So Long and Thanks for all the Flash on the Beach

So, another Flash on the Beach has just has just drawn to a close and, as was announced by John Davey, the head Ringmaster of the fantastic circus that is Flash on the Beach, 2011’s is most likely the last FOTB ever. Not to worry though, Mr. Davey is looking at replacing it with something more technology agnostic, as FOTB has slowly been moving towards anyway. My guess is that around this time next year there will be a Geeky by Nature, Brighton event taking place at the Dome – but that’s only a guess.

The ironic part is, this year the most popular sessions (at least from this Flash dev’s point of view) were those revolving around Flash. Several were so packed that people were turned away at the door. I know that I, myself, wasn’t able to get in to see Rob Bateman’s session which really ticked me off at the moment, but it was rumored that well over a hundred folks were prevented from seeing Eugene Zatepyakin which is really a damn shame, but just shows you that people are indeed still interested in Flash.

The event itself though… Strange one this year. Seems a bit of the normal funding ran dry this time around. The registration schwag was pretty light, there was no major outside party this year (the one that took place at Oceania a year or two or three ago as great), and there was no end of event raffle or book give away which John has spoiled us with in the past.

Where the money was low, though, the spirit was high. Perhaps it was just my own frame of mind, but the enthusiasm running through the Brighton Dome area this year seemed much greater than the past couple years. The excitement was nearly tangible and quite contagious.

As for my annual blow-by-blow synopsis…

As usual, the event started with the Adobe Keynote presentation, and I have to admit there are some very good things a-coming. First and foremost is a 2D API/Framework for Molehill (or, more accurately put Stage3D). Lee Brimelow demonstrated a small bit of code relating to the API and it is really indistinguishable from the regular Flash display list API. In addition to that, there is a Stage3D particle framework in process in which a particle effect can be created with a large GUI then saved as a .pex file and used in a Molehill project. That is going to be fantastic. As for the Flash Pro IDE, in the near future it looks as though we’ll be able to use the context menu to export a MovieClip within the library as a sprite sheet. If done right, this could be a huge benefit for the gaming community.

Andreas Ronning gave a very in depth look at his Doomsday Developer console. This is a wonderful text based debugger console that runs inside a .swf file and allows you to do anything from simple trace statements to editing properties of objects at run time to calling specified functions with custom text commands. My first impression was this was very similar to running Monster Debugger right inside your project rather than in a secondary window which could be wildly useful. It looks like it has a bit of a learning curve, but I’m really looking forward to playing around with it a bit more.

Making Games for Kids was the topic of Jon Howard’s presentation in which he presented a view “Golden Rules” on the subject:

  • We make TV not Film (i.e. keep it short and sweet)
  • Everyone on the development team is a game designer
  • Casual is King
  • Expect an average of less than 10 minutes of play time (again, stick to the point and get right to the action)
  • Separate code from assets (always always always)

Eugene Zatepyakin gave a very popular and welcomed look at his image tracking framework ASFEAT (also check out in2ar). This mad Russian is a freaking super genius and I was very happy to be able to have gotten into his standing room only presentation. The theme here: Flash is “damnslow” (one word), but he is doing everything possible to loosen up that bottleneck.

Tomek Augustyn gave a nice long look at his HiSlope framework – a very nifty way of chaining image and video filters that can then be used in your own projects. HiSlope is definitely worth checking out and really just a lot of fun to play with. During the session Tomek also managed to slip in a good intro to blob detection and integral imaging (a recurring theme this year and something I really need to investigate further).

Joa Ebert’s presentation, while not nearly as exciting as his java to swf compiler from last year, was a really good look at graph theory; something which may be second nature to most computer science geeks but, again, something I personally need to take a longer look at.

David Lenaerts presented us some beautiful 3D Flash work, including some upcoming Away3D features that left me just stunned (real time reflections anyone?).

Hillman Curtis gave a nice retrospective look at the work he’s been doing over the years and, after, was kind enough to sign my copy of MTIV that I’ve been dragging around with me since 2002. I really appreciate that and just how approachable this giant in the industry is.

That evening Cyriak gave us a look at some of his insane After Effects animations and the work that goes into them. This guy is truly inspirationally insane and I love his work. Sort of what Terry Gilliam would be doing if he worked with AE and not pieces of paper. Makes me want to play around with AE some more – something I haven’t done in far too long.

Next up was the Elevator Pitch session. I’ll skim over a few of the ones that stood out to me and apologize in advance to those I leave out. They were all very good this year. Mike Cobb gave a look at  physical computing using Phidgets. Martin Jonasson gave an all too quick look at Grapefrukt Exporter, a tool for exporting sprite sheets, atlases, and bitmap fonts from the Flash IDE. This is something I’m really interested in checking out. Peter Måseide presented a nice looking new game engine called Fun Grid. Lukasz Twardowski gave us a look at Use it Better for game protection and analytics. Renaud Forestie showed a text-to-speech HTML5 API. And Simo Santavirta gave us a fantastic look at ApexVJ and what may be in store for it.

After the elevator pitches, Tom Vian took a look at 3 different game engines. I was a little bit disappointed with this session. I was hoping to see a bit more on creating a custom engine, but instead we got a look at code examples of similar games built in Flixel, FlashPunk, and PushButton. It was a good presentation with some useful information, but not what I was expecting.

Frank Reitberger showed off his demoscene-style Flash goodness. Much of this presentation was a repeat from what I had seen him do at FITC, but the last bits showing what he’s been doing with Molehill were well worth the price of admission. I cannot wait to see his method for uploading shaders to Stage3D that was hinted at. And, of course, there was beer!

Jared Ficklin gave his usual fantastic eclectic presentation that bounced from mustaches, to string theory, to sound patterns in fire, to augmented porta potties. A great time was had by all.

Joshua Davis’ always energetic presentation focused on failure and how they can add up to success. Someone later pointed out that the math was a bit iffy though. Adding up negatives can never lead to a positive. Failures must be multiplied to lead to success. The quote of the day here: “No one gives a shit that you can make things in a browser that we already made 10 years ago.”

For those who couldn’t be there this year, you really missed a great time and great conference. If it really was the final Flash on the Beach, then it’s truly the end of an era. But I say to John Davey, bring on what’s next – we’ll be there to support and enjoy it.