Back here a few posts ago, your Present Author put his tongue firmly in his cheek to give Flash – the portable web-based gaming platform owned by Adobe – its 5000th funeral. Flash faces its greatest cliffhanger yet, because now Adobe itself is abandoning it. Furthermore, I point out that Unity can take Flash’s place, and while I also point out that Google Chrome has built-in Flash support (if you know where to go to flip the extra-secret hidden special switch), Chrome is still insisting that Flash support ends soon.
Is Flash’s little goosie cooked? (Cue Batman episode ending jazz track.)
As I mentioned, there will always be open source implementations and archive projects. There’s an activist Flash preservation project going on now. The above video is chock full of important signposts to future escape routes for Flash, so take notes.
Future-proof emulation and preservation is important, but that’s not the same as plug-in Flash support across web browsers like we’ve enjoyed for decades. So, we’re assuming that Flash is really, truly, finally dead this time. It’s not going to pop up again like a movie slasher. DOA, Las Vegas.
We’ll list the games of the Flash platform that truly defined it. Flash, which grew up alongside the World Wide Web itself, was responsible for worldwide viral hit games that captivated us all at one time, bringing the web together in ways few other experiences could. Flash games launched the careers of some of the biggest indie developers today, and along the way made the strongest argument many times for games as pure art. We’ll take this final moment to say goodbye.
We begin right in the year 2000, and Sissyfight 2000 was probably the first truly viral Flash game to make it big on the still-growing web. It’s a multiplayer game where you’re on a schoolyard with other kids, and you can pick a move each turn such as tease, tattle, or scratch. Each move has benefits or detriments depending on what moves the other players picked. It has a surprisingly deep strategy which exploits group interactions in a way that foreshadows Among Us decades later. Recently resurrected through crowd-sourcing.
Super Mario World Flash
We could go with any of the fan-made Super Mario World implementations, but this one is just about as good as any. We could fill a book with them anyway. Nintendo has always stomped these the minute they get popular, so there’s hardly a point in hyping them.
Flash Element TD
You will see nine million lists like mine which list all the other tower defense genre games in this spot. Ignore them. Flash Element TD was the first and best, the one that invented the tower defense genre and popularized it forever. Using borrowed content from the World of Warcraft universe, it’s a surprisingly deep strategy game which launched in 2007.
While MOTAS (Mystery Of Time And Space) was the first Flash point-and-click adventure, its kind of lost to time. Crimson Room was the first to truly launch the escape room genre, of which we’re still playing on mobile today. Its graphics look plain and primitive now, but that’s what happens when you’re an innovator.
Just have to give this innovative game its due. Warbears launched a franchise with its platform / puzzle elements set to the adventures of a squad of tactical crime-fighting bears.
Amanita Design’s Samarost was one of the big events of Flash gaming. It’s a point-and-click adventure in a style similar to Sierra and Lucasarts classics, but mostly not reliant on dialog (so any language could play it. Samarost in 2003 amazed us with its detailed art, haunting music, intriguing game design, and a lived-in sci-fi universe. That smug dude puffing the bong always irked me, though! Amanita Design would go on to create a whole series of innovative and imaginative adventure games which have survived ports to other platforms, including Steam.
Quest For The Rest
The multi-award-winning Amanita Design gets to be on this list twice, because back in 2004 they made their first impact through a contract job, designing this Flash game as a promotional gimmick for a new album by the band Polyphonic Spree. The game was an instant viral hit, with a beautiful landscape and ambient nature going perfectly with the magical, upbeat soundtrack.
Do you really need us to tell you about BeJeweled? It made Popcap Games what it is today. It’s been copied a million times, and been ported to every platform in the universe. Bejeweled is famous enough, let’s move on.
No collection of landmark Flash games is complete without mentioning the Grow series. These cryptic puzzlers formed a short, elite class of casual challenges where “moon logic” was the rule rather than the exception. From the fertile imagination of indie game designer On Nakayama, these games may not have much replay value, but they are all compelling to solve the first time.
