The rise, fall and resurgence of Adobe Flash games

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Photo by Andrew Haughey.

Junior Spencer Smith plays Jacksmith on BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint application. The application has preserved over 70,000 Flash games and 8,000 animations running on 20 different platforms. The project has reached international levels, with over 100 contributors working to convert as many Adobe Flash projects as possible

By Andrew Haughey, Fishers High School

Adobe Flash Player was never meant to provide a platform for tens of thousands of games beloved by fans around the world. When the program was released in 1996, it was intended to be used for web graphics and animations. This all changed in 2000 when Adobe created a programming language for the player that allowed developers to make simple games quickly and easily. What followed was 20 years of video game history embodied by websites such as Cool Math Games, Nitrome, UFreeGames and Kongregate.

For many students, websites that allowed access to Adobe Flash games occupied many hours of their childhood. Junior Spencer Smith said he first discovered the games in third grade while in the computer lab.

“There was some kid in my class who told me to check out this new website, and the website was Cool Math Games,” Smith said. “I came home and I showed my whole family and my brother. I told Ben [Smith’s brother] that we had to start playing these games, and so we played them for hours.”

The game that originally captivated Smith was Stupid Zombies, a game in which the player has to angle a character’s weapon to eliminate all of the zombies in a level in one shot. Although Stupid Zombies holds a special place in Smith’s heart, it is not his favorite Flash game.

“[My favorite game is] Jacksmith. It’s this game where you’re a donkey, but he’s a blacksmith,” Smith said. “So you’re making bows, swords and shields for customers, and then those customers go and fight. You get gold based off of how many enemies your customers defeat with your weapons.”

Smith fondly recalled memories from his younger years, especially those with his brother.

“I remember waking up on Christmas morning one time and playing Jacksmith with Ben for three hours before my parents woke up,” Smith said. “I think it brought my brother and I closer. There was another one that we played called The Impossible Quiz, which is essentially just a quiz but every question is a play on words. I think those Flash games sort of got me hooked on technology in the way that I am today.”

Sophomore Spencer Haltom shares a story strikingly similar to that of Smith, citing the first time he got interested in Flash games as being in the computer lab at Riverside Junior High School.

“It was probably in seventh grade when we were on the school computers in Mr. Lewis’ class [a business and finance teacher at RJH] and had nothing else to do,” Haltom said. “So, as a class, we all decided we should get on Cool Math Games to occupy ourselves.”

Haltom described most of his favorite Flash games as having been off of the website Nitrome, one of the many websites offering a platform for developers to post their games on.

“There’s one called Icebreaker where you have to get Vikings to their ship by cutting ice and creating a slide for them to go down,” Haltom said. “It is way more fun than it should be.”

Similar to Smith, Haltom recalls Flash games as being an avenue to bond with his brother.

“Fletcher [Haltom’s brother] and I were in our playroom and we booted up this very bad, old computer that could barely load any game,” Haltom said. “I had nothing better to do, so I spent countless hours cutting ice to make Vikings go into a ship.”

Haltom attributes most of the allure of Flash games to the fact that they were simple and mindless. He said that sometimes people just need a break from all of the stressors in their life and that Flash games could be that break. Additionally, Haltom said that the games were responsible for his current interests in games.

“I play mindless, simple task games that require little to no thinking at all, much like Flash games,” Haltom said. “Games like Dune, where you press the ball to make it float on the mountain and try and get as many points as possible, and the BMX bike riding game (a simple concept where the player controls a character on a BMX bike riding over mountains and obstacles) are very reminiscent of games like Jump, which required very little to no thinking.”

Despite the countless amount of hours that players have poured into Flash games, Adobe announced that it would discontinue and stop updating the program completely by the end of 2020. This halt would mean any game that ran using Adobe Flash Player would be rendered unplayable. 

“I’m torn,” Smith said. “Because part of me thinks that it sucks but then the other part of me doesn’t really care because I don’t play them anymore. I’m sad, though, because when I was a kid, Flash games were a big deal, and the age group that’s the age I was when I played Flash games a lot won’t have those games to grow up on. It really hurts.”

Haltom, agreeing with Smith, said that the announcement came as a shock to everyone, but that he was not really quite sure how to feel.

“There was an imaginary sense of despair, where this thing that doesn’t really have a meaning was taken away, with the only consequences being that you cannot play the mindless games anymore,” Haltom said. “In a way, it symbolizes the end of an era.”

Although it is not possible to play Flash games in their original format anymore, several projects have arisen to help preserve the games in a way that is easy to access. Cool Math Games, for example, has transferred many of the older games on its platform over to HTML5, a markup language on the internet used for presenting content. In addition to this, the company BlueMaxima has created an open-source project that has worked to convert nearly 70,000 games from Adobe Flash Player to the company’s player, known as Flashpoint Secure Player. 

“Internet history and culture is important, and content made on web platforms including, but not limited to Adobe Flash, makes up a significant portion of that culture,” BlueMaxima’s website says. “This project is dedicated to preserving as many experiences from these platforms as possible so that they aren’t lost to time.”

Smith was happy to see a memorable part of his childhood being preserved for future generations.

“I think it’s incredible that people are willing to put that much effort and time into preserving a part of the internet’s history,” Smith said. “Knowing that, I think everyone should give Flash games a shot if they never had the chance.”

This story was originally published on N the Red on March 23, 2021.