A visual essay about how Flash games shaped the video game industry, with contributions from the creator of Flash and more than 20 former Flash game developers. The end-of-life of Flash in December 2020 marks the end of one of the most creative periods in the history of gaming. The essay illustrates a crucial part of internet history and what we can learn from it for building to Flash shaped a whole generation of developers. It gave people a voice and a way to connect with the world. The lessons we can learn from Flash for building today’s platforms and
As with all digital art, games have to be constantly maintained to remain playable, which is often not possible because the original developers don’t have the time for it, or they are not alive anymore.
You can still listen to music that is more than a few years old. But with projects that are based on software this is not the case. Thus, for cultural evolution it is uniquely important to tell their story so that we can move forward instead of just remaking the same things as often happens when games are inaccesible and forgotten.
The article was widely circulated among game developers and people working with technology. It was retweetet more than 2000 times, featured on the hackernews frontpage as well as in popular newsletters such as Morning Brew, Internet Brunch, Benedict Evans newsletter, Stackoverflow newsletter and many more.
Flash games are often dismissed as low quality amateur games which are not “real” games. With this article I tried to shift the narrative by showing the impact they had on so many people’s lives, the video game industry and the internet as a whole.
D3.js: Used for visualizing the bubble timeline of Flash games
Scrolllama: Used for the scroll driven interaction
Python: Used for scraping data on gameplay statistics from Newgrounds.com
What was the hardest part of this project?
Getting the pace of the article right was one of the most challenging aspects. I designed the story to have a clear emotional arc in a similar way that you would script a movie.
– To set the scene I open with a man escaping the destruction of his city. This connects with the imminent death of Flash theme and how the influence of Flash games on modern gameplay is inescapable.
– The main story was designed to follow the arc of the history of Flash games itself. The bubble timeline explodes into color and fades out into a tiny stream with a count-down timer at the end, after which a wall of credits rolls.
That kind of pacing may seem obvious in hindsight, but required a lot of iterations to arrive at.
What can others learn from this project?
The article was designed from the point of view of a game designer, which means that I asked many questions related to game design rather than from a journalists perspective when writing it.
What I did with this article that is often not done in articles written by journalists is asking how readers can find their own story in the article and letting the users decide which parts of the article they want to read. This allows for a much more personalized article and makes readers want to share what they discover.
A few examples of how readers found their own story in the article:
A few examples of letting readers decide which parts to read:
– There are 20+ individual stories of game developers in the credits section. Readers can quickly recognize which one’s they want to read based on the images of the games they remember under the developers stories.
– The timeline is built so that users can understand what is happening even if they don’t read the text.