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Darren Waters

Is Flash lighting the way for future media?

  • Darren Waters
  • 26 Feb 09, 10:10 GMT

So how many of you have been playing QuakeLive over the last few days? Given that tens thousands of people have been waiting in virtual queues to play the game I would say a fair few.

Quake LiveThe relaunch of a 10-year-old video game inside a web browser is not just a chance to wallow in some nostalgia, but also a strong pointer to the direction in which the video games industry is heading, and a potential herald of the future of rich internet media on many types of devices.

Accessible, with a low barrier to entry, both for the developers and gamers, and above all delivered digitally - QuakeLive is at the phalanx of a growing wave of web-only games.

Raph Koster. Pic by Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly MediaRaph Koster, the highly-regarded creator of Ultima Online and a respected games commentator, knows a thing or two about the industry and changes that are afoot.

"We are rapidly approaching a place where you can deliver gaming experiences in the browser comparable to consoles a generation or two ago," he tells me.

Inside the browser games are now throwing about a few thousands polygons on screen, using texture maps for increased detail, and shaders for more realistic lighting.

And behind this development is the rise and rise of an application that could one day monopolise the gaming, browsing and connected media world: Flash.

"The ubiquity of Flash is driving these developments. It's installed on about 98 to 99% of all computers, what means there is a virtual army of developers working on Flash.

"There are far more flash developers than there are game developers."

He added: "Flash is the new console. I call it the next, next-generation."

Flash has become the defacto standard for the vast majority of web media content and is beginning to be deployed on almost every computer device in circulation from computers, to smartphones, consoles and set-top boxes.

Adobe, the creator of Flash, is aggressively pushing the standard and has formed the Open Screen Project in order to deliver rich internet experiences across almost any device.

Mr Koster says: "Adobe wants to be the default rendering layer for everything from a phone's user interace, to cable channel selection and the actual content.

"Given their dominance in other areas and the quantity of content being produced they are in very, very strong position. Others have noticed, which is why Microsoft is pushing Silverlight hard."

He adds: "This is a battle outside of games that has lot of impact on games."

For the games industry in the short to medium term it means a continued explosion in the growth of casual gaming and an increasing sophistication around browser game experiences.

"Right now Flash is rendering in high-end 2D, equivalent to games like Diablo (from 1997)," says Mr Koster.

"There are a few 3D engines out there - Papervision, Alternativa and Away3D - and they are developing rapidly.

"They are surprisingly good and are all built on top of Flash."

Games like QuakeLive, says Mr Koster, are delivering the "eye candy" for browser games, which can persuade the mainstream gamer to take a look.

"One of the significant lessons of the last few years that some people knew and that others had to learn the hard way is that it's not about texture mapping and polygons.

"It's not just about graphics. The games industry is littered with the corpses of pretty games that didn't play well."

Flash and browser games are enabling start-ups to dip a toe into the industry and overturn the traditional business model.

Mr Koster says: "Boxed games require a massive infrastructure around retail, marketing and guaranteed day one sales.

"Web distribution is about marketing to hundreds of millions of people and getting a percentage of them to pay and betting more will pay."

Mr Koster says there is a gradual recognition among large publishers, developers and the console hardware markers that the boxed retail model is not where they want to be.

"Many factors are pushing that; it is a hit driven business and so day one has to be good, because day two never as good as day one."

This model pushes the industry towards more sequels because they have a guaranteed pre-sold audience.

It is that stifling business model that is leading the games industry to explore avenues such as browser games, as well as services such as Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo's Virtual Console.

Well-known games publisher Atari has committed itself to 90% digital distribution within a few years while Valve's Steam delivery platform is signing up big names at an impressive rate, with Final Fantasy creator Square Enix and Everquest developer Sony Online among the new names on the roster.

The shift to the network - both in terms of delivery of content and at the end of point of the experience itself - is touching every aspect of the media industry and for video gamers it means a lot more fun in a browser near you soon.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I loath and detest Flash! It's used in the most unlikely places, usually for the wrong reason, and bogs the browser down!

    Just my tuppence worth.

  • Comment number 2.

    Amusing to read this pushing of Flash as games platfrom when Quake Live is actually an ActiveX plug-in!

  • Comment number 3.

    Flash is cumbersome.

    No thanks Adobe!

  • Comment number 4.

    @1. That's not flash's problem, it's the developers' problem. flash is an impressive piece of tech, and when used properly can yield brilliant results. But yes, it is hideous when used badly, which is why firefox extensions like flashblock and noscript are so popular.

  • Comment number 5.

    i thought Macromedia created flash?

  • Comment number 6.

    Seeing these things on the net is great because it shows how much more our network can do these days, however it is possible that the web will forever be catching up and releasing 10 year old games on the net.

    It is really hard to see how a web browser can overhaul the hardware we have but I wouldn't be disappointed to proved wrong obviously.

  • Comment number 7.

    @aidanfolkes

    Flash is driving browser based games - even if its involvement in QuakeLive is not clear cut.

    In any case, Flash, like ActiveX - these are all plug-ins that essentially allow executables to run in a browser windows.

    And Flash is the daddy of all those plug-ins.

    QuakeLive is really just the jumping off point for the piece - even if it's not a particularly good jumping off point.

  • Comment number 8.

    I just don't get all this anti-flash sentiment, it's like hating bricks because you happen to hate Georgian architecture.

    Flash is only a tool and when it's used correctly it can add to the user experience, if you don't like how it's used don't blame the application blame the designer.

    My tuppence worth.

  • Comment number 9.

    Darren:
    I think that FLASH is the future media service...
    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 10.

    I am a UI engineer and I primarily create in flash however if I feel that the same result can be achieved by a more accessible means and I feel the introduction of HTML 5 will shake things up a bit if and only if Internet explorer support it as it should be. When used correctly many people will not even know they are using flash however I do understand that the Internet went through a phase where everything was done in flash (badly) which some designers are still stuck in!

    Flash is a fantastic platform for complex interaction and when coupled with javascript can create truly amazing application which benefit everybody!

  • Comment number 11.

    @aidanfolkes QuakeLive uses Flash, it probably uses ActiveX to gather some information on the client side that flash doesn't have access to.

    @pygment I totally agree, misuse of Flash isn't a problem with Flash, designers should be thinking more carefully about what they develop with. I've seen flash sites which could have been written using more accessible HTML with a JS library.

    @greenstarthree Adobe acquired Macromedia, who originally created Flash. Hence the Macromedia line of products (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks) now being branded as Adobe.

    I'm suprised to hear nothing on the 'Flash vs JavaFX (vs Silverlight)' debate which seems to be going on at the moment. I've already seen impressive work done with JavaFX and it is still a very young technology (version 1 released around December 08 I think). Perhaps at the moment it would be incapable of running a game like QuakeLive, but like I said it is very young.

    With regards to the article title I'd have say that yes, Flash is probably lighting the way, but I think it will get overtaken at some point by newer technology (JavaFX).

 

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