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Thoughts on Flash

December 21st, 2020 at 1:15 PM by Kugee
Category: Tech/Internet

Strong Bad talking to a corrupt Strong Sad (virus sbemail)

After 24 years, Flash Player is finally being killed off by Adobe. The EOL designated on December 31st of this year is met with conflicting responses. Depending on where you turn to for opinion, it may be nothing more than a security hazard that needs to be ditched as soon as possible in favor of HTML5, or it is a key source of vitality for multiple generations.

For many years, Flash was the accepted standard for supplying real time interactive content, which could be anything like animations, videos, games, streams, MMOs, and... well, advertisements... despite how nefarious Flash could be when used improperly, it's impossible to write off the impact it had on the entire world as a "bloated security hole". Isn't HTML5 much the same? I suppose I'm gonna have to explain why Flash matters as much as it does...

The Bad Stuff, First

I don't clamor onto Flash. I don't really like having many plugins, and I don't go look at Flash content very much at all these days. One part of it has to do with the obvious shift towards HTML5 for handling most things these days, and the other is just that I don't really have time to sit down and watch so many Flash stuffs anymore. Mostly I've used Flash for revisiting old content.

Many will agree that Flash has been used for menacing purposes, splicing malware into advertisements and making for some rather clunky website experiences due to poor design choices. Frequent update prompts were also another annoyance. New version of Flash! New version of Java! Must download now! It was more often another boring ritual where you'd gain no immediate benefits.

Then comes the problem of creating Flash content in the first place. The entire platform was owned by a single company at any given time, and the rite of passage was a hefty price. Need video streaming for your site? Pay up! Want a robust digital animation suite? Bomb your wallet! I myself was building a little website for a friend when I was 13 (which never took off, of course), and the constraint of not having Flash on hand to create an inline video player from scratch was frustrating.

Given HTML5 solves such problems like video streaming easily without the need for a proprietary platform, it is something that should be embraced... except so many modern websites tend to fall into the same trap of being SOOO script-heavy and much the same flatass design tropes. It doesn't have to be this way! I've seen HTML5 sites that actually look good, the kinds that carry the same spirit of the old net! What are you doing, you're wasting so much potential with this open standard!!

And Now... Everything Else (All Good)

Don't kid yourself. Flash is not something that deserves its EOL, it is not a nuiscance, and it is not actually a security risk if you just install an ad blocker. Flash is the thing that enabled the web's true potential. If you weren't there to see it in action, you may have at least heard stories of its tremendous impact. Flash is what powered many online video streaming platforms like Metacafe, StupidVideos, eBaum's World, and, of course, YouTube. An avalanche of animations and games were built on Flash, and being Flash-centric as they were, it meant you didn't have to permanently download anything to your hard disk, because that wasn't always necessarily something you wanted to do when you wanted to access something.

Entire websites were designed around Flash. Navigation could've been done through traditional HTML, or it could've been done through Flash itself, and plenty of cool-looking websites took advantage of this capability. Many websites served as free platforms for small-time nobodies to get their works published easily, the first being Newgrounds.

What they don't tell you is that Flash allowed many insanely creative people to put so much stuff out there that, in the long run, helped so many others get through any tough times they've been having, often much more effectively than cable TV ever could have. I want to tell you about that from my own perspective...

The year was 2005. We were two years into having broadband, a new Pentium 4 HT computer was built for us, and my internet usage was slowly but surely on the rise. A little kid like me should be sticking to watching cartoons, but over time, I found that to be less fulfilling. For a brief period, I turned to old game shows... they were interesting, for sure, but just sitting there at the right time for whatever I wanted to see was a dumb charade. Deep down I knew I needed something more... by the end of that year, I got another Pentium 4 machine for my own bedroom with a USB Wi-Fi adapter connected to it... I didn't know that was the answer, but it sure was.

As I started using the internet much more regularly, I wasn't sure where I was going to end up at next, and sometimes wondered if I should be at any place I was at. Nonetheless, I ventured into many more territories free of the scrutiny I was previously under. Many websites I dropped by at were pure HTML, but others had plenty to offer through Flash. My free time would eventually become more consumed by websites like YouTube and Newgrounds, and by that point I pretty much knew that TV is worthless.

There was always some brand new thing I couldn't have imagined before that was out there with every click... for the most part, I was watching a bunch of these sprite parody animations on Newgrounds, but I remember watching a much greater variety of content on video streaming sites. Contraptions, tool-assisted speedruns, homemade skits, pranks, and just a bunch of these random cell phone recordings. One such video I remember watching is a recording of Spectre255 maxing out Game Boy Tetris. When I first saw this when it was only a few months old, the sheer skill and persistence blew me away. For a good long while, that got me a lot more into Tetris, and sure enough my own scores started to drastically improve.

Of course, my family started getting paranoid about what I was watching, and it didn't help that I didn't know what was considered "inappropriate". Most of the stuff I watched was largely innocent, actually, some a bit out there in terms of profanity or violence... but given I didn't know "fuck" was a bad word until I read it out loud on some website, I too was paranoid about what I watched. Seriously, it was so bad that I thought I would get in mortal trouble for watching this. I just needed the privacy, that's all! Sheesh, my parents were always so obnoxious, trying to butt into everything I did! When internet stuff was basically barred off from me for some time because I kept hiding my activity, it felt like a part of me had been violently ripped out.

I knew I couldn't let such a limited lifestyle happen. Soon enough I did get back around to my usual internet surfs, because nothing else could be a viable long-term substitute for that until I physically grew up more. Thankfully it seems they all eventually got the idea that I was four years ahead of myself, even if my own creations of the time didn't seem to reflect that. I needed to see more videos in order to make every day at least good enough. It was because of all the homemade content from thousands of internet users leveraging Flash to any degree that I was better able to endure so much of the nasty realities of life for so long, and I ended up growing up nine whole years in the span of just three.

