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Conclusion

Let's see how Flash stacks up to our original requirements:

By Scott Bilas, Oberon Media, Inc. - The executable code must be small. The Oberon host application plus Flash's OCX adds up to about 1.1 megs, compressing down to 829K. Not great, but not bad, considering all the toys in there. Grade: B.

- The content must be small. Flash supports JPG and MP3, and its bytecode is tight enough to be negligible in comparison to the bitmaps and audio. We're good to go. Our Oberon Flash host application adds support for JPEG2000, OGG, and OXM (Ogg-compressed .xm format), all of which are even smaller. Grade: A.

- We've got to grab players' attention. Flash is an excellent animation tool. With the right talent we can really grab people, although we need to be very careful about doing large full screen effects. Grade: B+.

- The engine needs to avoid fancy API's that probably don't exist on the client machines. Flash runs on a default install of Win95, so it's up to the host application to limit its API use, which isn't difficult. Grade: A.

- Performance is a huge concern. This is the worst problem with Flash, and it gets a C here. Although while we can't bet on Flash 8's release date, it looks like we may be able to bump this up to a B in a few months.

- The toolset needs to support rapid iteration. This is perhaps the most powerful ability Flash gives us. Grade: A+.

- We're going to want to make a web version of the game as a teaser. The route to a web game from a deluxe game (or the other way around) is clear and direct in Flash. Grade: A.

At Oberon in Seattle, we've developed and shipped two successful downloadable Flash games (Betrapped! and A Series of Unfortunate Events) plus online web versions, a multi-thousand-user real-time multiplayer system that uses Flash and UDP on the client, and are working on additional Flash-based downloadable and web games to ship this year.

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Flash has been a great experience for us. As described in this paper, it has a number of pro's and con's. We've worked around nearly all of the disadvantages, which have turned out to be minor in practice, and we would expect similar issues with any other platform we were to choose. The biggest disadvantage with Flash is of course CPU usage, which is a challenge, but we still think it's worth fighting through. At the moment we're betting on Flash 8 to give us the performance boost we need, but if that doesn't work out, we may have to consider alternatives such as Torque 2D for our more action style fast paced games, and continue to use Flash for the slower paced games. And even if we weren't using Flash as our primary development platform, we'll still use it as a rapid prototyping tool to get us through the first couple stages of preproduction. Nothing beats being able to create an entire game prototype in a few days.
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