September 28th 2010 | David Vogeleer
Not to take it all out before the last night, many parties ended early on the second day of FOTB. Last year saw the premiere of the Elevator Sessions and most attendees were keen on getting there in time as this is a brilliant chance to see some of the best people in our business presenting their pet projects.
The concept is that 20 people will get 3 minutes to present what they want. The 3 minutes are watched very carefully so you have to make sure you don't run over time and that your presentation is remembered by the audience. This is not a very easy task, but this years presenters was an amazing amount of talent!
The session is a total information overload for the attendees and it's a hard to catch it all but let us say this - there is so many cool things happening in the Flash community and this session really shows the width of it all. It will be too much to list it all here so we'll just mention a few here, but check out the list at the bottom of the FOTB page to see the speakers and their projects They were all worth checking out!
From our friend Andreas Rønning presenting the brilliant debugging tool Doomsday Console to the super engaged Kate Genevieve presenting a really cool building projection / animation event called Dream Machine, the presentations ranged from the very creative to very technical, very much like the audience at the conference. Some things were totally new to us such as the Moonshine AS3 editor, built in AIR and Nicolas Barradeau presenting caging and other techniques in the minko 3D engine to others pitching other things they like such as Unity 3D and Open Source alternatives to Adobe software.
Kate Genevieve presenting Dream Machine
Another brilliant moment was the John Davey beer game made by Thomas Vian to showcase the open source project as3dfxer. A very special treat was that Flashmagazine's own John Dalziel was among the Elevator Pitch speakers, so you can read his article here about how the experience was - backstage and onstage!
As a fellow east-coaster from the states and total code geek, I always look forward to Branden Hall's sessions and he didn't disappoint. Almost a year ago, the Hype Framework was released finally bridging the gap between the ease of use in AS2 and the power of AS3. I hadn't messed with it much when it came, since I had recently switched to processing for generative art for speed and easability. However, after Branden talked through some of the ideas behind HYPE, as well as showed some demos, I am definitely going to give it a try (I downloaded it shortly after the talk). Here are some of the highlights.
After showing HYPE, Branden showed another colaboritive project between himself and Joshua Davis, the Endless Mural. It's an HTML 5 project produced to show off the new Internet Explorer 9 browser for Microsoft. The framework used to help develop this project will be open sourced soon under the name okapi.js.
And he finished his session with a rendition of Mary had a little lamb on a flute to emphasize the notion of taking 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, because programming is like any other craft in that it takes time and dedication.
I just had to go to this session. What could possibly go wrong when you name your session "Where in the world? Intercontinental Ballistic Flash". Jon works for the Childrens BBC and this presentation was based around a childrens game he's been working on. The Skyship game allows the kids to explore a 3D world and discover geography through playing a game. For this he needed the ability to position landmarks and other information on a globe and he explained how latitude and longitude worked.
Jon then kicked 12 beach balls out in the audience (with the globe depicted on them) and held a brief competition where the audience was to find cities based on latitude and longitude. This part in itself was fun but it also caused the best random quote from this years conference when Jon said "Does anyone actually have their fingers on their balls?"
For the kids to explore the earth, he needed them to be able to navigate it quite extensively. He had to show the entire earth, as well as be able to zoom in on it and the session explained how he was able to zoom from outer space and down to the surface in a believable manner. Sounds easy? It really isn't as the closer you get, the slower you need to travel and you also need to seamlessly adjust the textures and 3D geometry for this to look good.
Jon touched upon many complex matters but had the presentation down very well so it was easy to follow for even non technical attendees. He explained how you could use Microsoft Excel to solve advanced 3D polynominal math (using the Excel trendline and the show formula feature) as well as how he was making smoke and flames.
He then combined it all into a mini-game where you were an alien blowing up 3D models of the worlds greatest landmarks and more. Great fun!
As in former years, there was a lot of excitement around Joa Ebert's talk. Those that follow his blog have seen the impressive skills he's built up over the last years. Using the Scala programming language, he makes several of the tools that make the Audiotool possible and before the conference there were several interesting tweets indicating he had something exciting going on.
Joa started by going through some of the tools he had come up with over the last years to solve problems he had and to make sure the codebase was of the highest possible quality. It was also fun to see that some of these missing features are now included in the Flex SDK (such as missing PNG compression that Reducer fixed). Adobe also recently came out with a Code Coverage tool that similarly to the one Joa have built, will tell you what parts of your code is covered by tests.
After going over this he went on to the new stuff. Joa had been annoyed with the speed limitations of the Flash Player so he started making his own Flash Player in Java called JITB! This was first shown at FITC San Fransisco but he had taken it much longer since then. He started off with a few slides that indicated a massive performance increase:
Joa pointed out that this last demo isn't quite fair since JITB is able to tap into hardware for the rendering, but it's fun to see Flash come full circle. The first Flash Players were also Java based (before they became plugins) and many things has happened to Java since then. Joa's player does not support the full Flash API, but quite a bit is in there already: loader, bitmap, bitmapdata, pbj-shader, sprite, graphics, applyFilter and sound. It can also talk directly to the graphics hardware and run code straight on the GPU. The real kicker in his presentation was when he showed the ability to run real openGL shaders (loaded dynamically). These demos were put together by David Lenaerts and really showed what you can do when you get access to hardware rendering.