Heartbeat of the Dragon

I've been holding this back until now, but there's a little something that really compelled me to write this article just now. Do you know of a certain website called homestarrunner.com? That entire website is almost entirely Flash-based (or has been depending on when you're reading this), and it is one that has basically been the heartbeat of all things Flash (alongside Newgrounds, of course). It started off as just two guys pursuing their passion, and it's pretty much remained that way ever since. The beauty of it is how it's never lost its charm even after two decades and its dwindling activity in the latter.

Homestar Runner is an eternal testament to what animation, or really any entertainment medium can persistently be like without the intervention of corporate interests. Go watch an old thing from Homestar Runner, then go watch a new thing from Homestar Runner. Seeing how both are as good as each other is surreal when you compare it to some Nickelodeon show on life support or one of many old YouTube channels that succumbed to industrialization.

The entire history of Homestar Runner is a perfect analogy to growing up without ever letting go of your aspirations, and it shows. The entire concept started off in total obscurity, not really walking at all, then when Homestar actually learned how to walk (TBC starts experimenting with Flash), eventually he started running wild with ideas like Homsar, Cheat Commandos, pizza joints, rock bands, action heroes, and dragons... it seemed like reality caught up to him, and he was to put away such childish things, thus beginning a multi-year hiatus starting at the end of 2010.

By April Fools Day 2014, the suppression of that imagination was starting to fail, for a new cartoon was released at a time when everyone had pretty much given up all hope. There was this... spark that never stopped burning, and even as TBC could not produce as much as they once did, the dream was very much alive. I could really see it in the new works being perfectly reminiscent of what I saw many years back.

Then, last night, something that had been neglected for longer than the Half-Life series finally got its conclusion, and it was beyond anything I ever expected. I am, of course, talking about Stinkoman 20X6 Level 10, which I can easily describe as the perfect climax to Flash as a whole. What was thrown off as a pestilent security vulnerability was always that very same creative energy we grew up on...

Spoilers ahead! I talk about the details of Level 10 in the following <p> tags... I urge you to play through Level 10 in its entirety before reading this if at all possible!

Level 10 was one of the most chilling gaming experiences I've ever had. Everything I loved in my childhood was coming together in an adrenaline rush that may never be matched by anything else. The first thing I saw was an all new crazy Videlectrix intro, as well as one of those CD-ROM styled opening cutscenes... the first sign that everyone involved in the project was really going all in with this. Of course, I did have some hiccups getting started, as I encountered a BSOD related to my video driver, so I had to update that before proceeding...

A new gameplay mode was introduced, one that was considerably easier. The player now has more vitality, checkpoints, and what else was there I forgot. But I didn't really want that; I stuck with the harder classic mode. I had to WIN AT FLASH. Many deaths ensued...

The first boss of Level 10 caught me by surprise. I found myself scrambling to get a grip on what the controls were again. A to jump, S to shoot, arrow keys to move... eventually I got that down pretty quickly. The actual Level 10.1 began, and, well, I nearly cried when its theme song kicked into full force. The way its high bitrate clashes with the existing low-res sound effects really gives that feeling of looking back so far after having grown so much. It took me a while to swing into proper momentum, but eventually I could run through the first two stages with ease.

Funny thing is, I never actually played the first 9 levels of Stinkoman; when I first played that game, I found it too hard, and since then I've never really found time to go through any of them. If you have, you'll see that Level 10 is much of an encore of all the challenges before it.

By the time I got to the boss, the archvillain of Stinkoman who was revealed to be Z Sabre, it hit me... there is a metagame to this. This isn't just about completing one's childhood, it's a race to save the world in crisis (more on that later) and become The Guy before Z Sabre does. Why? Well, Level 10 was released mere days before Flash's scheduled EOL. The sense of urgency was boiling in me... I had to finish this now, or there will never be another tomorrow! Yes, there are plans to port Stinkoman elsewhere, but to get the true experience, you have to play it in Flash within that short timeframe.

After many attempts, I did finally get Z Sabre knocked out and made his stummy hurt, and what followed could not have been a better ending to one long era. 24 years of Homestar Runner and Flash all came together into one final challenge against Mecha-Trogador, a variant of a variant of a composition book dragon everyone's come to know and love. To really put this into perspective, Trogdor was born out of a mere EMAIL. To think someone asking Strong Bad about drawing would reach so far into the hearts of possibly millions of online users... to conclude Stinkoman with a fight against Trogdor-like encapsulates something that may stick with me for all time... end spoilers.

Stinkoman 20X6 Level 10 closes the metaphor of growing up without ever letting go of your aspirations. The hectic industrialized world will tell us to brush off our imaginations, to become strong and above our past selves, but even as we make attempts to do so, that love of dreaming never really goes away. What really needs to be done is to reach for that imagination once more, and leverage it to create new worlds that will inspire future generations to come.

Whether Homestar Runner has a future in the post-Flash era or not (supposedly they've been working on learning HTML5), Trogdor still burninates in all of us. All the quirky humor over the years has given so many people the strength to keep going, the desire to start making things themselves, and memories to be forever ingrained in history.

I have no plans to add Flash content to Razorback, but no matter what, I will continue to do my part to carry on that energy of the old net until I die, and then more people will pick up where me and others have left off. It could be a year from now, or it could be 80 years. It doesn't matter. I know what I am now, and Flash played a major role in helping me to that realization.

It doesn't matter whether anyone's working with Flash, HTML5, or something else... the same underground creative spirit is always there. When everything around you seems so bland now... INVIGORATE!