The Death of Adobe Flash Player

Thursday, January 21, 2021 - 9:04pm

NOSELL

ThioJoe

I have something that I’d like to admit. If you’ve ever FaceTimed me in the past seven or so years and I’ve answered on my computer, I’ve almost certainly been playing the online computer game Curveball while we speak. It’s a simple game: essentially the famous arcade game “Pong” but in 3D. You serve a little green ball to the computer with your transparent paddle, the computer returns the ball to you (perhaps with a little curve on higher levels) and so on. It’s monotonous and aesthetically pleasing, making it the perfect game to mindlessly play as you converse with whoever it is you’re talking to. 

Maybe I do this because I’m not very interested in what the person on the other end has to say, or maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a world of constant overstimulation where it is now virtually impossible for me to focus on one thing at a time. Whatever the case, if you try to tell me about your day over FaceTime, you can count on my eyes subtly darting back and forth across the screen as I try to follow the path of the little green ball. 

My mom FaceTimed me a few days ago. I believe she was asking me to walk the dogs before she got home, or maybe to turn on the oven or perhaps she wanted to know how my day was going. To be honest, I wasn’t listening at all because something terrible had happened. 

As soon as I answered her call, I did what I always did. I opened Google Chrome, typed in the letter “c” — which the algorithm had learned many years ago to immediately autofill to www.curveball-game.com — and pressed enter. But what I saw was not the Curveball game I’d come to adore, but instead a strange perversion of it called “Absolution Velocity.” The neon green theming had changed to a purple and pink gradient that mirrored a sign outside of a Miami bar, and the ball was orange and contained a pulsating yellow light in the middle that made me nauseous if I looked at it too closely. Also, the ball now moved at a quarter of the speed that it used to. I started to panic. 

I repeatedly refreshed the page, but nothing changed. I checked the dictionary for the word “Absolution,” and it seemed to make no sense next to the word “Velocity.” I began to worry that I may never play Curveball again. 

As my mom rambled on about whatever it was she was talking about, I noticed a small textbox in the bottom of the screen that read “AN HTML5 REMAKE OF THE POPULAR FLASH GAME ‘CURVEBALL.’” My stomach dropped. 

If you do not already know, Adobe Flash Player was a browser plug-in released in 1996 that changed the way we use the internet. Adobe Flash Player allowed artists and animators to create content that required very little storage and could be downloaded by users easily. If you’ve surfed the internet in the past 20 years, it’s almost impossible to have not come across a piece of content supported by Adobe Flash Player, whether it be a game or simple video. 

The magic of Adobe Flash Player is best explained by animator David Firth, who used the program early on in its development to propel his career: “There were no shortcuts to viral content. No corporate fingers twiddling the algorithms. It was simply attention-grabbing and quality material that rose to the top.” 

In essence, Adobe Flash Player represents the ideal of internet usage and creation. It made games and videos accessible to anyone who could access the Internet and rewarded creators for building high-quality, captivating products. 

Tragically, Adobe stopped supporting Flash Player on Dec. 31, 2020. According to the Adobe Flash Player general information page, this is ominously known as the End Of Life (EOL) date. Apparently, this date had been decided many years ago, with Adobe announcing the impending EOL in 2017, but the fight against the software had been raging in the background for even longer. 

In April of 2010, the late Steve Jobs wrote an open letter appropriately titled “Thoughts on Flash,” in which he explained why Adobe Flash Player would no longer be supported by iPhones and iPads. In his letter, Jobs laid out an array of administrative reasons for Apple deciding to part ways with Flash, ranging from an inability for Flash to adapt to touch screen technology, security hazards within the system and a drain on battery life in handheld devices that used Flash. In short, he argued that Flash was outdated and programs like HTML5 could deliver much better results. 

While these reasons are certainly valid, there is a more cynical way to look at the implications of Job’s fight against Flash. As David Mendels, the former executive vice president of products at Adobe, argued to the BBC, “When the iPhone came out, Flash wasn’t quite ready. … But I also think Apple wanted to create an Apple-only ecosystem.” 

Take the app store for example. It was undeniably in Apple’s best interest to not allow Flash products to run on iPhones and iPads, as it made the App-store the only marketplace for gaming on those devices. Additionally, in 2011, 28.5% of websites utilized Flash. By not allowing Flash to run on handheld Apple devices, Apple effectively limited what sites users could access on the Internet. While this did not necessarily give Apple any kind of competitive advantage, it still serves to highlight the repercussions of phasing Flash out. Once Apple disallowed Flash on its mobile devices, Adobe soon stopped producing Flash for mobile devices in 2011, and the software was officially on its way out.

This is not intended to be a witch hunt against Jobs or stir up an Apple-Adobe Flash Player conspiracy. I just wished to address why Curveball had been turned into some twisted version of itself by powers unbeknownst to me. 

I can not help but feel a keen sense of sadness and nostalgia. What had started as a platform that connected users through an ability to easily experience the imagination of Internet creators had been terminated without any apparent warning, and it didn’t seem like there was anything anyone could have done. 

Perhaps you could argue that this is the simple reality of our current system: Capitalism breeds innovation and innovation renders past innovation obsolete. Perhaps it’s time I accept that. But that does not take away from the fact that so much of my past Internet experience is now completely inaccessible. And that stinks.

I remember sitting in my mother’s office at 12 years old as she attended a board meeting and playing Pinch Hitter 2 on her MacBook. I don’t think any game has infatuated me as much since. I loved that you could customize the players’ outfits and that whenever you would strikeout, your character would let out a high-pitched “Aw Man!” When you’d hit a home run, it was “All Right!” in the same cadence. 

For a short period of time, I incorporated these phrases into my everyday language. I also always appreciated the details in the game’s setting. On one baseball field called “The Lot,” your character was surrounded by brick walls that mimicked a vacant lot in a city, with the home run lines marked by imperfect white strokes meant to create the illusion of spray paint. 

There was nothing fancy about these graphics or the gameplay. You would move the mouse to where you wanted your player to be, and press the spacebar to swing the bat. That was it. When you’d click anything outside of the game area, it would take a few seconds for the page to respond. 

Every few minutes or so, a pop-up would appear, asking me to consent to Safari running Adobe Flash Player. I would roll my eyes and click allow. I didn’t know then how good I had it. 

Daily Arts Writer Leo Krinsky can be reached at lkrinsky@umich.edu


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