11 Must Have Flash Resources and 11 Must Have Utilities For 2009Posted: November 23, 2008 at 8:44 pm
Here's my list of 11 shweet resources and utilities for Flash Developers for the upcoming year. Some of these will look familiar to you from 2008 and possibly even earlier, but their significance and continued development will see them into 2009 and beyond. With the release of CS4, expect to see upgrades and revitalization of a number of projects as new features of the latest version of Flash are incorporated.
1. Papervision 3D + VectorVision
Now that Papervision has taken hold of the Flash community, what next? I decided to add it to this list, as I believe 2009 to be the year of PV3D optimization and streamlining. With the new features of CS4, along with GPU processing being utilized for rendering outside of full-screen mode, the upcoming year will see those chugging experiments running smoother with significant FPS gains. In Flash 10, the Graphics.drawTriangles method gives us the ability to draw triangles using UV and UVW coordinates natively which will strip a lot of code out of the engine. This will help enable the team to squeeze every ounce of efficiency out of Papervision which is the key to Papervision evolving and making it a lasting tool. All that being said, expect to see more pushing of the envelope and more amazing experiments. Along with Papervision, I'm excited to see the evolution of Vectorvision, the vector based add-on to the Papervision library. Creating font class files that can then be used to create 3D display objects, gives us another color in the artists palette. I'm hoping to see more drawing capabilities added very soon.
UPDATE: Vectorvision's Mark Barcinski is now a member of the Papervision team. Vectorvision code will get folded into the library making things a bit more convenient with updates. Also Tim Knip has released a triangulation lib which makes it easy to convert a Vectorvision object to DisplayObject3D. This provides shading, texturing, and quadrant engine functionality. This will also lead the way for extrusion!
One of the coolest things to come out of 2008 is Ribbit. So cool, that I have also added it to my 2009 list. The creative possibilities with Ribbit are endless. Imagine plugging your Flash application into a phone jack. Keep an eye out for Ribbit's Killer App Contest which will generate a great deal of ideas. I see a significant increase in viral development using Ribbit in 2009, as well as incorporated into social networking, digital artistic pieces, and more.
3. Go + HydroTween
This is 1 of 2 of my shameless plugs, but try and think of this in terms of the big picture. Forgetting Hydrotween, Go is more then a foundation for a Tweening engine. It's the pulse for anything that has a beginning, an end, or any level of frequency. Go made a modest dent in the development community in 2008, but I feel the best is yet to come. I'm hopeful that physics, more creative Tweening utilities, and even more 3D control and deforming modifiers will find their way to goplayground in 2009.
It's very easy to get set in your ways when dealing with a ubiquitous platform such as Flash. With an over 90% penetration rate, one silently cringes when thinking of integrating another web platform on top of the Flash environment. That all gets thrown out the window after experiencing the pure awesomeness of the Unity3D plug-in. Well, O.K. The concerns are still there, but this is definitely something to keep an eye out for. As communication between Unity and Flash flourishes, this wil become standard for more robust 3D games and applications. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some sort of relationship between Adobe and Unity.
It's easy to become an evangelist for FDT. The Powerflasher team is doing a great job of listening to the Flash community effectively which is great because I am one of those people that is quick to point out its occasional hiccups. 3.1 Standalone was a and the foundation for further updates. Soon we will see MXML support in early 2009 as well as the Obfuscator which the team is working on with Nicolas Cannasse (HaXe). FDT is looking to bridge the gap between the design process and the development process as well as enhance the management. With the work that is being done to provide MXML support, the FDT engine is no longer tied to a specific coding language. What this means is that special projects such as as UML functionality, or an FDT configuration specifically for designers, can be undertaken without modifying the core.
6. Adobe Flash CS4
Hard to go down the list without mentioning the recent release of Flash CS4. The addition of the new Vector class will help to speed iteration processes by providing strict/strong typing of an array. In many cases, casting an object's type in a parameter will speed complex calculations. Following that concept, by defining an array's type at the onset, the iteration focuses on accessing its contents instead of what it contains. You can find a good example of this at Alex Bustin's Blog. Also in recent news from Adobe, Alchemy (which allows you to compile C and C++ code into AS using llvm-gcc) will open the doors for many Actionscript developers. For ultimate cool factor, look out for the NES emulator running ROMS ported to AS3! (FlaCC – at the bottom) Also Catalyst (formerly known as Thermo), should hopefully make the relationship between designer and developer easier when it comes to wire-framing out concepts.
When it comes to a server solution for Flash deployment, there are pretty much two options. One is the Flash Media Server which starts at around $5000 and the other is the free and open source Red5. It features streaming of FLV and MP3, recording of client FLV streams, remoting, and shared objects just to name a few. An admin tool has been added in 0.6.3 as well as stream listeners. For 2009, the Red5 team is introducing Server-Side AS3. This will allow you to write code on the server without knowing Java extending the flexibility and accessibility of Red5 for developers. Whole applications can be developed on the server for things such as Social Networking, media manipulation, and so much more. Red5 is poised to hit the 1.0 version mark pretty soon which will help in making it even more competitive with Flash Media Server as stable platform.
This overlaps with Red5 a tad, but I added it because it is something that I find quick and easy to use on a per project basis. Fairly straightforward as it provides communication between a PHP server and Flash applications. Another standard addition to this is Danny Patterson's AS3 Lightweight Remoting Framework.