It's been really fun to see how Joa's presentation style has changed over the years. From being that shy guy on stage, Joa is now much more confident and his presentations look really good. This year it included very professional / stylish illustrations and explanations that made you think you could grasp the advanced concepts he was talking about. For instance, when talking about cellular automata he used Wireworld automaton as a visual example.
These meetings are always a great source of information, but this year held no big surprises of the kind we got a couple years ago. Here's our notes from this years Q&A:
When's next flash catalyst/builder going to ship: as soon as possible, but can't give exact dates perhaps this year. There will definitely be shorter release cycle.
Next steps for iphone packager : working on air 2.5 so trying to get iphone to support those feature They are also working on how to include the packager in catalyst and builder.
Vp8 support in flash player: it's coming. Adobe is committed to it, but it is not the priority at the moment. Working more on gpu hardware acceleration.
3D graphics in next flash player: there is another conference coming up where there'd wil be more peeks then. Max will show some new graphics features.
Is the size of he iphone packager going to decrease in size, and will it support h.264? - There might be a possibility to decrease the size of the packager with the air 2.5 runtime. They want to be able to play h.264 in the native video player of the device, but for right now it cant play those files, but can play flv. They don't think air will be allowed to be a shared runtime on the iPhone, so each app will have the runtime.
Will the iphone apps built in flash have better performance? - they were working on it, but when Apple disallowed flash apps, they put aside and are now revisiting. The goal is to get it as fast as air running on the android, but it's a larger technical challenge on the iPhone. Android will always be easier to get better performance on than iPhone.
They are working on making the flash/flex compiler significantly better for a future release. They have a dedicated team on it.
They are considering making a publish setting for optimising for mobile/touch to make it easier to publish flash files for devices. They don't want to make the player do choices for the developer in hopes of making it better, especially if it causes something to happen the developer didn't intend. They want to focus on making the tools better to help developers. A single swf for all screens is probably not possible, so thinking about exporting multiple swfs depending on publish settings. Maybe using CSS to help.
Will flash player 10.1 and air be available on google tv? - yes. But just the player, but probably not air in he first release.
Bring back export as eps? - The feature has been on the backlog to bring it back. But in definite plans now. But they can do sfg or fsg (couldn't hear which)
One thing they want to do is help developers get the file to different Market places automatically (code name Melrose)
Flash builder support for developing for android? - adding support for mobile in flex framework. They are working on it. Says stay tuned. You can do it in flash builder, but its not built in right now.
Took a vote, almost no one likes the new help system. Most want the old one back.
AS3 on the server? - They are investigating. They think it's a good idea and have team experimenting with it now.
Thinking about doing silent auto update for flash player. Chrome updates player automatically.
Native h264 encoding to player - it costs a lot just to play, encoding is about 3 times the licensing cost.
About 500-600 people working on flash platform.
During the session, there was a lot of talk about mobile. Over 50% of questions touched upon it.
This session was a fresh breath from the other hectic presentations delivered. Chris set the stage right away by saying that this would be a little different and personal and it really was. He had taken a good look back at what didn't work in the places he worked before, sorted them and tried to learn. Many seem to think that they can make sure a project is successful by reading up on all the latest theories in agile and other methodologies.
While they are important, they're not what makes or break a project. It really is more about the "flow" in "workflow" and how to make that happen. Workflow is not a book that you can just read and it will magically work as these books will often omit the most important element - personal relations. Workflow is a state and it's about getting things moving. If something happens to your team members on either a personal or professional level, that will affect that persons ability to do his/her job.
Chris thinks this boils down trust. If trust isn't there it just won't work. He asked the crowd many tough questions such as "Do you really care about your coworkers beyond the How do you-level?", "Do you know the hobbies of your colleagues and have you shared that hobby with them?". This was certainly not your typical session on a Flash conference, and Chris presentation was really personal and filled with food for thought.
Chris ended the session with listing up his key points for making teams work. Very good stuff!
Brighton is Seb’s home town and he is one of only a few speakers to have presented at every Flash On The Beach. I’ve seen most of those sessions over the years and I have to say this might be his best yet. Eschewing his usual technical chops for a thoughtful and well researched introspection on the future of Flash.
His principle observation is that Flash has become an island. As a community we have insulated ourselves from the rest of the web and this distance is unhealthy. Some of what he had to say is uncomfortable to hear but it’s all delivered with his usual disarming manner. This is tricky terrain but he covered it with skill and humour.
In an effort to understand how the general web community perceives Flash, he interviewed three local experts: Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith (from Clearleft) and Remy Sharp. And for balance he also interviewed three long time Flash luminaries, Branden Hall, Brendan Dawes and Jer Thorp.
Branden talked about how in the early days AS1 and AS2 offered a gentle learning curve into programming. Coming straight into AS3 feels more like a wall. Talking about where we are these days Andy Budd commented that the web has gotten less playful and more serious. Now the big one, why do people hate Flash? Time for some Kitten Conveyer Belt… aaaaah. Opinions vary, but performance, proprietary, non-native and it’s a big black hole are all cited.
Gamshow host Seb Lee-Delisle welcoming the contestants. Photo by Marc Thiele
Now it’s time for Flashy Fortunes, an impromptu game show to test our memory of the results. Taped under the seats are bingo numbers. Seb gets his teams by pulling numbers out a hat and by the weirdest coincidence Jeremy Keith is one of those called up. Well researched and great fun. The takeaway from this session is learn to love learning. Learn everything, and use the best tool for the job. One of the standout sessions of the whole conference.
FOTB attendees, image by Marc Thiele