The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Flash
Adobe Flash has played a very important role in the evolution of both web design and web development. Initially created by Macromedia, the Adobe Flash Player plugin in 1996 made it possible to create multimedia optimised for the internet. What initially set Flash apart was the vector graphic format it is based upon, enabling elaborate graphics and animations to be created without resulting in large file sizes.
Macromedia continually developed the Flash Integrated Development Environment, empowering designers and developers, giving rise to a boom in online animations with designers and developers continually pushing the capabilities of the IDE to its absolute limit, effectively pushing Macromedia to continue to integrate new features and improve existing features. The power and popularity of Flash continued to snowball.
Pioneers of Flash animation
Tokyo Plastic were at the forefront of innovation in Flash animation. Tokyo Plastic famously produced animations which benchmarked the capabilities of Flash. With inspiring amounts of creativity and technical ability, Tokyo Plastic realised the capabilities of the Flash platform, setting the bar for designers worldwide.
The Drum Machine (http://www.tokyoplastic.com/drummachine.html) and Music Box (http://www.tokyoplastic.com/musicboxsplash.html) are prime examples of how Tokyo Plastic stretched the capabilities of the Flash platform to deliver rich, inspiring Flash animations.
Changing the Internet as (we thought) we knew it
The Macromedia Flash platform eventually began to plateau as a vector based an animation tool.
Designers soon began creating rich interactive websites which utilised the by-now refined animation tools and the new Actionscript language which give way to a new wave of web trends. By this time websites commonly featured complicated introduction animations background music and sound effects.
2Advanced (http://www.2advanced.com/) were at the forefront of this era of web design, frequently pushing the capabilities of the Flash platform in every direction. The evolution of the 2Advanced website demonstrates the ongoing development of the Flash platform, each showcasing the peak of the possibilities at the time of it’s release:
No playing games – time to get serious
By version 5 of the Flash IDE platform, Flash had began to attract the attention of video game developers. It had became the perfect platform for video game developers to create casual games to be played on the internet.The utilisation of Flash for video game development accelerated the development of the Flash platform itself with Macromedia looking to facilitiate the requirement of game developers as much as possible, encouraging the ongoing commercial use of the platform.
Developers continued to push Macromedia for new features, enabling them to create increasingly impressive gaming experiences featuring collision detection, physics engines, Artificial Intelligence opponents and much more to create rich gaming experiences, the commercial implications of this movement were huge.
Teagames(http://www.teagames.com/) is one of many websites which host a wide variety of Flash games which demonstrate perfectly just how powerful the Flash Platform had become.
What goes up must come down
By now, Macromedia Flash had played a huge hand in the evolution of the internet.
Where historically users surfed around the internet directly visiting websites they knew of and following links from those to other sites, while search engines began to change all that by indexing every website they could find and making access to their colossal data store publicly available, meaning internet users could utilise search engines to find absolutely anything.
Search engines did this by viewing the source code of a website to work out the subject and evaluate the quality of a website before indexing it in the appropriate place.
Commercially, organisations both big and small were beginning to take the internet more seriously as a means of promoting their business and it became a fiercely competitive business.
This spelled bad news for the Flash platform as search engines such as Google and Yahoo are not able to read the source code of files created with Flash. In time, this saw commercial demand for designers and developers to steer away from development of Flash websites and revert back to sites which rendered HTML code with a vision to optimise the website for search engine indexing.
In time, the number of designers and developers utilising the Flash platform for web based work decreased, with focus shifting towards how websites would perform in Search Engine indexing . This said, the platform continued to be strongly favoured by game developers.
In December 2005, Macromedia was acquired by Adobe Systems, renowned for development of powerful web design and development tools including Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver to name a few flagship products.
Adobe had a vision for the platform which saw it maintain a place in the toolbox of web design and development professionals. Flash, amongst other Macromedia products became part of the Adobe suite and continued to evolve through many revisions to become an increasingly powerful, efficient tool for delivering interactive content on the internet.
Evolution of new technologies
The limitations of Flash based content lie almost entirely in file format which Flash has (until now) used when publishing its content.
In the advent of technologies such HTML5 and CSS3 there have been numerous software libraries and tools developed which make it possible to create rich “Flash-style” content without the need to embed a .SWF file into a page.
So where does Flash go from here?
Perhaps ironically, Adobe are active Sponsors of the CreateJS project, although their intentions are sound and by no means a secret. In a very shrewd move by Adobe, Flash CS6 (http://www.adobe.com/products/flash.html) is capable of publishing content in HTML5 and CSS3 format, ready to drop right into your CreateJS project.
This suggests that Adobe are looking to evolve Flash beyond the limited .swf format to actually embrace the very open source technologies which are set to replace the .swf format upon which Flash has always relied. Designers and developers will continue to use Flash as a means of creating everything multimedia including vector sprites, sounds, animations and interactions but then export it all into a new format which overcomes all of the limitations which saw the previous decline of the Flash platform.