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Dear Adobe: Support Haxe, save your Tools
by Lars Doucet on 06/24/14 11:20:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Dear Adobe,

My name is Lars Doucet, I'm a game developer; I can proudly say that I have been using your tools, and Flash in particular, for over 15 years. I love your tools, I think they're great, and I would be really sad to see the Flash ecosystem die out.

In this letter I will explain the reasons why both clients and developers are losing confidence in the Flash platform, and how that confidence can be restored.

Spoiler Alert: You should embrace the Haxe ecosystem; it's already compatible with your products, it'll save you a lot of money, and it perfectly aligns with your business' core competence, which is selling development tools.

But before we get there, let's talk about the decline of the Flash ecosystem.

Is Flash dying?

I can't tell you how many of my friends are jumping ship to other solutions like Unity and HTML5, all with the common refrain:

I don't want to abandon Flash, but I have to. I really miss the Flash tools and workflow, but I have to go where the work is.

Simply put, the clients that form the basis of the Flash ecosystem are losing confidence in the platform and moving instead to HTML5, Unity3D, and Haxe. Putting "Flash/Actionscript expert" on one's resume is no longer the guarantee of steady work that it was five years ago. Admittedly, Adobe AIR still hangs on to a few niches on desktop and mobile, but it suffers from a similar reputation problem as the Flash Player. Even so, nowadays everyone wants HTML5 for the web, Unity3D for desktop and consoles, and native apps for mobile. (Or if they're really clever, they use Haxe and get all of the above).

And it's not just clients -- the canaries in Flash's coal mine are dying one by one. MochiMedia has already shut down and FGL (formerly Flash Game License, tellingly) are desperately re-assuring everyone to not worry, because people only think Flash is dead.

The point that's missed in the many "is Flash dead yet" discussions, is that perception becomes reality, and right now the overwhelming perception is "Flash is dying". If enough clients believe that, then it becomes true, no matter what the rest of us think.

Here's some decisions that helped form that perception:

I'm sure these were sound business decisions. However, they felt like broken promises because you once assured us of:

a common vision to provide rich, interactive experiences across computers, devices and consumer electronics. - Open Screen Project

So the bad news is that enough people think that Flash is dying to risk sinking the entire ecosystem. The precious, animation-rich, newbie-friendly ecosystem to which I owe my career.

The good news is:

It's not too late!

Today I'm going to outline a simple business case for how Haxe can save the Flash ecosystem as well as Adobe's bottom line.

Here's my plan:

1. Subsidize Haxe development

You don't have to ship a new product or write a single line of code to reap some serious benefits from supporting Haxe.

And What is Haxe?

Haxe is an open source toolkit based on a modern, high level, strictly typed programming language, a cross-compiler, a complete cross-platform standard library and ways to access each platform's native capabilities. - ( website)

Haxe is already backwards-compatible with Flash. Thanks to the cross-compiler, anything you can do in Flash, you can do in Haxe with perfect fidelity by compiling Haxe code using the Flash target. It's like using TypeScript or CoffeeScript to write JavaScript output (a task Haxe also excels at). You can even create Adobe AIR apps with Haxe, as seen in Monster Loves You! and many other games.

Many of us who loved ActionScript (especially compared to JavaScript) were sad to see the cancellation of "ActionScript Next". Luckily, Haxe delivers everything we could have hoped for from AS Next.

Just from a language standpoint Haxe strictly dominates ActionScript 3 -- it's got proper Generics, strong static typing, type inference, an amazingly powerful macro system, enumerated types, proper Abstracts, and lots more. Haxe is also 100% free and open source (MIT) so nothing's stopping you from using it.

The Haxe community has already written the next version of Actionscript for you, and it is compatibile with both the Flash IDE and the SWF format right now. Many of your customers are already using Haxe, but plenty of others are thinking of jumping ship to other ecosystems.

Seriously, just pretend like it was your idea all along.

I mean, you're already paying Grant Skinner for CreateJS, right? You're already thinking along these lines anyway, why not follow through on the idea?

