As I get a little older, my mind often wanders to my youth. I recall my first set of interactions with gaming. Those small hits of dopamine and awe that made me think that this is definitely for me. Maybe one day I would work in the industry (I did, briefly, but never again). Maybe I would be really good at games. Or just maybe, it would wind up being the lifelong pursuit that inspired so many thoughts, words and experiences. That last bit came true.
I remember walking into Chartbusters near our house. That shop was a bit of a mecca for my friends & I, but we were quite young at that stage so never really ventured in for very long because the man was scary. One time they had a demo station for the new PlayStation console from Sony. And on it, my tiny brain recalls, was Tekken. A fighting game that absolutely was not intended for our young souls. But we relished in how bad we were at it. Mashing buttons thinking we had any grasp over what was happening on the screen.
But I digress.
I can talk about these kinds of things over and over again. And these memories are real. Well-formed. And they informed a lot of what would become my adult years. And I can't wait to share such experiences with my kids, who right now are just a tad too young to truly "get" it.
One format that folks of my ilk (approaching 40, worried about approaching 40, but approaching it nonetheless) forget about is flash. Flash was the great white hope for gaming as a format. It was before commercialisation truly took a hold of the internet. The golden era, when ultra capitalists simply lost money on the internet over and over again because they tried to do the things that worked in the real world, on the internet. A slow, burgeoning, distributed and barely federated internet. Websites were passion projects. Passion projects were crazy. And crazy people ruled the high seas of the internet.
I don't remember what the first few flash games I played were. But I remember finding out about them through a file that was being shared via warez channels on IRC. A zip file, which in-and-of itself is a dodgy thing to download onto your unceremoniously plastic Dell laptop that was owned by your dads company. But the promise of unzipping the file to find a folder with home.htm and a folder structure that was gibberish, thus instantiating a window to update or install something called flash, which itself could also be dodgy was all too great.
Then the golden era really kicked in. Flash games got centralised around Newgrounds.com, and a few other sites. But Newgrounds really took it to the next level. The best games were super simple, but addicting and fun. Addicting in most cases because there was a leaderboard. In school, some of us would jot down our scores in games and keep track of who was winning on our own contests. But the game changed when the games themselves got more advanced. The level of programming, artistry and creativity allowed by Flash changed dramatically.
The simplicity of the games changed. Some games looked simple, having stick figure characters, but the gameplay was complex, tough, challenging and told a story or made some sort of political point that only a kid riddled with puberty would ever find meaningful. The games also sought controversy, because that's what got popular. Games about shooting up a school, killing bullies, etc. all cropped up.
And then, the iPhone came. And the iPhone very specifically did not play Flash games. Despite it so obviously being the perfect home for it. Steve Jobs famously wrote a letter declaring the death of Flash, embracing HTML5 as the format of choice for interactive websites. I don't remember why, but HTML5 just never landed quite as well with gaming circles. Perhaps it was the point Jobs was making; browser-based loading of game content was just too awful to predict for an operating system, browser or even hardware manufacturer. Native apps were the way to go, and ultimately how the industry wound up.
But then, after flagging support and a lack of interest from any community in particular, Adobe killed off flash. Which, itself, spawned a bourgeoning cottage industry of folks reimagining old flash games, or porting them to HTML5. Or even better, creating native apps inspired by the flash games. Castle Crashers springs to mind.
In the history of the internet, flash might be remembered as a messy window of time. It was a bit wild west, dodgy and kind of got famous for controversial games and "adult" films. But it was also the introduction of gaming to a whole new audience just at the right time, in the right place. And I think the industry and us fans are better off for it.