Macromedia Flash arrived in 1996, and was initially designed to add animation and interactivity to otherwise largely media free websites. However, it wasn't long before developers began to realise the potential of the software, and added functionality became available with each iteration. In the beginning, the focus was more on animation, as primitive scripting allowed little in the way of interactivity. However, with the introduction of ActionScript in version 5, Flash became a strong platform for developing simple web-based games. This transition from basic animation and user interaction to full-blown scripting was a huge step for developers, and allowed sophisticated web-based applications and interactive games possible. By 2001, Flash games began appearing on websites everywhere, and whilst early attempts were primitive and tended to focus on remakes of arcade classics such as Asteroids and Tempest, they remained highly popular amongst the online community.
Despite their initial popularity, Flash games were known as little more than addictive time-fillers, perfect to whittle away ten minutes at work. However, even with the basic tools in place, developers were coming up with a wide variety of Flash based games. Platform remakes of favorites such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Brothers were highly popular, and the improving graphic capabilities allowed for much more immersing game play. Although PC and console games had little to worry about in terms of competition, Flash games were already an integral part of many online communities. The integration of Flash arcades into popular forum software led to vast competition between members of small and large communities alike.
It wasn't a case of wasting five or ten minutes anymore, it was about coming top on the scoreboard! There were still problems though, particularly with performance on lower specification machines. As Flash was not designed to run games in particular, it was inevitably not that quick or smooth running on some machines, which inhibited many action games. That was all set to change significantly with the next version. With the release of Flash MX in 2004 came ActionScript 2.0, which allowed greater control over Flash applications, and featured improved data and media handling. Although most genres had already been explored, from arcade to first person shooters to racing games, the best was yet to come. The recent integration of improved data handling allowed many game developers to implement levels and scoreboards much more effectively, thus adding to the appeal. Since 2004, Flash games have come on in leaps and bounds, and are hardly recognizable from the slow, blocky titles released just a few short years ago. The level of sophistication continues to develop, and whilst it will be a long while before something groundbreaking is released, there are already many classic Flash games already available on the web. Titles such as 'Stick Cricket', 'Bejeweled' and 'Yeti Sports' are all immensely popular, and attract thousands of visitors each day.
The playability and execution of a simple idea make these Flash games some of the most popular ever released. The sites that offer these free games are also changing; the public do not have to visit individual sites (such as the authors website) to find new games, instead developers are submitting their games to massive "flash games" websites – sites that offer 1000's of games for free – one such example is www.itsall3.com – a site with free games, and free funny videos for your mobile phones (3gp videos). What are the benefits to developers submitting their games to such massive collections of games? These arcade sites receive 1000's of visitors a day, so developers game get more hits – there's no bandwidth costs as the sites host the games, and there's always a link in the game back to the developers website if needed. These enthusiasts are not too dissimilar from the back bedroom programmers of the early 1990's. Many young developers thrived upon the availability of programming languages such as BASIC, and the more recent arrival of Flash sparked the same levels of creativity and inspiration. Although Flash contains more scripting than actual programming, the underlying appeal of being able to create your own games (relatively) easily has been a major part of its success. Perhaps Adobe/Macromedia will lean towards the game creation side in the future, or perhaps the focus will always be on animation and the development of web-based applications. Either way, there is no doubting that Flash games have become an integral part of the web and are set to stay for the foreseeable future.
With the next version in the pipeline, it will be interesting to see what the next generation of Flash games have in store.