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Interactive Web Games - Coming Soon To A Browser Near You
June 15th 

Randy: I remember way back when we thought there could be no cooler delivery method for interactive entertainment than the Internet. I can still remember the excitement when I cracked open my first Global Village 14.4 modem and plugged it in to the old Quadra 630 and prepared for interactive blastoff.

Gary: Uh, should you be talking about something this personal in front of the readers?

Randy: No, I mean games, you Idiot!

Gary: Oh! And, thank you!

Randy: I wanted interactive games on the web, but alas there were none. Only lame porno sites and a place called Shareware.com, where I filled up my first three hard drives.

Gary: Yes, I remember just how un-interactive the web was… And I also remember thinking back then, "Boy the web sucks for games".

Randy: True, back in 1992 and 93 when we were just getting our feet wet on the web, every magazine you read, (yeah, paper based magazines, I know it's sounds crazy now…) talked about the promise the web held for online gaming. Sure there were MUDs and text based games, but if you wanted graphically rich worlds to explore online you were looking for disappointment.

Or if you did find something with graphics, you had to wait for hours for a file to download. God forbid the file you waited so patiently for over your old 14.4 modem turned out to be a piece of crap, or worse, a corrupt file.

Gary: Arrrggggg, man I hated that crap. Boy the web really did suck!

Randy: Well I feel those days are at an end, my disappointed and vein popping friend. I have seen a new light in the web void. A place where games, real games with real interactivity, are streamed right through your browser. A place where no gamer waits for a download even if they are using a 28.8 modem.

Gary: 14.4 people go out and wait in the hall ; )

Randy: With the announcement of Macromedia's Flash 4 web authoring tool, the web is finally going to come alive.

Gary: Flash has been one of our favorite web creation tools since version 2, but it lacked the logic under belly to support any serious game creation until now. Finally one little program pulls it all together in one easy to use tool.

Randy: But hey, before we tell you what we hope it will do to the web, let's back up and take a look at where Flash came from, .

Gary: Rewind to the year 1996 and a little plugin from a company called FutureWave Software. This plugin brought vector-based animations to the web, and better yet, they started playing almost instantly. This cool technology called FutureSplash Animator caught the attention of multimedia toolmaker Macromedia's collective corporate eye. In January of 1997, FutureWave Software was purchased and absorbed into Macromedia's stable of technologies.

Randy: Macromedia built a fairly user friendly interface on the FutureSplash Animator technology and Flash was born. Fast forward to today. Flash has just been upgraded to version 4 and what was once a simple vector based keyframe animation program has become a full fledged authoring tool and the Flash plugin has become a part of the standard install on both Netscape and Internet Explorer. This means that almost everybody that has a connection to the Internet also has Flash installed which makes it safe for webmasters to have Flash content on their web sites.

Gary: Now don't get me wrong there were other forms of interactive entertainment before Flash became so popular. With the eMpire plugin from mTropolis, (Long Live mTropolis!) Ransom Interactive took the demo for their adventure game, The Forgotten, online. And Apple's QuickTime VR brought 360-degree panoramas to the web. Macromedia has also had the Shockwave plugin for Director for several years now, and SuperCard has recently released it's new cross-platform plugin.

Randy: The trouble with all of these other plugins is that they all require large artwork files to be downloaded before the interactive stuff can begin. Even a small project can contain quite a lot of bitmapped images and sometime these files can take a long time to download.

Gary: So various plugins can make the browser a decent delivery platform, but the issue becomes speed. No matter how many cool tricks you can make a browser do, you still need graphics to make the user see what's going on. And those graphics take time to download, unless they are vector based graphics.

Vector based graphics describe to a computer in mathematical terms exactly how a picture is to be drawn. Line "A" starts here, and ends here, and it is this wide and this color. The computer downloads these simple instructions and then draws the image on the fly.

Randy: Bitmapped images, whether they are JPEGs or GIFs, are the most common image format on the web today. They are a pixel by pixel representation of the image. Where each dot of color on that line represents another kilobyte of file information that must be downloaded.

Gary: Each pixel ,a kilobyte? Dude that would make a typical banner ad like, four megs.

Randy: Now you see why bitmapped images suck on the web.

Gary: Wait. Randy is lying. A typical bitmapped web image is around 20 to 30 kilobytes, while a similar vector based image might take only 3 to 10 kilobytes. That means vector based images download almost instantly compared to bitmapped images that can take upwards of 3- 5 seconds.

Randy: But the beauty of vector based art is that it can be animated in Flash with almost no increase in file size. And Flash has a very flexible animation editor based on Macromedia's own high-end interactive authoring tool, Director.

Gary: In fact with the release of Flash 4, a whole slew of Director's features have been folded into Flash's toolbelt. For example the ability to have containers for variables. User input can then be stored to affect the playback of the Flash movie. Or a user can enter text, like a name, and it can be incorporated into the text of the Flash movie.

Randy: You can also have user movable sprites right in the web browser. And now Flash can allow a user to rearrange the whole interface of the web page and then have the browser through the Flash plugin remember the state in which the user left the interface when they come back to the site.

Gary: Flash now sports a much better pallet of graphics tools for both vector and bitmapped images, including a new magic wand tool and support for pressure sensitive graphics tablets.

And finally my favorite new trick is the support of the MP3 sound format. Now long sound tracks can be used for music or voice-over and not wreak havoc on the file size.

Randy: While there's a whole host of other improvements that have happened to Flash, that's not why I'm really so excited.

Gary: Are we back on that interactive blast off thing again.

Randy: No, my low-minded yet comical sidekick, I'm excited about what people are going to create with Flash 4. The kind of content that at one time could only be delivered on CD-ROM can now stream over the web. And Flash makes it easy to create it.

Gary: Since Flash 4 just came out, there aren't really any sites that we have found showcasing it yet, except for Macromedia's own shockwave.com. But from the looks of what Macromedia is promising now, shockwave.com looks to be a butt-load of fun when it goes online. Macromedia is marketing shockwave.com an interactive channel for Flash content. "Distraction on demand." is their battle cry, and we hear 'em loud and clear! Right now there is a preview at shockwave.com that uses just a little taste of what Flash 4 can do. Be sure and check it out.

Randy: But there are some outstanding Flash version 2 and 3 web sites out there that can show our readers what kind of cool things they can expect in the near future at a browser near them. Smashing Ideas Animation web site shows off some excellent interactive work where you can play some fun but rather silly arcade style games built in Flash 3.

Gary: Or surf by Spumco's Wonderful World of Cartoons and all you Ren and Stimpy fans can see what John Kricfalusi is up to these days with his Flash 2 animated series THE GODDAMN GEORGE LIQUOR PROGRAM. ATI has a slick Flash based site for their new Rage 128 products, and Randy's favorite Flash site has to be Shiny Entertainment, Inc., the creators of the kick ass game, MDK.

Randy: So it looks like the web is finally going to get jiggy wit' it. I predict big things will happen when Flash 4 starts infiltrating the web full scale. If anybody out there still doesn't have the Flash plugin, get it. It's free, and it is going to open up a whole new world of interactive games on the web!

Gary: Just don't interactively blast off in front of anybody, Okay?

Randy: Shut up, YOU!

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .


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