Flash: Requiem For a Toolkit
Flash is dying.
No, for real this time. After ages of limping along, gradually being deactivated and blocked behind security warnings, the venerable part of internet history is finally being put out of its misery. At the end of 2020, the plug is officially being pulled and major browsers will no longer allow Flash content to run.
It’s long overdue, given the myriad security flaws and vulnerabilities that have been with the software since its inception. Engineers and companies have been looking for an alternative since it first arrived, but it took until 2014 and HTML5 to really get a true replacement for its video capabilities, and Unity to replace it as a game engine. Finally, after over two decades, Flash is heading into its final rest.
But even though the technology has caught up with Flash, the content never will. Despite its numerous flaws, the tool helped usher in a wave of creativity that made the early internet what it was. So many videos and games were created by amateurs, many of whom went on to have successful careers built off of these projects that became iconic in their own right.
Many sites that owe their existence to Flash, such as Newgrounds, are working on ways to preserve that content for the future. Hopefully these efforts will be successful enough that most everything can be preserved. So much of the internet was built on the back of Flash, and losing these creative works would be a massive blow to the culture of the recent past. Thus, in light of that, we should take some time to recognize those foundational pieces of online culture that are currently at risk.
We still have a few months before Flash is truly defunct. Why not spend some of our unending quarantine reliving some classics, or maybe experiencing them for the first time?
It would be impossible to talk about Flash content in any serious way without mentioning Homestar Runner. For many early internet surfers, the adventures of the no-armed sports star and his fellow residents of Free Country USA were synonymous with going online at all. Dozens of Flash cartoons were created by the Chapman brothers and made available free online, but of course, they didn’t stop there. 25 games grace the site, ranging from simple sound boards up to a lengthy platformer and a loving homage to the classic Sierra adventure games of yesteryear with Peasant’s Quest.
But there’s more still. On top of the original cartoons that were lengthy enough to compare to classic series like Looney Toons, there were hundreds of shorts, featuring things like animated music videos for original songs the characters did to bits like voicemail messages and puppet videos.
And then there were the emails. A phenomenon in their own right, they did hundreds of animated responses to emails, which went on to become perhaps the main draw of the site. I personally lost multiple afternoons in college working my way through the entire email list, and it was much shorter then. The Chapman brothers animated responses to email submissions using the boxing glove-clad antagonist of the regular cartoons, and an internet phenomenon was born within another.
Homestar Runner is an icon of internet creativity, and fortunately the creators do seem concerned with preserving their creations. Homestar Runner has its own Youtube channel where the cartoons are being saved for posterity, but if you’ve never checked out the site as it originally stood, you owe it to yourself to take a look while you still can.
Do you like electronica? How do you know? Have you tried it all?
Well, Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music is a great way to find out. An interactive genre dictionary, it breaks down the different sub-genres within electronic music and provides sample tracks of each style to let you get a feel for whether it’s for you.
The site is fairly outdated at this point, having been dormant for several years now. Nevertheless, it’s a significant repository of knowledge for a musical genre that I had little exposure to prior to this site. It’s also a good illustration of some of the potential of Flash for things outside of animation and games, which were the primary areas where most people encountered the tool. Plus, it’s still fun to just click around and see the different subgenres within subgenres.
Zombo.com is another classic of Flash design, which is an impressive achievement for a site that exists solely to be a single joke at the expense of Flash itself. Somehow, all these years later it’s still relevant – just imagine any other new technology instead of Flash and the effect is still basically the same. Sitting there listening to the voice tell you about the wonders of technology that the site will bring you. It’s one joke, but it’s still a good joke, and that’s good enough for a quick visit.
Any number of sites could go here. Newgrounds is the home of an absurd amount of content dating back to the early internet. Sites like Addicting Games have a similar amount of “every game imaginable” that they collected over the years. For my money, though, none of them managed to keep my attention quite as much as Kongregate.
The site is full of games of all genres, with better organization than most and additional bells and whistles like badges and profile levels. Most of that probably doesn’t matter to most people — but it certainly does to me. As someone with a higher achievement score on my XBox account than I’d care to admit, the extra incentive has kept me playing, working on games I may never have tried otherwise. And since they only put the achievements on games that have a high enough rating, few games that I actually try wind up being less than solid.
All these sites are important monuments to a particular era of the internet, and it’s sad to see them fading as the technology that powered them is retired. Still, there’s a little time left, and we have plenty of free time as quarantine continues to consume our lives. Let’s take a minute to remember the past. Hopefully it will inspire others to make more amazing content with whatever the next Flash happens to be.