The Life and Times of Adobe Flash Player Gamingby@strateh76
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2,651 reads

The Life and Times of Adobe Flash Player Gaming

Too Long; Didn't Read

Adobe Flash Player has a negative reputation, but it has a positive impact on the Internet. It has shaped the face of web pages and advertising, opened the way to user-generated content, and formed the basis of YouTube. It's not just about the huge library of projects that many remember and love, but the indie revolution that started with Flash Player and its impact on mobile and social games. By following the links in the article, you can feel the games directly in your browser without messing with the Flash Player.

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In recent years of its existence, the Adobe Flash Player has acquired an extremely negative reputation. And this reputation overshadowed all the positive impact it had on the development of the Internet and its content. After all, Adobe Flash Player has shaped the face of web pages and advertising, opened the way to user-generated content, has not allowed dying 2D animation, and formed the basis of YouTube. This is not a complete list of Adobe Flash Player merits. As we are accustomed to seeing it now, the Internet became so many thanks to Flash.

The same is true for video games. It's not just about the huge library of projects that many remember and love, but the indie revolution that started with Adobe Flash Player and its impact on mobile and social games.

By following the links in the article, you can feel the games directly in your browser without messing with the Flash Player. Of course, if you're reading this text from your PC and not your phone.

Adobe Flash Player Prologue: Birth and First Games

There was a time when the Internet was different. It mainly consisted of forums and chat rooms, images were rare and took an inexcusable long time to load, and videos were more like gifs than videos. This was the 90s when the web was forming and could boast neither speed nor beauty. But in 1996, everything started to change with the release of FutureSplash Animator and, more importantly, the little browser plugin FutureSplash Player.

Both would become really famous under slightly different names - Macromedia Flash and Macromedia Flash Player, and later Adobe Flash and Adobe Flash Player.

Adobe Flash was a program for creating animation, and Flash Player allowed this animation to play in the browser window. Through the use of vector graphics and clever image construction algorithms, Flash animation, and later its derivatives, had minimal size, which was especially important at the time.

Adobe Flash gradually began to change the look of the Internet, filling the space of hyperlinks and text with animations and minimal interactivity.

As a program for creating animation, early versions of Flash did not have the necessary functionality for game development - neither a programming language nor any tools for such a thing were there. Only simple buttons were to move between scenes and start/stop the action on the screen. And already, this was enough to create the first projects.

It is tricky to find the first Adobe Flash projects because the very early history of flash games is covered with obscurity and the darkness of time, where tracing anything is almost impossible. There are mentions of simple point-and-click quests and quizzes on the Internet, although I could only find games like Frog in a Blender.

Fog in blender

One of the most famous Adobe Flash games of the late 90s was Pico's School, a quest/thriller inspired by Columbine High School. The game owes its popularity not only to its spicy theme but also to its technical execution. By the standards of software, in which the main tools of interaction were still the basic buttons, Pico's School was an extremely complex and advanced game.

Pico's School

In 1999, with the release of Macromedia Flash 4, there was an expansion of the scripting part of the program, and it became possible to create something more complicated than quizzes. This was the first step towards introducing a full-fledged programming language that would practically turn animation software into a game engine.

Adobe Flash Player Chapter 1: Popularity, Money, and Piracy

The beginning of the new millennium was the dawn of Flash, a time when it took over the minds of thousands and the computers of millions, taking root in the Internet and changing it forever.

The starting point for this was the site NewGrounds, created by Tom Fulp, author of Pico's School. In April 2000, an automated system for receiving and posting user-generated games and animations began to work on NewGrounds. Anyone could share their creativity with the world.

In August of 2000, Adobe Flash got a full-fledged programming language - ActionScript 1.0. A couple of years later, it will grow to version 2.0, becoming the standard for developers for years to come. From this point on, no restrictions on creating games with Adobe Flash will no longer be.

Funny, but at the time, Macromedia has not positioned Flash as a tool for game development. And it is unlikely to have anticipated that video games would be what would make it truly famous.

Most of the games of the early 2000s were not outstanding. The technology was gaining popularity, and many aspiring authors, often without development experience, were taking their first steps. They created simple shooting galleries, attempted to create platformers and simulators, and the like. They created not many really outstanding projects that would try to get the most out of Flash and show what it is capable of.

