10 Reasons Why Flash Is Still My Favorite Game Development Platform

Yes, we have been dabbling in HTML5 and even in Silverlight.  We have touched on Unity, Java FX and worked in Xcode for the iPhone.  However, after I tried the Flash CS5 IDE a few weeks ago, I realized that nothing has changed.  I still love Flash, and I can’t see that feeling disappearing any time soon. I have tried to put my finger on why I feel that way, and it all boils down to the following list.

1. Backwards Compatibility:  I have made Flash games and apps since 1999.  All of them still run in Flash 10.1.  I can  edit all .fla files in Flash CS5.  Sure, there have been slight incompatibilities over the years, but Macromedia/Adobe have eventually fixed most of them.  No other game platform can say the same thing.  Without some technical wrangling, many Windows games made before XP, and all Mac games made before the intel Macs, don’t work these days.  The PS3 took out backwards compatibility completely.  Yet, Adobe understands that it is the key to their success.  Yes, the Flash player has increased in size over the years, but not at the same pace as broadband has been adopted.  At the same time, the size of the Flash player download (2.66 PC,  7.59 Mac) is still quaint by comparison to some other platforms (Silverlight 13.3 MB – Mac).

2. Audio And Sound Support : Flash support for audio is amazing.  Yes, there have been a few bugs, especially before AS3, but when you look at the alternatives, Flash is the best thing going.  Both HTML5 and Silverlight suffer from audio problems that Flash solved before eBay became a household name.  With CS4, Flash added a spectrum analyzer that puts advanced audio applications and processing at the fingertips of clever programmers.  Also, unlike many other languages and technologies, Flash is compatible with a multitude of audio formats that it converts to one single standard (if you choose, you can use multiple standards if you like).  No other mass market development tool takes audio so seriously or gives you as may tools or options as Flash does.

3. Video Support:  Yes, we believe that HTML5 will one day be the lowest common denominator in video on the web, but that does not mean it will be the best choice for developers.   Flash gives you the ability convert nearly any video format into a single standard to play on the web.   While HTML5 requires you to convert a  video onto 3 (.ogg/.ogv, .webm, .mp4) formats to make sure it will work in every (modern) browser, Flash can take most of those formats (and many others) and make them work in EVERY browser. (Except the obvious hold-outs like Mobile Safari).   Flash also supports monetizations of video, HTTP streaming, and many other video features that are not present in other technologies.

4. The Flash IDE:  Many programmers run from it, but the Flash IDE (especially CS5) really is a marvel to behold.  It cuts a fine line between artist and programmers, providing just enough tools to satisfy the needs of both.  You have the option to work in other tools that might make you more efficient based on your workflow(e.g. Fireworks, Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder, Flash Develop, etc.) but the key is: you don’t have to.  With a single tool you can produce applications for multiple platforms, including art, animation, code, and everything in-between.  No other platform, at least at this price range, has a tool as robust, or across the board, as full featured as the Flash IDE.

5. The iPhone Packager : Holy @#$!, this rocks.  Even as a simple way to make rapid prototypes, it’s worth every penny you didn’t spend on it because when you bought CS5 Apple would not let you Flash produced apps on the iPhone (unless you bought it within the last few weeks).  Now that it is “official”, it can’t be beat.  The best part is, it requires AS3, which forces developers to rework old code to make it a bit more efficient for the platform.  Bonus: The Android Air Packager.  Need I say more?

6. Scaling :  Sure, “who cares about scaling”, but the way Flash was designed to scale for vector graphics is one of the key points of it’s success.   What other tool allows you to take a full game that was designed for 320×240 and scale it to 640×480 and have it work perfectly fine, and look even better (if you used vectors, or scaled-down bitmaps) than it did at it’s original size, but still play the same?    I know this is not a commonly used feature, nor is it as “sexy” as some of the other items listed, but this little feature has saved my bacon on projects more often than any other.  It has also let me re-use engines for projects that would otherwise be impossible.

7. Flex SDK: So you don’t like the Flash IDE?  Who needs it?!?  The Flex SDK does almost as much, and is FREE.    You want to use non-Adobe made tools, and produce .swf apps that are completely royalty free and do not require  any kind of desktop tool.  Fine, done.   You want to incorporate the production of Flash apps into  a build process or “make” style workflow.  No problem.   It is free, open source, and just as powerful (if not more so) than the Flash IDE.

8. Available Libraries And Frameworks:  AS3 (and AS2) is such a flexible language, that vast arrays of code libraries and frameworks can be built to do almost anything with Flash.  Don’t like the built-in collision detection? Build your own.  Want 3D?  Try any of several different options.  Do you like MVC? Go ahead, it’s easy to implement.  Most frameworks can be used with both the Flash IDE and the Flex SDK, so no matter what your workflow might be, you have options.  While HTML5 has many JavaScript libraries available, some other web-based game platforms are built on models where the free-sharing of code and libraries, while they exist, is not as common-place, or as easy to find, as with Flash.

9. Game Platform Services : No other technology has such a vast array of free (or nearly free) services available to game developers to monetize their games and expand them with features such as multi-player, game save, analytics, social networking, play-matching, micro-transactions, in-game advertisements,  distribution, encryption, security etc. etc. etc.  Not only that, but the opportunity to get your games in the hands of players almost instantly through (the still very vital) network of game portals is amazing.  Yes, some of the options don’t pay as well as others, but fact they even exist is quite astonishing.  As web gaming evolves to areas like mobile and Facebook, these services are the best place for developers to add features to their games and take them into the future.

10. Flash Developers:  In the end, the best thing about Flash is the  Flash game development community.   For the most part, there is a special breed of developer that has chosen Flash as their platform of choice for making professional games.  These are people who many times merge art and science into their creations to make something bold and new.  They take the best of design world, the best of the development world, and the best of the game world,  and combine them to make something unique and amazing.  Yes, there is a lot of chaff, and yes , these types of people develop for other platforms too,  but there is something very unique about the serious Flash game development community.  I’ve met everyone from original Atari 2600 programmers, to college undergrads, to grandfathers, to tween-age kids, to middle-age career changers,  all trying to take the nagging game idea (or ideas)  they have in their head and make it a reality.  Flash is such a great tool, that it helps make those dreams a reality, much more so than any other tool I have every seen.   I am humbled by the talent I see flow daily into the game feeds and portals that I visit as often as possible and I am proud and honored to be considered part of that community.

-8bitsteve

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