Last week software company Adobe announced that they’d be killing off their famous animation product Flash. While I’m glad to no longer see that annoying red square asked to be updated when it was just updated, Flash had an enormous impact on internet culture.
Don’t get me wrong, Flash isn’t great. It’s immensely unsecure and riddled with bugs. Seven years ago Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that iOS would no longer support Flash. Google banned Flash in display ads and their Chrome browser uses HTML 5 whenever possible.
I’m personally exited that websites for restaurants will become useful. All you need on there are a phone number, address, hours and a PDF of a menu. Don’t give me photos appearing with special effects, fancy navigation buttons, autoplaying music and other tacky features. The simpler a website can be, the better.
However, you may not remember that Flash was the thing before Youtube, depending on your age. Seventeen years ago when the term “viral video” didn’t exist, brothers Mike and Matt Chapman released their “Homestar Runner” animated shorts onto the world. The titular character, along with Strong Bad, Strong Sad, The Cheat, Coach Z and the rest of the wild ensemble frequently got into hilarious, nonsensical antics.
The most famous segment features the luchador-like Strong Bad answering viewers’ emails by mocking the asker with satirical jabs. People generally dislike Mondays but each new week meant a new email and that was wonderful. During the site’s heyday the brothers reported receiving 1,000 emails a day.
It’s hard to explain their humor over a newspaper column, but the absurdist punchlines became instant inside-jokes for my friends and I, and I assume many others. It developed a cult-like following, helped in part by clickable Easter eggs that unveiled even more jokes.
When Strong Bad invented the dragon-like character Trogdor with a heavy metal song, it become so popular it was featured in the videogame “Guitar Hero II.”
Newgrounds, another video site, hosts videogames made in Flash, too. The games became popular because they’re free timewasters with a low barrier to entry. The software means there are no system requirements to really worry about. If a computer can run Flash, it can run a game in the browser.
Newgrounds founder Tom Fulp, artist Dan Paladin and John Baez created the side-scrolling shooter “Alien Hominid” for the site in 2002. After quickly getting millions of hits they ported it to consoles a year later. They officially became the studio Behemoth Games and released the critically acclaimed “Castle Crashers” in 2008 and “BattleBlock Theater” in 2013.
Edmund McMillen, one half of the studio Team Meat, released the insanely hard platformer “Meat Boy” in 2008. Two years later it had updated graphics, better controls, more levels and other features in its console version.
The game’s sales allowed McMillen to be financially comfortable and confident to take risks. The next year he came out with “The Binding of Isaac” on the videogame store Steam while publishing a demo on Newgrounds the following week.
Categorized by the rougelike genre, the game features randomized levels with each playthrough. When you die you start all over again but have another opportunity for better power-ups and equipment. The ability to replay virtually infinitely gave McMillen another best-seller.
Developer Tyler Glaiel, who released “The End is Nigh” with McMillen in early July, also started with Flash games before making the jump to consoles. 2012’s “Closure” plays with light and darkness and “Bombernauts” was a web prototype before entering the market.
While these are just some of the most notable examples, there are countless other creators and communities that acted as a springboard. This site is an important incubator for developers because overnight success is never truly overnight. McMillen released over 30 Flash games before “Meat Boy.” The industry could be creatively hamstrung without the space for developers to test games.
Thankfully Flash doesn’t entirely go away until 2020. Over the next three years Adobe will be working with Google, Microsoft, Apple and other tech companies to make the Flash-less transition as painless as possible. Newgrounds has already been accepting games made with Unity, HTML5 and Twine.
Hopefully by then people will figure out how to preserve the artifacts. Petitions have already begun asking to open the source code of the software. We can’t lose the past when it becomes obsolete.