Another one for the Flash games museum. Line Rider, first made in 2006, went viral right away. It’s one of the arguments for why Flash has hung around for so long – a minimalist indie game like this, simple and yet full of possibilities, is a triumph of artistic design which would not be possible without this much freedom from constraints.
Monster’s Den: Book of Dread
Time for a couple Kongregate gems! Kongregate has been the long-time home of Monster’s Den : Book of Dread, which was a sequel to the original by Armor Games Studios. It’s a combat-focused dungeon-crawl RPG with a nice blend of casual desktop appeal and depth of game-play, which sort of reminds you of a Final Fantasy model.
Castle Wars 2
This interesting and innovative game plays like a casual-sized cross between Magic: The Gathering and Civilization. Castle Wars 2 is a game of competing castles; choose to build yours up, lay siege to tear your opponent’s down, or simply frustrate them with defense and barriers until they exhaust their resources. You do this with a deck of cards, which you can custom-build. Multiplayer is the intended mode, although you can play against the AI as well. Not to be confused with several games of a similar name. It’s a shame this game didn’t get better recognized in its time!
Another one of those Flash games which elevated the platform to an interactive art piece. Every Day The Same Dream challenges you with just one task: find all of the endings! You’ll have to check your assumptions and think outside the box to break out of your conformist little cubbyhole. This stands today as one of the most Zen games ever created.
Another one-of-a-kind game we’d never have without Flash. flOw started life as a proof-of-concept for a game designer’s thesis. flOw has no tutorial, no instructions, no apparent goal at first. You’re just dumped into the primordial soup to fend for yourself, but along the way you eventually pick up the rules. Then you proceed along the current propelled by the thrill of discovery. This is another game which was argued as an art piece more than a game proper.
Most definitely not endorsed by McDonald’s restaurants, the McDonald’s Videogame is a satire of Capitalism in general with a certain fast-food franchise as a case in point. It’s a pretty elaborate business simulator where you control everything from the agriculture on the production end to the marketing at the corporate offices. There’s also no real way to win – you fail from one effect or another eventually. It’s a perfect example of the atmosphere of anarchy that has traditionally surrounded the Flash platform.
VectorPark (the whole experience!)
The entire website VectorPark is perhaps the most beloved of the artistic web experiences we lose with the end of the Flash era. Their handful of games, each original in its own mind-bending way, were around since the early 2000s and were one of the most viral sites online before “viral” was even a concept. VectorPark games are all free-wheeling experiments with varying degrees of logic – Levers is a balance puzzle game so intuitive a child can grasp it, while I defy anyone to explain what the hell Feed the Head is. This is how the web used to be; you’d stumble upon weird sites like this and get sucked into an alternate universe. No advertising, no comments and votes, just living in the moment.
We Could Go On All Day…
It was agonizing picking and choosing which games to commemorate here and still stay on a reasonable schedule. If your favorite game isn’t here, that’s why. We expect several books will be written about the Flash era, since it encompasses some quarter century of Internet history.
Flash is so much more than a games platform. It’s been a big chunk of online content, widely used in the academic sphere, and has also been a major animation platform. Animated TV series and franchises like Adventure Time, Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Gravity Falls, Happy Tree Friends, Metalocalypse, Pinky Dinky Doo, Speed Racer: The Next Generation, Wonder Pets, and Yo Gabba Gabba have all used Flash or depend exclusively on Flash. To name just a few! Flash has also been the primary medium for several webcomics and web series, among its many other roles.
As I started out saying in rant #1, it’s just ludicrous to say that Flash is going away. The only thing happening here is that Adobe, Inc., refuses to support it anymore. If they could manage not to be such snotty jerks about it for five minutes, they could sell Flash to the next interested highest bidder, or release it as open source for good. Flash has been reverse-engineered already, since it was based on nothing but the union of two open technologies in the first place. Of course, we have replacements in line (Unity, HTML5, some new tech Adobe is pushing), but we know that story already; anything that was going to be ported to new platforms should have been ported already, if it were feasible.
Flash is currently without an owner. Doing without Flash will be to the creative world like doing without an arm. We’ll wait right here until the next step becomes apparent.