Not surprisingly, one such project was the responsibility of Tom Fulp. In 2002, together with Dan Paladin, he released Alien Hominid, an early Run 'n Gun action game in the vein of Contra and Metal Slug. Alien Hominid was good-looking, fast-playing, and extremely hardcore. Somewhat later, Alien Hominid reached the PS2, GameCube, GBA, XBOX Original, and XBOX 360 in an expanded form. All this was a few years before the indie boom.

Flash games quickly became popular despite their simplicity, unsightliness, and technical imperfection. It was about accessibility because only a couple of clicks separated one game from another. The amount of traffic on Flash game websites was growing, and not monetizing it would be foolish.

Flash game website owners earned thanks to hundreds of thousands of unique visitors through banner ads, which often ran on the power of the same Adobe Flash. Since the main traffic generator was Flash games, Flash game website owners started chasing projects, not the developers. Websites were stealing games from each other and independent authors, trying to be the first in the race for the next viral project. The owners of large Flash game websites benefited the most from this state of affairs, while developers were often left with nothing.

Xiao Xiao No. 4 is the famous Stickman Fighting series which was born just at the beginning of the 2000s.

Around the same time, sponsorship appeared as an attempt to counteract the unfolding bacchanalia. It implied the Flash game's exclusivity for a particular website in exchange for promotion or funding (rumored to be extremely scarce, around $20 per project was absolutely normal). But even this did not save from theft because the logos and links are quietly cut out while moving to another resource.

The problem of piracy (as strange as it may sound in the context of free games) will be relevant for Adobe Flash games until 2007.

Yeti Sports was a phenomenon that quickly became an entire franchise.

Not diminishing interest in Adobe Flash games created more than one Flash games website. The Internet of the mid-2000s was full of them - MiniClip, Armor Games, Kongregate, Addicting Games, etc. The list is huge. Small and large, conceptual and not, their growth, both quantitatively and qualitatively, continued until the first half of the 2010s.

About Blood, Guts, and Adult Content in Adobe Flash Games

A distinctive feature of Adobe Flash games was a prohibitive level of brutality and violence, often seasoned with a touch of madness. This is especially evident in the projects of the first half of the 90s. In addition to a thousand ways to kill anyone, from Pikachu to Bin Laden, you could learn z, see drunken Satanist Teletubbies, step into the shoes of a suicide bomber, and much, much more.

Watching all this from the politically correct 2022 is a little strange but entertaining. In fact, rare projects crossed the line of "this is too much," most of them being somewhere near South Park. Still, Adobe Flash games are too cartoonish to take the violence in them seriously.

Nothing was surprising about the emergence of such projects. The web of the early 2000s was still the wild west with no laws. Of course, being able to create whatever you want without censorship and share it anonymously, the first topics touched upon by the authors were the ones most tabooed by society and the usual media.

A significant part of the Flash games library was adult games. Websites with collections of such creations were among the last to fall, and there was content for every taste. Adobe Flash was one of the main tools in the hands of the NSFW community. The amount of animation and game content created with it is incalculable.

These adult Adobe Flash games remind me of Roblox sex games. Violence was ingrained in Adobe Flash games' DNA, but it was handled more skillfully. In general, permissiveness and counterculturalism, which were normal for the Flash community, did not collapse but led to increased creativity and different approaches to mechanics and genres. They opened the way for authors whose voices would otherwise not have been heard.

After all, who in their right mind would give money to a game about a naked boy who uses his tears to fight against Satan's army in the basement of the house where his devout mother has locked him up?

Adobe Flash Player Chapter 2: The Golden Age

The second half of the 2000s was the best time for Adobe Flash games. Audiences continued to grow, piracy was defeated, and more and more money went to developers, which affected the quantity and quality of the Adobe Flash games themselves. The main piracy was defeated for two reasons:

  • Mochi Media. It was launched in 2006. It was a service that provided tools for in-game advertising, analytics, and distribution. Thanks to it, developers continued to get money from advertising, even if their game was stolen.
  • Flash Game License. It emerged in 2007. It was an open marketplace where Flash game website owners competed with each other for the most interesting author's Flash projects.

Openness positively impacted the relationship between websites and Flash games authors. The terms and checks became much more favorable. Sponsorship was finally working to its full potential. The focus shifted from the projects to the developers themselves. Many of them even made Flash development their main source of income.

