Jeff Ward
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Can OpenFL Recapture The Magic of Flash?

Oct 15, 2014 #Actionscript#Flash#Development#Code+Art#Haxe#OpenFL

The recent blog post about how Flash Pro is trending toward exporting to various platforms in combination with OpenFL's related latter got me thinking -- just what made Flash such an awesome creativity platform? And how might OpenFL integrate Flash assets (spoiler: tightly) to recreate the magic that was creating with the Flash Platform?

To aim for such a lofty goal, one must understand the secret of creativity that was the beating heart of the Flash Platform. It can be summed up (pun intended) like so:

code + art = magic

Let me explain.

This magic was possible because art was created in the same framework as code: the display list, the timeline, the transformation matrices (the artists knew them as scale/rotate/etc), vector graphics, symbols and fonts and bitmaps and sockets -- it was all tightly integrated and accessible from either side. With respect to the equation above - you can only add two terms if they have like units, and in Flash, code and art had the same units.

A motivated engineer or designer (it didn't matter which) could do anything. Together, they were virtually unstoppable.

For a concrete example, at Kerpoof Studios we once had our animator animate empty containers (to jump, dance, shiver, etc), and our illustrators drew a bunch of characters. Then my AS3 code simply added various characters into various animated containers display list, and voila, we could mix and match for a silly scene.

Similarly, we let kids draw their own animal body parts, then we dropped those into an artist's timeline, and the kids' hand-drawn creations came to life in fully animated scenes:

We parsed designers SWFs for vector shapes and made custom brush strokes using them, just like illustrator. Here's a prototype screencap.

It's not like things like this aren't possible with other technologies - it's just that they were standard stuff - almost easy in Flash. Technology wasn't the limiting factor, imagination was.

And we were just one little shop. Pandora streamed music, Youtube streamed videos, JibJab and Homestar made us laugh, there was 3D, music authoring, games -- those were the glory days of Flash. Fast forward and all our creativity apps have long been shuttered because they don't work on some VP's iPad (schools computer labs be damned.)

Flash not only brought raw creativity to the web, it gave cross-disciplinary teams the freedom to create their own workflows that made them most productive and powerful.

By contrast, the PNG spritesheet workflows that dominate GPU-centric mobile apps feel completely flat. Each in a 2X version? Yuck. Shader languages? Repulsive. Responsive layout? Been there, Event.RESIZE'd that.

Personally, I find the return of the animated gif to be a bandwidth-slaughtering testament to HTML5's ineptitude as a Flash replacement. But I digress...

Luckily, guys like Joshua Granick aren't satisfied with this present state of affairs. He (and lots others) are working to make OpenFL more awesome every day. If you haven't heard of it, OpenFL is built on a similar API to Flash, it has more supported target platforms, more supported development platforms (linux), and Haxe language is really amazing and really portable. It compiles super fast and has all the bells and whistles AS3 doesn't (like enums, type inferencing, dead code elimination -- the list goes on and on.)

Hopefully, with an eye toward tight asset integration, OpenFL's Flash CC export plugin will be able to forge a creativity playground as powerful as the Flash Platform of Yesteryear.

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