How Flash Games Shaped The Internet

The Flash platform – that thing Adobe always asks you to update – is on life support. Granted, Adobe last released an update to its Flash Player less than a month ago, fixing the latest round of security issues, and Flash Professional is still part of Creative Cloud, the collection of tools. Adobe subscription development software. But take a look at the features featured in the latest version of Flash Professional and you’ll see the extent of the platform’s transformation: the focus on developing and deploying applications has shifted from Flash Player to new technologies for the Web.

The dream of the once-represented web Flash, a place radically open to amateur creativity has been quietly replaced by proprietary platforms such as the Apple App Store and Steam. And with each version of Flash Professional, that dream goes further and further away.

So what happened? How did the platform that Adobe once bragged about was installed on 99% of all computers so quickly fell out of favor? And why is this important?

Flash software once promised a universal encoding platform and rich multimedia experience to everyone else. Flash was designed to level out browser differences, render animated content smoothly for instant playback, and be as portable as anything on the web. As it declines, it is being replaced by a more fragmented internet. It’s more than the death of one program. It’s part of a big change in the way people experience and think about the internet.

In 2010, Steve Jobs declared war on Flash, banning it on iOS. Developers seeking to reach the growing number of iPhone users were pressured to switch technology and ditch Flash in favor of the Apple ecosystem. Even Adobe appeared to be ditching Flash, admitting in 2011 that it would no longer support the development of Flash Player on mobile, which was previously Android’s business advantage over iOS. As smartphones and tablets grew in popularity, it looked like Jobs had won, as no developer serious about these platforms could afford to invest their energy in Flash.

Now Flash is not entirely dead. The web is always teeming with Flash content. Take a look at the new games that appear every day on Newgrounds and other Flash portals. And the Flash legacy is all around us. After all, what are games and mobile apps if not the descendants (and in some cases direct translations) of the occasional web arcade and Flash-powered browser games? What is Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, if not a rotating feature of shows that often owe a great deal of debt to Flash animation? Home Movies, Harvey birdman, and Metalocalypse were all produced using Flash’s powerful authoring tools.

Flash raised a generation of animators and game designers with tools that made individual creativity possible in mediums that were otherwise labor intensive. It also allows people to design games and animations for the web, without having to go through broadcast or game companies. Flash offered a content-neutral platform: for users, that meant experimental games and Flash-powered animation wouldn’t have been welcome on typical networks or console systems.

The real death that Flash’s slow decline predicted is the death of an encoder’s dream: the “write once, run anywhere” software platform is dead. The large number of different interfaces currently on the rise reveals how unattainable this dream has become. Just as the idea of ​​a universal language for discourse in culture has proven to be not only impossible to achieve but also undesirable, the idea of ​​a universal software platform is not only improbable but undesirable. Technology is shifting from a single, dominant device to an ecosystem of devices around us, each playing its particular role and each requiring an experience design with particular attention to their various interfaces and possibilities. A universal software platform cannot develop without a near universal interface to meet it.

Some have introduced HTML5, the latest language in the HTML family, as the apparent heir to Flash. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution either. HTML5 does not work on all platforms and browsers, especially older ones like Internet Explorer. Not all mobile processors are yet up to the task of handling very complex and demanding programs, so many of the best experiences on the web (like those highlighted in Chrome Experiences) are still the most functional and enjoyable on the desktop. .

Today, in a world without Flash, developers must test their creations on a variety of different hardware, operating systems, and browsers to ensure that the often inconsistent rules that dictate layout and behavior don’t. Do not “break” and do not return all their work. unusable. Anytime you see an app or website with dragged buttons or a pop-up that says, “This website is best known with Chrome,” you see the concessions that many developers face in how web development works today. For users, this can mean a frustrating experience reminiscent of the days of the “browser wars” that divided the first web.

The impact of Flash’s death extends beyond the lives of programmers and affects Internet users around the world. Many encounter the subtle battle when they visit sites like Yelp or Google Maps on our phones, places that have both a website and a native app. It will always ask: do you want to download the app? They hope you answer yes, because the user experience for many of these apps is superior even to the most finely tuned sites designed for mobile. They take advantage of the design of the phone, not only physically in terms of screen size, but also in terms of computation: phones treat animations and transitions differently. But saying yes also strengthens the revenue and distribution control over which Apple and other platform providers have an iron grip.

So HTML5 isn’t a revolution, it’s a throwback: a throwback to dealing with problems that Flash once allowed developers to overcome. And unlike Flash, HTML5 doesn’t have a single governing body that plays a dominant role in its future, a circumstance that is both a blessing and a pitfall. It seems like every day another tool or library is released to upgrade HTML5 for one development need or another, from animation and web graphics to game engines and timeline-based interfaces. Even Adobe has entered the fray, under the guise of Flash and Adobe Edge.

So the war has started between apps and the web. Designers need to think of both and use very different tools to design each. This is because we are now using the web from different places. Results from the latest Pew Internet mobile Internet access survey suggest that 34% of cellular Internet users go online primarily using their phones, not PCs. Slowly, for users who watch things on their phones, it becomes perhaps even more important than designing for those who use computers. As the industry advances into emerging hardware, wearable devices, and other potentially restricted platforms, we are adding more and more situations that designers need to design for.

Flash has never been perfect, but for a proprietary platform, Flash at its peak gave us unprecedented tools for the production and distribution of an open interactive web. Its interface invited amateurs who knew how to have fun with drawing tools; its programming environment was largely self-contained, and its content-neutral approach invited experimentation and controversial work. Pico’s School, Tom Fulp’s violent point-and-click game, inspired by the Columbine shootout, in which the main character must navigate a school after a shootout and defeat gothic murderer Cassandra, has been coded in Flash.

The same goes for the Phone Story game by Molleindustria, which offers an “educational game on the dark side of your phone”. Players must complete four challenges, each a step in the production of phones: forcing children to extract coltan, preventing workers at the Foxconn factory from committing suicide, dividing up the work at a landfill in Ghana where the phones are put in scrap are burnt and separated. Phone Story was banned from the App Store shortly after its release, the reasons cited, including depiction of violence and the method of earning income to nonprofits, did not meet the requirements of ‘Apple.

The web may now be in the long tail of Flash’s influence, with Flash not so much relegated to the afterlife as a ghost in the machine. The future is full of amazing designs, sure, but these designs will also be more specialized than they were before. And yet, while Flash may be playing its rattle, its legacy and impact resonates in the genre of addicting casual games on our smartphones and in the features of the modern web: smooth animation, universal playability, freedom to carry on. different business models, and the need for powerful authoring tools. Flash is dead, long live Flash.

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