In 2007 ActionScript 3.0 was released, and there was a split. The new language version was more advanced and powerful, but it was noticeably different from the previous one and was much more complex. If ActionScript 2.0 completely replaced ActionScript 1.0, then the third and second versions of the language existed in parallel until the death of the technology. Many developers, especially beginners, preferred the simpler ActionScript 2.0 to its trickier counterpart.

At the same time, libraries and toolkits began to appear, which greatly facilitated and accelerated the process of creating games. Examples are Flashpunk, Flixel, and Starling.

The Flash community grew and developed. The geography of the participants was vast, including Ukraine. On the expanses of Ukraine, a lot of Adobe Flash games were created.

The second half of the 2000s was a time of great Adobe Flash games. Almost every Flash game you can remember was developed in this period, for example, Meat Boy, The Last Stand, The World Hardest Game, Age of War, This Is The Only Level, Clear Vision, SHIFT, Bowman 2, Swords and Sandals, Hobo, Alice is Dead, The Impossible Quiz, Armed with Wings.

How Indie Games Became Indie Games Thanks to Adobe Flash

In many ways, Adobe Flash was a tool for hobbyists and enthusiasts. Adobe Flash created the niche that made it successful. Simplicity and accessibility were also essential factors in its popularity. So it is not surprising that the roots of the indie boom (indie revolution) grew out of it.

Saying that Flash created the indie is not quite right, amateur projects existed before, only in smaller quantities, and they lived only in the personal archives of the people who created them.

The merits of Adobe Flash in developing indie are as follows:

  1. It provided a convenient and simple tool, primarily focused on the visual part. So even users who had never heard of programming before could gradually learn and turn their animations into games. Plus, you didn't need a whole team to create full-fledged projects.
  2. The web-based nature of Flash and websites like Newgrounds allowed authors to be seen and heard. No procrastination or publishers, no restrictions in terms of theme or genre. People just made Adobe Flash games because they wanted to.
  3. The user didn't need expensive hardware and didn't need to download and install anything. One click and you were already in the game.

At the same time, Flash was not omnipotent. The game created on it could not compete with the console and PC titles, but all knew it, the creators and players. These limitations gave rise to a special design approach, visual and gameplay, which distinguished Flash games.

The culture surrounding Flash games encouraged experimentation and original ideas. Here the cost of error was minimal - the development of most games took a month at most. There were also unusual projects that offered something new.

Not only known to all Edmund McMillen began with Adobe Flash, but also Jenova Chen, who later created Journey and Sky, Jakub Dvorský, author of Samorost and Machinarium, and many other not-so-famous developers.

Adobe Flash Player Chapter 3: Apple Kills Adobe Flash

The early '10s were a turning point in the history of Adobe Flash. Smartphones were taking over people's minds, changing the world and the online space, and Flash couldn't keep up.

In April 2010, Steve Jobs wrote an open letter entitled Thoughts on Flash, in which he explained the reasons why Adobe's product had no place on Apple devices:

The mobile era i about low-power devices, touchscreen interfaces and open web standards are all areas where Flash is lagging behind - Steve Jobs

You can relate to his words in many ways. Still, it's unlikely Jobs was motivated only by concern for users, without a single thought for the prospects of developing his own ecosystem. It was the first nail in the coffin of Adobe Flash technology, but we can't blame Apple for its death.

Adobe's responses have been pretty good

Over the years, Flash has grown in features and got heavier, becoming more demanding and voracious. It had a light player version (since 2003), but the technology was not fully adapted for mobile devices. Flash was not ready for the arrival of smartphones and quickly became unnecessary. In many ways, Adobe Flash was responsible for its own demise.

Within a couple of years, Adobe Flash got 3D support, integration with Unity, and promises that were not destined to come true.

Adobe tried to save Flash but quickly dropped its hands and moved to HTML5 in its own mobile applications. Adobe even removed the word Flash from the program's name, turning Adobe Flash into Adobe Animate.

Flash and HTML5 games on the Armor Games website

The collapse of Adobe Flash technology didn't happen immediately. The death was slow. Flash still brought money, and cool games continued to come out, but everything gradually ended. The number of visitors to Adobe Flash game websites was inexorably decreasing, and in 2013 there was a collapse in sponsorship. There was nothing left to pay developers for games. In 2014 came the end of Mochi Media, and in 2016 came the end of the Flash Game License. De facto, Flash games were dead.

