A lot is changing lately in the Flash game development world. Flash was banned from the iPhone, mobile games are increasing in popularity, and new tools and technologies now exist that are great for making games. With all these changes going on, I wondered “Where is the future of Flash going?”
So I sent out an email to authors/game developers/brothers Jeff Fulton and Steve Fulton of 8 Bit Rocket, and they agreed to let me pick their brains for a bit about the future of Flash and where it’s headed.
Without further ado, here is the interview:
Before we get started, can you guys tell everyone a little bit about yourselves?
We started making professional Flash games for Mattel Toys in 2000 and had created a few java games for the Barbie and Hot Wheels web sites between 1997 and 2000.
In 2005, well before the indie Flash game boom, I created a game called Retro Blaster and tried to get it sponsored. No one accepted it. We created the 8bitrocket.com site in late 2006 to promote AS3 game development and champion Tile sheet Blitting, which was virtually unheard of then. It was the technique that made Retro Blaster able to push out 1000’s of objects onto the screen with virtally no slow down (and that was the AS2 version of blitting). Between 2006 and 2010 we made well over 100 indie games and many went up on Mochi, while many sat on hard drives never to be completed or released. We wrote the Essential Guide To Flash games in 2009 (released in 2010 on Friends of Ed).
When HTML5 and especially the Canvas started to get implemented in browsers, we wrote the HTML5 Canvas book for O’Reilly. We are currently working on the second edition. 8bitrocket.com was a pretty popular indie Flash gaming blog for a number of years (2008-2010), I think we were down to a 65K Alexa ranking at one point (for what it was worth), but after the books were published we needed to start making a living off of contract work and the blog has shifted focus and lost most of its readership. We both now are partners in Productostudios.com where we do all manner of contract work and release our own games for the mobile markets.
Let’s start off by talking about browser-based Flash games, the games that reside on portals like Newgrounds and Kongregate. What sort of future do you see in store for Flash in the browser world?
Jeff: Flash and browser-based games are not going to go away anytime soon. There has been a shift to much higher quality games in the last few years, so the competition for sponsorship is more fierce than ever. We don’t release games into this market, or cover them much any more, so I cannot comment too much more, but I do see these sites moving to a combo of free Flash games and HTML5 games (so they can target the mobile browsers). Some of them already have cracked the HTML5 market.
Steve: Every indication we have from customers is that they want to move to HTML5, and this includes converting Flash apps to HTML5. We have done some work in that area, but the situation is still confusing for customers because HTML5 is limited to modern browsers but Flash is still ubiquitous on the web and works in older browsers. They want both.
Interesting Steve, you do work with, and have published books on, both Flash games and HTML5 Canvas. If a developer had to pick just one of those languages to learn, which of those would you recommend?
Steve: Wow, tough question. I would say that it depends on what your job focus will be. If you are going to work on the web or mobile web, then HTML5 is the way to go. Almost every customer we talk to plans to move into HTML5 in some way, specifically to target the mobile web.
If you plan to “weaponize” web sites as apps, HTML5 is a good choice too. However, while you can use HTML5 for mobile apps , when you start moving towards apps with heavy animation, custom video, masking, 3D, etc. Flash looks a like a better platform to learn. Still, there is a place for both, so focus on the one you know the least about, get up to speed, and kick ass in whatever you do.
Jeff: Steve is pretty right on for the HTML5 v Flash question. I’d add the HTML5 needs to be adopted as a standard across all browsers with fixed sound support, better video support and a great IDE that allows for timeline-based content to be created and exported before it will touch the ease of use of Flash. That being said, mobile web sites can be created without Flash using the currently available jquery libraries and plethora of mobile frameworks. They can then be packaged up with Phonegap or the equivalent and morphed into native apps.
Let’s keep talking about mobile. Do you see a future for Flash in the mobile arena when there are other, arguably better, language options out there for mobile?
Steve: There are “other” ways to make apps for mobile devices, and we have used several of them. However, at this point. We believe Flash CS6.0 offers us the most coverage across devices with good performance, and the ability to work with lots of legacy Flash content we and our customers have developed.
Jeff: The mobile Flash browser is dead and will never be resurrected. Flash as a tool is certainly NOT dead. In fact, we use CS6 for almost EVERYTHING. Sometimes those games are exported as SWFs for clients, some times for AIR to various platforms (including awesome performance on newer mobile devices), and sometimes we export the Flash assets and build native apps or use a cross-platform tool like Corona, or HTML5.
There is no better tool for designers to create or prototype a game or app in than Flash, especially given that the Flash version of an app has uses beyond being just an export medium for import into other development environments. Plus, I love AS3, always have, always will. I love vector graphics and the timeline and the seamless integration that has taken 15 years to build into an awesome tool. Anyone who counts Adobe out is going to be in for a rude awakening.
There is no other tool like it and there probably never will be.
Jeff, it sounds like Flash CS6 is the jack-of-all-trades sort of program. As phone processors get faster and apps are able to become more complex, do you see Flash being replaced by lower level code like Objective C? Or do you think Flash will be able to keep pace for mobile development?
Jeff: As for performance, nothing can touch native development for pure speed, but Unity comes close for 3D games, and Air works really well for 2D and hopefully Stage 3D when it is fully implemented.
Any last thoughts?
Jeff: If you are a Flash developer and want to make a native mobile app, CS6 is a great tool. If you are an HTML developer and want to make a web site that will work across most browsers (especially newer mobile smart phones), a combination of HTML4/5, CSS2/3, jQuery, and other mobile frameworks are the way to go. If you are interested in pure speed and or 3D then Native is the best avenue to explore. If you don’t know Flash, but want to create great native cross-platform apps apps, you can use standards based HTML technologies and package up with PhoneGap, or use Corona, Unity, or another multip-platform tool.
Personally, given the ability for Air to be exported to so many platforms and the lack of a good IDE or Sound support in Mobile Browsers for HTML5. I would choose Flash to Air rather than HTML5 to PhoneGap (etc).