Developer Adobe is ready to release its next suite of multimedia software in the Flash family that’ll take Flash games into new territory on multiple platforms. Adobe Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 will be available on October 4.
Speaking to Inside Network, Adobe Director for Product Marketing Anup Murarka walked us through a slideshow presentation of what the new software can do for games. By the developer’s estimates, more than 70% of all casual games on the web (including those available on social networking sites) are written in Flash. Demands from Flash game developers include improved graphics capabilities, faster download times, quicker rendering, support for more gameplay features, and a smoother cross-platform transition experience. Flash Player 11 and AIR 3, Murarka says, addresses many of these demands and ultimately change the nature of Flash game development.
“We’re enabling a completely new generation of apps,” he explains. “Social games have a lot of data that has to get downloaded and it’s got to be rendered. [Cross-platform] development is all siloed and that gets to be an unmanageable cost. And we’ve had mobile developers tell us that they want to port games to desktop and web. You can save time […] and support a wider range of features with [Flash Player] 11, depending on the platform.”
Graphics are by far the most significant update to the software package. For desktops and connected TVs, Flash Player 11 will support 3D graphics with one thousand times faster rendering versus Flash Player 10. Games can run at 60 frames per second, the rate at which many triple-A console video games run. Murarka says that the APIs are supported on most GPUs and there’s a software fallback so that the games will still work even if the game is running on a GPU Flash doesn’t recognize.
AIR 3 also supports platform-native extensions for hardware and software such that developers could experiment with light sensors or dual screen setups for new gameplay mechanics. Previously, social games have tried with limited success to implement webcam support (e.g. Punch Punch Revolution) and Murarka says it could be possible to enable motion controller support depending on the device and its manufacturer’s policies around creating supporting drivers (e.g. Microsoft’s Kinect controller).
A third feature of the software relevant to social games is captive runtime. This allows developers to automatically package AIR 3 with applications for installation on Android, Windows, iOS and Mac OS so that potential players do not have to leave the game to go download AIR separately. Captive runtime also allows developers to manage version updates to their apps independent of AIR updates made by Adobe.
The big question for social and mobile game developers is whether or not AIR 3 will work well enough for developers to port their Flash 11 games to mobile devices with minimal effort. As Murarka says, costs of cross-platform development are rising as developers either have to invest resources in building native apps for or troubleshooting converted Flash apps on iOS, Android and tablet platforms. Additionally, many developers are also spending resources on exploring new cross-platform solutions like HTML5, which represents an opportunity cost of the time they could spend building new games in a language they already know.
As a success story, Adobe cites Machinarium, an indie game originally developed 2009 as a downloadable Flash game for PCs, Macs, and Linux. Very recently, the game was released on iPad 2 — still built in Flash and repackaged for the iPad interfact. A quote from game developer Amanita Design included in the Adobe press releases say that the studio was able to revamp the game with Flash and get it onto iPads in less than two months. Amamita Design goes on to say that Android and BlackBerry versions are coming soon.
As for the big players in the social games space on Facebook, Zynga also throws in a quote with the press release, saying that the company is “committed to building mainstream entertainment across all devices, platforms and applications, whether itʼs through Flash or HTML5.” Zynga acquired HTML5 engine Dextrose almost a year ago and continues to develop its games in Flash — sometimes resorting to storing assets on players’ hard drives to handle all of the data its games require players to download and render.
Adobe says that, to date, Flash Player is supported on more than 98% of Internet-enabled PCs. By the end of this year, it expects that Flash-based applications will be supported on more than 200 million smartphones and tablets (including iOS devices) via AIR. By the end of 2015, Adobe estimates that the number of devices that support AIR will hit 1 billion.