In 2017, Adobe announced the end of Flash Player support in 2020:

Open standards such as HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly have evolved continuously over the years and are a reliable alternative to Flash content. In addition, major browser developers are integrating these open standards into their products and doing away with most third-party plug-ins (such as Flash Player)

On December 31, 2020, the X-hour arrived.

By the way, HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly are used today in the development of Metaverse. Metaverse projects like TheSandbox actively use HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly.

How Adobe Flash Gave Birth to Mobile and Social Network Games

In addition to the rapidly growing smartphone market, social networks were gaining momentum in the early '10s. Expanding their functionality, they quickly got to games. And the heart of these games was Adobe Flash.

Social networks were not open, and it was not very easy to break into them. In addition, the games that came out there had to have social features - cooperative interactions, giveaways, tournaments, leaderboards, and all that stuff.

This is where microtransactions started to work to their full potential, bringing in the kind of profit that other parts of Flash games have never even dreamed of.

With mobile games, the situation was similar. Even though it was impossible to play Flash games in a smartphone browser, the Flash technology powered many applications that users could find in the App Store.

If we move away from monetization issues, we can see something in common between Flash and mobile games, even if the latter were not created with the help of Adobe Flash. It was an approach or a common ideology that was simple, instantly understandable, and engaging.

Mechanics, genres, and individual games that were great in Flash moved to mobile devices and felt there fine and still do. They've gotten prettier, bigger, handle differently, and ask for money, but you can still see the Adobe Flash roots.

Adobe Flash Player Epilogue: Life After Death

As a purely digital product, Flash games had a chance to disappear almost without a trace. But, thankfully, that didn't happen. After the announcement of the imminent death of Adobe Flash Player, Flash games websites and developers began to look for ways to save content. There were not many problems with animation, but with games, it turned out to be more complicated.

Some developers have long ago (or recently) transferred their games to phones or PCs, securing them this way.

Somebody transferred Flash games to HTML5. And while there are tools that can help make this task easier, they are not all-powerful. Not all Flash games authors have the desire to do such a thing.

Many websites offer their own players that can play Flash content, but they are not perfect. Neither are emulators. The most popular and promising was Ruffle. But it does not support ActionScript 3.0 and late features such as 3D, and hence a decent part of the games.

The most advantageous look projects Flashpoint and Flash Game Archive. They are not burdened with the limitations of emulation and allow you to run games that otherwise would not have been able to because of the binding to a particular site or online components. They essentially emulate the entire Internet to make everything work properly.

Many websites that existed at the expense of Adobe Flash games switched to HTML5 projects and feel pretty good. Flash content on them has not turned into a set of museum pieces. Thanks to the emulation, you can still play it. Newgrounds continues to support a variety of creators, remaining open to new games, animation, music, and drawings. In 2021, it hosted a Flash Forward event where participants created Flash games. It was supposed to be a one-time event, but everyone liked it, and there were a lot of cool projects (Arcane Maiden, Brain-Toasting Dungeon, Bullet Heaven 3).

By the way, there is a funny RIP ADOBE FLASH PLAYER NFT on OpenSea.


Flash games have been a significant part of the gaming industry, the Internet, and the lives of many of us. They popularized tower defense and its derivatives, all sorts of puzzles, invented escape rooms, clickers, and a bunch of other things. At the hands of amateur developers, Flash games created the casual segment that now exists. They're responsible for retro nostalgia, the boom in hardcore platformers, and the art statement in games.

Of course, Adobe Flash Player games were the historical chain of game development, without which we would not have seen the blockchain games and the Metaverse project like TheSandbox. Adobe Flash Player games have greatly impacted the gaming world we see today together with AR and VR. And many ideas implemented in Adobe Flash Player games we can see today in blockchain games and the Metaverse.

And yet Adobe Flash games remain in the shadows. This makes me sad. Let's remember them, at least occasionally.

I wanted to mention more Adobe Flash Player games, but there were too many. Some were left out - Line Rider, Dad 'n Me, Happy Wheels, Portal, The Room Tribute, and statement games like I Wish I Were the Moon. What Flash games do you remember?

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