How to Play Old Flash Games in 2020 and Beyond
Adobe kills Flash at the end of 2020, but Flash games are an important part of internet history. Luckily, a community project called Flashpoint is stepping up to save them. Here’s how you can keep playing all your favorites for the foreseeable future.
In memory of Adobe Flash
Adobe announced that it would “stop updating and distributing Flash Player at the end of 2020”. The company encouraged content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to “new and open formats”.
The web has been moving away from Flash for years as browser-based technologies like HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly become mainstream.
Unlike Flash, these open technologies do not require third-party plug-ins. Open source technology is often subject to a higher level of scrutiny. Anyone can view the source code and search for exploits or implement the technology in their own projects.
Plugins, like Flash, the long-dead Silverlight, and the infamous Java browser plugin, operate on a closed-source development model. They are (were) maintained by a single entity which sowed all updates and patches.
Over the second half of the last decade, Flash developed a tough reputation for rampant security flaws, many of which were zero-day exploits that put people at risk.
Apple led the charge in making Flash a thing of the past. The company decided not to include Flash support on the iPhone, which forced a long overdue change.
Browser technologies such as HTML5 have emerged to replace Flash video containers. Google forced people using Chrome to run Flash in a sandbox and later blocked it entirely, refusing to index pages with Flash content.
In 2020, very few websites still use Flash. What does that mean for the tons of animations and interactive games that made the internet so fun at the turn of the millennium?
How to play flash games with Flashpoint
Of course, the internet won’t let all those classic Flash games disappear overnight. The solution is BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, a free open-source application for Windows (Mac and Linux versions are in the works).
Flashpoint provides everything you need to play classic web games. It has a library of around 38,000 web games and 2,400 animations.
However, experimental Mac and Linux versions may not include full catalog support. During testing, we noticed that the Mac version currently supports just over 30,000 games.
If you are on Windows, you can choose between Flashpoint Ultimate or Infinity. Ultimate is the comprehensive package. It includes the full Flash content archive and requires around 300 GB of disk space to install.
Infinity lets you download games on demand while you play it and only requires around 300MB of free space. If you have a Linux or Mac machine, you’ll have to settle for Infinity for now.
To get started, download Flashpoint for Windows or grab the experimental Mac or Linux ports. Start the Flashpoint launcher and browse the catalog.
Click on the “Games” tab to begin. On the left, you see several curated lists of games, in addition to the comprehensive “All Games” list. If you’re looking for something specific, type it into the search box at the top of the window. When you find something you want to try, double-click it and wait for Flashpoint to kick in.
On the Mac version we used, the game took a while to launch. This is because Flashpoint must first start its server, redirect all assets based on the game you are playing, and then launch a modified browser window to display the content.
If you want to skip straight to the good stuff, check out the list curated by “Flashpoint Hall of Fame.” You’re bound to find some old favourites, like QWOP, Portal: the Flash version, extraterrestrial hominidand Yeti Sports.
How Flashpoint Works
Flashpoint is a self-proclaimed “web game preservation project” that supports content created in Adobe Flash, Adobe Shockwave, HTML5, Java, Unity Web Player, Microsoft Silverlight, ActiveX, and other once popular web plugins.
The project consists of three main components: a web server, a redirector and a launcher. These all work in combination to create the illusion that you are accessing Flash content (and other technologies) on the Internet.
This is necessary because Flash SWF files can be finicky. Some content only works when hosted on certain servers, and some loads resources from elsewhere. Some content tries to talk to certain servers and won’t work if it can’t find them.
Flashpoint is ultimately a preservation project. Much of the technology behind these games must be emulated and hosted locally. Flashpoint takes care of all of this for you, so you can enjoy Happy tree friends animations and pandemic simulators like in 2003.
BlueMaxima is just as concerned with preserving the content as developing the underlying technology.
The Flashpoint project is primarily concerned with preservation. Since the games have been scavenged from the web (including original source websites, internet archives, and user-contributed files), the legality of it all becomes somewhat of a gray area.
The Flashpoint FAQ invites all content creators who want their games taken from the archives to contact them. It says the company will probably try to convince you to let them keep it for posterity, but “we’re not being unreasonable.”
So, are you breaking the law? It’s hard to say with certainty. While the copyright aspect is a gray area, many creators have agreed to let their creations be included in the archive. Most of the websites that originally hosted the content are long dead. And most of the content doesn’t even work without the tricks used behind the scenes by Flashpoint.
Many flash games could be classified as “abandoned software”, meaning software that has been “abandoned” by its copyright holder.
Much like downloading ROMs from the Internet, this is a tricky legal area to navigate. However, like the emulators themselves, there is nothing illegal about Flashpoint as a technology.
Modern remakes of your Flash favorites
Copyright uncertainty aside, some of the games in this collection have gone on to much bigger things. If you have a favorite from yesteryear, chances are it’s now a mobile game or available for purchase on Steam or other gaming services.
The following popular franchises all started as Flash games:
Many of them are in the Flashpoint archives, but they are far from the best versions. Modern builds made for desktop, console, and mobile are visually superior, have better controls and more content, and let you support creators by purchasing them directly.
Do you have .SWFs? Emulate Flash with Ruffle
Flashpoint is not a real Flash emulator. As we mentioned earlier, it uses three components (a web server, a redirector, and a launcher) to make Flash content work as if it were hosted on the web. It’s not just about importing a SWF file and hitting play. Some titles require a lot of tweaking and behind-the-scenes work before they can be used.
Tousle is a true Flash Player emulator. You can use it both in a browser or on a desktop to play .SWF files, as if it were Adobe’s Flash Player. To use it, however, you need some .SWF files to load – it doesn’t come with a collection of games like Flashpoint does.
The project uses a browser technology called WebAssembly to ensure compatibility across the board. Newgrounds has announced plans to use Ruffle to continue delivering as much of its content as possible after discontinuing Flash for good. If you continue to use Flash content on the web, you’ll probably be using Ruffle to do so before long.
Finally, there’s still Adobe’s official standalone Flash Player, which should still be available for download in 2020 and beyond. You can use it to open and play individual SWF files outside of your web browser.