• Amy Muise

Part 1. Why Use Adobe Flash in the First Place?

Transitioning out of Adobe Flash

A two-part series


An animated horse stands in a barn with an animated women holding a bridle
Image from Stay Safe With Horses

For more than a decade, developers of multimedia products with sophisticated graphics and animation often chose Adobe Flash as their development platform. The same was true in our Learning Games Lab studio in the Department of Innovative Media Research & Extension. Over the years, we developed an extensive catalog of Flash-based interactive games and virtual labs.


The History of Flash


Beginning in the 1990s with the first graphical browser for the web, developers needed a convenient way to display animated content to users online. Using vector graphics in browser-based animations worked well for this. Vector graphics can scale infinitely, allowing developers to keep file sizes small even for complicated graphics – especially important in the early days of the internet, when slow connection speeds were nearly universal. In 1996, the company Macromedia acquired a vector graphics tool called FutureSplash, and Macromedia Flash 1.0 was born. To use content generated with this tool, users downloaded Macromedia Flash Player.


This early version of Flash quickly became ubiquitous for developing interactive and animated content on the web, including web games. Developers expanded their use of the tool as new features were introduced over time, such as ActionScript in 2000. Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005. By this time, Flash was widely used on many types of web pages, including for watching streaming video. Hackers began to target it, and vulnerabilities were also leveraged by state-sponsored entities targeting journalists, human rights groups, and others. Interactive media developers realized that Flash created security vulnerabilities, but without a meaningful replacement, they kept using it. However, by 2007, when Apple decided not to support Flash on the iPhone, developers accepted that its days were numbered.

In our studio, we chose to begin developing separately for mobile and web, with some educational products designed and implemented as mobile apps while other products were created to be used on the web only. This was part of a general move in the tech industry toward creating separate mobile app versions of services and games rather than expecting people to access them via web browsers.


Security issues with Adobe Flash proliferated, to the extent that other companies tried to enact their own security measures (such as Google bundling Flash Player with Chrome to isolate it). Beginning in 2009, Flash was less often used for streaming video, since the <video> tag in HTML5 allowed streaming video to run without a plugin. Javascript, CSS and WebGL allowed developers to draw, animate and build games in HTML5 using Scaleable Vector Graphics (an XML-based vector image format). By 2017, Adobe realized the writing was on the wall. They announced their intentions of retiring Flash by 2020.


As described by online magazine The Verge:

“Flash enjoyed huge cultural relevance and looms large in web history, which might be why its funeral procession has lasted for years.”

There are many reasons why developers and users held on so tightly to the final years of Flash. Flash’s ease of use allowed large amounts of animation to be made quickly and efficiently and integrated into game development on the same platform. Vector graphics allowed infinite zooming, while keeping file sizes small. Artists and animators benefitted creatively from the web culture of individual artist sites showcasing Flash animations.


Finally, there just weren’t powerful options for programming interactive tools. Because Flash was the norm for 2D interactive programs, game development software prioritized 3D environmental design, and the HTML programming options were not yet robust enough to enable the higher levels of interactivity that many Flash games required. As long as it took for Flash to fizzle out, the programming options needed more time to provide realistic alternatives.


Children’s games and educational websites were among the last category of users to transition out of Flash. Although much of the web had moved away from Flash by the 2010s, budgets for educational products are often minimal, especially for products – like ours! – that have been developed with fixed term grant funding. Other learning games companies have also faced a choice of reprogramming or abandoning their older games. For example, our friends at iCivics sunsetting four of their games and removed four others from their website until they could be reprogrammed.


Over the years, our team created award-winning games, interactives, and virtual labs in Flash (some of which have been transitioned to new formats; some of which are no longer available). These include:


Game or Interactive

Current Status

​Nutrition Decision

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Food Detectives

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Science Pirates

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Transpiration

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Ninja Kitchen

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers – Will be remade in the near future

​Treadsylvania

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Math Snacks: Game Over Gopher

​Will be available soon

​Math Snacks: Pearl Diver

​Now available in an updated version

​Math Snacks: Ratio Rumble

​Now available in an updated version

​Math Snacks: Monster School Bus

​Now available in an updated version

​Eat & Move-o-Matic (also developed for iOS)

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Safe Preparation of Beef Jerky

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Chinese Food Safety series (6 Interactives)

​Flash-based and not supported by browsers

​Stay Safe With Horses

​Now available in an updated version

​Science of Soil Series

(part of Science of Agriculture)

​Although videos and animations in the Science of Soil series remain available, some interactive modules – Sorption!, Scientific Graph Reading, The Magic of Reading Graphs and Logarithm Calculator were Flash-based and are no longer available. We hope to update them in the future. Other interactives in the Science of Agriculture series remain playable.

​Virtual Labs Series (8 interactives)

​Now available in an updated version


Flash has contributed meaningfully to our studio’s design process and creative style. The aesthetics and workflow of Adobe Flash will always be part of our studio culture and history. We are grateful for how it enabled the Learning Games Lab to create a large body of work in the early 2000s.


In 2021, it’s time to say goodbye and appreciate modern development platforms with better affordances for security, accessibility, and integration with browser function! See Part 2 to learn about our work in recent years toward updating our educational games and interactive media out of Flash.


References


Adobe. (January 13, 2021). Adobe Flash Player EOL General Information Page [End of Life Info] https://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/end-of-life.html


Brookes, T. (January 1, 2021). Adobe Flash Is Dead: Here’s What That Means. Retrieved from:

https://www.howtogeek.com/700229/adobe-flash-is-dead%C2%A0heres-what-that-means/


Fitzpatrick, S. (August 2, 2020). Flash Retirement. Retrieved from:

https://help.brainpop.com/hc/en-us/articles/360045763512-Flash-Retirement


Debré, E. (February 5, 2021). These Places Were Not Ready for Flash to Die. Retrieved from:

https://slate.com/technology/2021/02/flash-adobe-end-missed-memo.html


Newman, L. H. (January 24, 2021). Flash Is Dead–But Not Gone. Retrieved from:

https://www.wired.com/story/zombie-flash-security-problems/


Sottek, T.C. (December 31, 2020). Adobe Flash Rides Off Into the Sunset. Retrieved from:

https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/31/22208190/adobe-flash-is-dead


iCivics. (n.d.) Saying Goodbye to Adobe Flash. Retrieved from: https://l.icivics.org/?emci=eb9c7428-d134-eb11-9fb4-00155d43b2cd&emdi=05c4dc70-6735-eb11-9fb4-00155d43b2cd&ceid=9775928