Apr 142010
Authors: Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer

For those of you who’ve started reading today’s column simply because we mentioned flash in the headline, sorry to disappoint, but you’ll find no mention of Mardi Gras, beads or cameras here.

What we will tell you about today is the wonderful technology behind the game Robot Unicorn Attack and many others like it. Those of you who have yet to play this fantastic new game should set this paper down, head over to the nearest computer and Google it.

You’re probably reading this in class anyway, so you have nothing better to do. Disclaimer: You may be staying after class when you can’t put the game down.

Wikipedia accurately describes it as a “game where the player controls a robot unicorn and helps it jump across platforms, collecting fairies and smashing through stars to earn extra points. The environment is a fantasy landscape consisting of purple grass, rainbow effects and flying sparkling dolphins.”

In a more practical sense, Adobe Flash is used for loads of things on the Interwebz, like Hulu, interactive advertisements, games and even some Web sites.

Recently there have been murmurs of Flash being replaced by the lean, mean HTML5 machine –– a new version of HTML code that will have the ability to play videos in your browser without third-party plug-ins like Flash.

Now let’s make like a tree and go back in time.

Like them or not, Flash-based games, or more broadly “in-browser” games, are a unique part of our age demographic. Flash was created in 1996, right around the time that we were in elementary school learning to use browsers on the World Wide Web, which was itself younger than we were.

What better audience could exist for stupidly simple, shiny colorful games on the Interwebz? Through high school we continued to play these games –– and probably still would if it weren’t for college classes –– of which there are thousands of varying complexity.

Most of you have probably heard that Apple is taking a lot of heat from, well, everyone about the iPad and the iPhone not supporting Flash, which most Internet video –– but not YouTube –– needs support for to play.

The history of Flash is rather fascinating and is another great success story of early technological know-how meeting with an entrepreneurial spirit at just the right time.

Ironically, Jonathan Gay, who developed Flash, did most of his programming from the start of his career on an Apple II and then a Macintosh. In fact, Gay programmed the first “smoothly” animated game for the Mac.

According to Flash Magazine, after programming games to pay his way through college, Gay started programming vector-based illustration programs around 1993 but was edged out of the market because he was unable to compete with industry leader Adobe Illustrator.

It was then that he recognized the need for animation on the Internet –– the only way moving images could be distributed at the time was on CD or VHS.

So Gay began bridging his illustration program into an animation program, and the ability to add animated images to the Internet was born. Gay tried to sell his program, then called FutureSplash Animator, to Adobe, but they declined. It was picked up by Macromedia and named Flash in 1996.

Ironically, Adobe bought Macromedia Flash in 2005, and that’s how Macromedia Flash became Adobe Flash –– Gay left the company after the buy out, still having been in charge of the Flash product.

Today, 96 percent of desktop computers have Flash installed, making Jonathan Gay the innovator you’ve never heard of, helping bring style to the text-only Internet known to the early ‘90s.

While Robot Unicorn Attack is by for the hottest Flash game on the Web right now, here’s a look back at some of the other fun ones available for your enjoyment.

Insane Aquarium:

Published by PopCap, this fish tank based game was one of our favorites around 8th grade. Keep your fishes well fed, collect coins and ward off evil aliens to master this aquatic environment.


Another PopCap game, but this time you must aim your frog to destroy the chain of colored spheres before it’s too late.

Amateur Surgeon:

An Adult Swim title that brings the operating table to you. Slice and dice your less than reputable patients using pizza cutters and dust busters. Heck, while you’re at it, pay attention. Maybe you could use those skills to some day staple bling onto a pimp named Donny.

For more information about a pimp named Donny, columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons urge you to contact verve@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 6:17 pm

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