Gaming History 101

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Flash: An Unsung Hero by Guest Author Cluedrew

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Introduction

To many people Flash may just be an annoying internet thing-a-ma-bob that updates frequently. But for a time it was the root of one of the largest and most open gaming communities in existence.  And I was a part of that. Admittedly, my part was primarily as an observer, but that was enough for Flash to leave a significant mark on my gaming history. There is a huge collection of games I look back upon fondly. You will not find much in the way of beautifully rendered 3D graphics or epic open worlds, but there are other treasures to be found.

Flash is a browser plugin that allows websites to display animations and games. Well before the modern indie game scene got started, hobbyists produced hundreds of games that you can still find scattered across the web. Most were made by a few people in their spare time and most were completely free, so you got plenty of weird idea-focused arcade experiences, puzzle games with a twist, smaller adventure and a lot of art games.

Now Flash is going away. It had a good run all things said – a run that was a quarter century long – but it is definitely getting into its twilight years now. For one last bit of praise from an unremarkable fan: here is what I have to say about Flash.

About Flash

Before getting into the games, I would like to talk about Flash itself. I had to look up things about the early days. Flash was created in 1995 by FutureWave and was called FutureSplash Animator at the time. It changed owners and names over the next decade. By the time I became aware of it its purpose had shifted from a simple animation tool to a platform for web games.

Flash is the editor, player and browser plugin for .swf (Shockwave Flash) files. You can use it to create games, play them locally on your computer, or in your browser. And most browsers come – or rather came – packaged with it. In the early days Flash gained popularity because the files were small and downloaded quickly. Then people found it was surprisingly good at making games and, as they say, they rest is history. Flash will soon truly be history as many browsers have declared they are going to get rid of it by the end of 2020.

Over the years, however, a lot of games were created.  Many of these games were collected on Flash game sites. I got my start on Miniclip but probably spent the most time on Armor Games. Newgrounds was probably the largest site and Kongregate has possibly held up the best as the years have gone by. I also want to mention Nitrome, a game studio that created their own site and produced over 100 solid games on their own.

These collections are huge! Of the ones I have mentioned, Nitrome’s is the smallest by an order of magnitude or so. The bar to entry was very low to non-existent and the more popular ones had a lot people submitting to them, so the collections soon had hundreds or thousands of games. Sorting through them to find the ones you liked could be a bit of a challenge. In fact if it I ever get a bit vague it’s probably because I am talking about a game I haven’t been able to dig up again and so I am working on memories from many years ago.  On the other hand, if you were in an exploratory mood, it was great. Try a game and, if you liked it, then you could keep on playing; otherwise just move onto the next one. Playing Flash games could very much be about the exploration as much as playing any particular game.

Flash has had detractors for a long time. Some were concerned about the wide use of a proprietary format.  Others argued it should just be included in HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language), which did eventually expand to cover many of the things Flash does. But the thing that really killed it was the security risk.

Speaking of which, don’t run Flash games from un-trusted sources. It is not at all secure so people can slip in pretty much any virus or malware into a Flash application if they want to and are willing to put in the time. On one hand, the community is largely in the clear and this seemed to never happen. On the other hand, it continues to be a worry for users and the browsers which all depend on having a reputation for security.

Despite all that, Flash still held on for quite a long time. Even as people declared it dead, it kept going, supported by the weight of existing content and grassroots developers still producing new content. Even with browsers proclaiming they are taking it out soon, new Flash games came out this year, such as the long-awaited Epic Battle Fantasy 5.  That is where we are today: support is fading but there are huge archives and a small but dedicated community. In the rest of this article I will mostly be talking about all those games in the huge archives.

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