9. Spring Actionscript/Prana
Prana is an Inversion of Control container for AS3. This topic very easily requires its own post, but in simplest terms, Prana lets you configure your Application's components using an external XML file and initializing them at runtime. For large scale projects this is important as it lets you define your framework and allow for changes and management of dependent classes. The best place to get an overview of how this works is here. You can also find an example of an AS3 only version. Because Prana uses a Spring complient XML structure, it's being made into a Spring Extension and being renamed "Spring Actionscript". Adding it to a family of other IoC frameworks on other platforms.
Pop Forge has already gained a great deal of notoriety this year with Andre and Joa's exploit of the ByteArray hack. With the ability to write Byte level code directly to the Sound object in Flash 10, expect to see this library trimed down even further with more effects and added forms of sound manipulation. I'm looking forward to seeing signs of formant filtering as well as additive and spectral synthesis. How about routing L.F.O. control to other things like the Graphics class? Or better yet, routing graphical output to the envelope of a sound? Maybe some cross pollination of PixelBender with PopForge? Which of course brings me to my next item in the list…
11. Pixel Bender
Pixel Bender is Adobe's new kernal language used to manipulate pixels in new and creative ways. Pixel Bender runs on multiple Adobe products which opens up the ability to write uber-cool filters for static and motion graphics. Pixel Bender focuses heavily on the GPU to perform its tasks, making it much more efficient and capable of complex operations. Photoshop, Flash, and After Effects will all benefit from the experimental work being done with this tool and a number of innovative examples have already surfaced. Escher's Droste Effect is one such effect that "spiralizes" a circular pattern and even works with a video source. Another is the ability to do Ray Tracing and shading. I expect to see more of this trickle into Papervision and Bitmap processing libraries in the not so distant future.
Utilities and Helpful Approaches:
1. SWFObject 2.0
The standard for embedding anything with a swf at the end of the file path. 2.2 development has been started with plans to address OnHold/ FixedIn2.2AlphaX. Expect a number of Flash 10 enhancements to come shortly for things such as express installer, wmode, etc.
2. Unity Object
Awesome and useful example of how to communicate between a Unity3D app and Flash.
3. QueueLoader 3.1
My last shameless plug. I chose to add this because of the significant re-write of the utility and ease in which people can add their own extras. With the new structure in place, be on the lookout for more loadable items and useful preloading processes similar to the drawFrames (lets you draw the frames of an external SWF to an array of bitmaps) feature.
4. TextArea Paging
A great trick for detecting the overflow of a TextArea for spilling into another TextArea. Perfect for creating "news" style layouts and working around images.
5. FileReference Verification of File Type
Cool utility for detecting file types of uploaded assets using the FileReference class.
6. Libary Code Version Checking
Cool technique for checking the version of your code when initializing. Helps to keep track of what version of a library you are using in a project to avoid conflicts.
7. Object Pooling Class
Object Pooling is a technique for centralizing the management of instantiated objects. Having an object instantiated and ready for use can reduce bottlenecks and offers the ability to limit unique creation. This is perfect for particle engines as it's used above. If you've seen one of Seb Lee-Delisle's particle talks at a conference, then you've seen this in action with how he's recycling the particles.
One other thing that gets Moses Gunesch really excited besides the mechanics of motion, is finding easy ways of compositing or capturing elements of a display hierarchy and manipulating them in fun ways. His SelectiveBitmapDraw Class lets you take a group of nested DisplayObjects and flag them for compositing into another Bitmap object. What makes this even cooler is that you can omit different items in the hierarchy. On top of that, you can use this with Papervision and apply it to DisplayObject3D items in your scene!
This is one of those things you need to see with a video. The FLARToolKit is used for creating "Augmented Reality" experiences. The way it works is by locking onto visual targets as reference points for creating motion and mapping points. Also check out the post of Mikkoh Haapoja's. A great video example can be found at today and tomorrow.
10. HiReS! SWF Stats
Mr. Doob has a well done dashboard for continuously outputting a running swf's performance. We've all used the frames-per-second bar, memory output meter, ms time in troubleshooting our applications. What his utility also gives you, is a visual graph of the data in real-time in a nice complete package.
If you've heard of Saffron (Samuel Agesilas' Actionscript based UML utility for creating stub code in a graphical user interface), then you've heard of Orchid. Orchid is an open source UI framework that works using the concept of Signals and Slots. Saffron has long been shrouded in mystery and this is most likely the case due to the fact it was picked up by a well known software development company. Rumors that it was purchased by Microsoft popped up, then there have been ramblings of Adobe buying the code. Regardless of what the case is, having seen the interface work that Sam has done on Saffron, it's easy to get a sense of the capabilities and flexibility of the Orchid architecture.
In addition to the items above, there are a number of other interesting things worth mentioning. Animoto is a cool application that takes user submitted media, and creates a music video based on your settings and creative genius. Aviary is a group of software tools that let you edit images, generate color palettes, and visual effects. X-Ray is a fairly well known and already established debugging utility that makes tracking trace statements, errors, and resources much easier. John Grden was able to make some changes for the Flex crowd recently and I'm looking forward to seeing how this progresses even further.
So that's the list! Because there is so much exciting stuff coming in the new year, I'm considering adding a user submitted list. What do you think? Contact me and let's get another list going!