This is a personal story that happens to also be about the open web, new media, how the Internet has changed, and how we keep memories alive.
I wasn't much of a computer person before 2004. I even had a college professor that looked at me like I just left daycare when I said the first operating system I really used was Windows XP. Sure I touched some old macs in school but only to learn how to type. I vaguely remember using Netscape for research projects, but I couldn't tell you the difference between IE and Netscape. I couldn't even tell you they were both web browsers.
It wasn't until I got my own laptop as a combination birthday and middle school graduation gift that I got into what would eventually define me more than I could have anticipated. My story is so common it's boring: kid who is good at school also likes video games. Kid receives computer because those seem pretty important.
My memories of this period of time are hazy by now, but I remember almost immediately using this computer to make stuff. This was before computers had replaced TVs as consumption devices. I didn't have any games, and I didn't have any money, but I could at least look stuff up. Somehow I found out about 3DS Max and later Rhino and Bryce and Maya. Playing with these tools and learning how to model stuff made me feel like I was at least getting closer to making video games. Again, so common it's boring. And then my uncle introduced me to Flash. It's probably worth mentioning that my uncle works construction. There are people my age who are second generation software engineers, and that concept is so foreign to me. Aside from my savvy uncle, no one in my family cared for computers, the Internet, or even cable set-top boxes with too many options. This is the same uncle who told me that XML was going to enable us to make phone calls over the TV with real-time video. So, uh, there was some right, some wrong, and some misdirected in that. Even though he was no expert, he knew that Flash was showing up in more places on the web.
So I played with it.
At first I made animations. Some motion tweens, some shape tweens, a few dancing stick figures, and flashing shapes. Set that all to music. Reduce the FPS to 12 so I had fewer frames to animate to fill the full track. And that's A Thing. A truly terrible thing. The equivalent of a poorly baked cake that has a lot of heart and nothing else. At this point anything I made was exciting to me because I made it.
I progressed from abstract animations of nothingness to animations with something of a plot. My first meaningful animation was for health class sophomore year. We were studying diseases and were tasked to make an ad for an imaginary medicine for real diseases. Or at least that's how I remember the assignment. I saw an opportunity to use Flash to make a full-blown commercial complete with side effects mumbled too quickly. A recurring theme throughout high school was finding ways to incorporate Flash into assignments. I wrote a script, I recorded a voice over, and I animated everything. It again wasn't actually good by industry standards, but I was definitely the only student who turned in an animation.
This was around the time a friend told me about Newgrounds. I already knew about classics such as AlbinoBlackSheep, Miniclip, and AddictingGames, but I hadn't yet been introduced to Newgrounds. Turns out this was the place to go for Flash hobbyists and it would become my home (and my homepage, remember when homepages were a thing?) for the next few years.
I uploaded my animated commercial for the imaginary product Ebola-b-Gone and it survived the blam process.
I had contributed to the Internet.
Although animations were fun, the goal was still to make video games. Flash's integrated programming language was ActionScript. It could be used to do all sorts of things including interacting with objects created within a Flash file. It was technically a derivative of ECMAScript (more on that later), but this was a detail I didn't even know to find interesting at my complete novice level of programming experience. What was most interesting to me was how scripts blended with art assetsand both blended with a timeline. You could put code on any arbitrary frame in a timeline. You could also put Movie Clips on timelines. In turn, Movie Clips had their own timelines which could naturally also have code attached. This type of composition enabled a person to offset their lack of programming experience with Flash experience and general cleverness. Looking back at it with my "professional programmer" eyes I just see an unmaintainable house of cards in every .fla file, but I can't deny that all sorts of people made all sorts of stuff this way and the world kept turning.
My first ever Flash program was three buttons, each with their own behavior. I followed a tutorial and I still screwed it all up. I remember thinking it was
I followed the instructions and it didn't work.
I was being lied to.
The Internet was wrong.
This was sorcery.
It turns out I didn't follow the instructions quite literally enough and I missed some string quotations or had a file with a different name or something.
Syntax and specifics are so jarring to learn at first. Programming is much more literal than speaking.
But I did it: I had three buttons. One added a Movie Clip to the scene. One changed the button color, or something. The third I remember the clearest: it played Prowler by Iron Maiden.
I was in disbelief.
I did that.
Seriously, I was stunned.
I programmed the computer.
It was exhilarating.
Shortly after that, I made my first game. It had maybe 300 lines of code and no arrays. I didn't know what an array was yet. There was array-like logic, but arrays could be emulated with timelines (arrays of frames, if you will) without even knowing it. This level of accessibility is still astounding to me.
This game was terrible, by the way. You drove a tank, things flew by, you shot at them. If you didn't shoot them, they'd decrement your health until you died. But just like how Ebola-b-gone was a terrible animation that was still an actual animation with a for real plot, this was an actual game with for real mechanics. There are still no words to describe this feeling. If you too have written code, maybe you remember it. If you don't write code, it's worth dabbling in just for this feeling.
2005-2008Within three years of this first game, I would have published over 10 along with countless experiments and noodlings. I bought lunches my senior year of high school with sponsorship money I earned from those games.
2008-2010Within two years after that, I will have also used Flash to create websites for myself, generative art, artificial life simulations, cryptography basics, and one UI element in Cryengine for school, and e-learning software and internal tools professionally.
2011And then Flash will have fallen out of favor and I wouldn't make anything new in it.
202110 years later, Flash has reached the end of its life and I am writing this.
I have known I was going to someday write this for years now. And yet, I still have no words to describe what it was like to graduate from college—effectively completing life's tutorial and starting the open-world campaign—at the same that everything I had been professionally building towards for six years suddenly closed.
Feel free to skip ahead and read more about my personal projects and contributions, but I need to take a break now and talk about the open web.