the global popularity of search terms. At the moment, The Searching Planet is a curiosity — but it’s not hard to see it becoming a usable tool sometime in the future.
19: 100,000 Stars
An interactive visualization of our stellar neighborhood, 100,000 stars shows the real location of slightly over 100,000 of our nearest stars. There’s a virtual map of our nearest 97 star systems and of our solar system, while the broader galactic map is an artist’s rendition. If you’ve ever wanted to know what you can see in the night sky, or you’re looking for a wider canvas than Google Maps’ tours of the Moon, this could be for you.
(Also check out One Million Stars for more stars!)
Lo-fi virtual roadtrip across 3,500km of the USA, patched together from Google Streetview images and taking in Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Sequoia and the Grand Canyon.
21: Radio Garden
The world’s radio stations, accessible wherever you are by rotating a virtual globe and picking locations to ‘listen from.’ A menu at the side tells you your location and lists the top picks from the area. It takes a while to load, but once it’s up and running there’s a search engine that lets you find radio in your chosen location, and surprisingly, there’s a lot more than Top 40 on offer here.
A voice-controlled browser game that tests two players to find which one is the most New York doesn’t have to be a test to see who sounds the most like Vinny from Jersey Shore, you’ll be pleased to hear. Instead of being an audio version of this, the game presents you with a hot topic of the day and sees how closely your opinion aligns with the aggregate view across the five boroughs.