September 22nd 2009 | John Dalziel
There's something very special about Flash On the Beach and Brighton. For more than a month I've seen tweets from people that say that they're counting the days and looking forward to being in Brighton again. This years conference was kicked off Mariachi-style and the Adobe keynote was really worth catching. The annual pilgrimage of the Flash Community had started!
As in all the former years (FOTB08, FOTB07 and FOTB06), Flashmagazine is at the event and we'll do our best to convey the mood, news and cool content from sunny Brighton and maybe the best community conference there is.
For full details of the Adobe Keynote and the Flash CS5 details revealed, see our full article on the sneak peak of Flash Professional CS5.
This was Keith's fourth year at Flash on the beach and as usual he spoke about his current area of interest. This time it was game architecture that has caught his attention and how to finish coding a game without despising it.
Initially Keith looked at whether structural design patterns could still be used in game architecture. The typical game loop of input > update model > render screen is quite inefficient in Flash so he explored various ways of improving this. The MVC structure is still appropriate but there are considerable performance gains to be made from replacing the ENTER_FRAME loop with an event model.
Finally he showed his latest project, a game toolkit for AS3 called "Asobu. Much of the learning for this work has come from his game work on other platforms, most notably on iPhone. The implementation of a Finite State Machine was covered in depth, and he finished up with a short discussion of the potential benefits of entity oriented design.
In his session, Mike revealed a few new bits about Adobe AIR 2.0, code named Athena. A couple of these were recently shown and some were entirely new. The first one was the StorageVolume API. It'll simply cast events whenever anything that will mount as a harddrive mounts or unmounts. It's simply a Singleton class that offers 2 events, really easy to use.
There's also a new API for caching assets so that you can easily render assets even when the app is offline, without having to pack it into the AIR file. You can of course also use this to make the UI update even faster when the user is online as well. This ResourceCache API also offered a very simple implementation, so a great addition. Another great and simple command was the openWithDefaultApplication method for the file handling classes. Passing the path to a file, will open the file with the default application. Passing it a folder, will simply open this folder in Finder on a Mac or Explorer on a PC.
The last API Mike covered was maybe the most interesting one - the NativeProcess API. This can Call and communicate with external applications natively. It will let you do more or less anything, like executing software packaged with the installer, listen to streams and standard IO. Many people have asked for this, but the security issues by allowing this were too severe for Adobe to include it in former versions. There is a solid catch to this - applications using this API can'tbe distributed as AIR files. They must rather be exported as EXE and DMG files (native installer).
Another thing - AIR 2.0 can't execute apps within it's app directory. The developer must move move it outside and this is done on purpose by Adobe to be sure the developers understand the implications and probably to trigger possible antivirus/malware apps to make sure this all happens in a good fashion. Mike showed a rough screenshot app to demonstrate this API, so I guess we can conclude from this that AIR 2.0 won't have screenshot capabilities? We'll probably know this for sure after Adobe MAX.
The most interesting about this is that Adobe now opts to go head to head with the third party tool providers in making executables. We didn't think this would happen, but that'll do something to these small companies living off extending Flash.
The Adobe Town Hall is a freeform open session where attendees can quiz Adobe employees about anything. Last year's event nearly crashed our servers after news of an iPhone version of the Flash Player was confirmed. With MAX only a few weeks away there were clearly a lot of questions answered that were answered with a wink. When asked about GPU support for example we were told "MAX should be interesting for you".Besides the usual bug reports there were some cryptic plans for extensions to f4v as well as confirmation that various concurrent execution "threading" models are being explored. An interesting request for multiple viewports in the Flash Player revealed that multiple cameras are "currently under investigation".The biggest round of applause was for the guy who uses FlexBuilder in Linux. The classic tweening engine will not be removed from future versions of the IDE.
Big Spaceship is a digital creative agency that's been around for 10 years now. Joshua talked about the culture of Big Spaceship, how they're setup and their processes behind their award winning work. Firstly, everyone is creative - some are more technical than others. Secondly "don't hire assholes", and it's corollary "don't be an asshole". Simple when you spell it out. Another great example is their system for accepting new work. Projects are graded on the three F's, Fame Fun and Fortune. If there are enough F's the project gets the green light.One of the Big Spaceship mantras is "Experiment constantly". To illustrate these he showed a series of mainly internal projects. Other than the wonderful PrettyLoaded all of the projects showed some kind of homebrew film-making or hardware integration. Lots of fun stuff. When you're done head to corpsify.com and tell them Walt sent me.
The evening inspirational talks at Flash on the beach are always popular. Returning from dinner all the attendees grab themselves a beer and gather together in the main auditorium to hear a single speaker. This evening was the turn of Joel Gethin Lewis to show a selection of his spatial interaction work.
The first three projects he showed were all taken from his time at United Visual Artists. The first, an interactive light show for Massive Attack involved joining the band on tour for six months and "moshing out" if the gig was going well.
Throughout the session he talked about his influences and what he'd learned from each project. One of the observations, "Ideas are easy, doing is hard", was perfectly exemplified in a project to create the first set of interactive Christmas lights in the UK. The technical challenges seemed almost simple when compared with the legal and logistical nightmare of installing the piece in one of London's busiest streets during the Christmas shopping season.
The final project, an installation to celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and the UK, sounded like a great gig... until you realise there was only 2 weeks to build it. The solution and the eponymous epiphany came in the shape of open source. Projects like openCV, Box2D and of course openFrameworks were the only way to meet the deadline. It was this that led Joel to reconsider his direction and eventually to form a couple of companies to pursue this line of work exclusively.
After some personal stories of his time in Wales and a pantheon of influences it was time to finishing off with some recent collaborative work. The biggest cheer of the night went to a video of a Japanese musician Joel has worked with who attached electrodes to his face and played music with them. Wonderful.
John Dalziel is a founding member of FlashMagazine and regularly reports from community events in the UK. He has also written for Macromedia, New Riders, Actionscript.com and Ultrashock.com.