Let's do some quick math: A single-plan Creative Cloud subscription costs $20 USD / month, with a premium upsell at $50 (or $30 for existing CS customers).

So go ahead and count all your customers who use just the Flash IDE (or FlashBuilder). How many of them do you think you'll lose if confidence in the Flash ecosystem collapses? Let's say each of these Flash subscribers is worth about $240/year, with the $20/month plan.

300 Flash-only Creative Croud Subscriptions = $72,000

That's about the full-time salary for a software engineer. You could get some serious Haxe development done by contracting someone like Joshua Granick, Hugh Sanderson, Nicolas Cannasse, or any other of the many Haxe contributors. That's enough to hire someone for a year, or several folks for a short gig; either way you could build out some features of particular value to your tools and also signal that you're serious about the future of the Flash ecosystem, which would help restore confidence among clients and developers alike, which stops Flash subscribers from cancelling their subscriptions. It's a virtuous cycle.

In any case, on your scale an investment like that is tiny. If you wanted to make a more serious investment I think the benefits would be even larger, but I put this one out there as the very least you could do without having to make a single change to your product line and still see some serious benefit.

Besides, think of the massive investment you've already made over the years into the Flash platform. With a few strategic pivots and a drop-in-the-bucket expenditure, you can save the ecosystem and avoid losing all that you've worked so hard to build these many years.

My next points will explain those benefits, and how Haxe can save the Flash ecosystem.

2. Forget the Flash Plugin

The era of plugins is over; more and more clients are asking for native web content (HTML5) or native apps for mobile and desktop. And if we're honest, reliance on a proprietary plugin makes you vulnerable. Remember when Apple threw you under the bus on mobile? That's because you were dependent on them to let you install your plugin in Mobile Safari, and it took years to convince them to lighten up and allow Adobe AIR apps. To this day, I still come across developers who are shocked to realize that Adobe AIR apps can run on iPhones and iPads, and thus have never seriously considered using Flash tools. Once again, perception becomes reality.

This is the same mistake Sun MicroSytems made by trusting Microsoft to correctly handle the Java Virtual Machine.

We all want "write once, run anywhere." But you've got to stop asking for permission or you'll get Steve-Jobs'ed again. Does the platform insist on Javascript? Fine, output Javascript. Does the platform insist on C++? Fine, output C++. Does it insist on something else? Fine, let's output that, too.

There's plenty of solutions that can support one or two targets, or provide a friendlier type system for JavaScript, but there's only one thing that can output to Flash byte code, ActionScript 3, Javascript, Neko, C++, Java, PHP, C#, and even Python, all from a single sourcecode base, and that's Haxe. And thanks to the Haxe standard library and other special tricks, it's not only able to support platform-specific features for each language, but also add ones that don't normally exist (like Reflection in C++) rather than just covering a limp least-common-denominator featureset.

Whatever demands platform holders have in the future, or whatever fancified proprietary solution of the week they cook up to lock developers out of using their favorite tools, Haxe cannot be stopped.

Bottom line: hitch your wagon to Haxe and you can take your entire ecosystem of tools, clients, and developers anywhere you want to go. But pour some rocket fuel on the project and you can reach the stars.

3. Leverage Haxe's backwards compatibility with SWF/AIR

Flash is in a transition point; a lot of developers still depend on SWF content, but the future lies elsewhere. Adobe can't afford to lose what it already has, but it also can't afford to miss out on the future. It's a chicken-or-the egg problem.

Fortunately there's an answer for these. In his famous Strategy Letter II: Chicken and Egg Problems, Joel Spolsky explains:

You should be starting to get some ideas about how to break the chicken and egg problem: provide a backwards compatibility mode which either delivers a truckload of chickens, or a truckload of eggs, depending on how you look at it, and sit back and rake in the bucks.

Haxe is your truck.

Major clients including TiVo, Prezi, Nickelodeon, Disney, Mattel, Hasbro, Coca Cola, Toyota and more are now using Haxe, specifically the popular OpenFL and Flambe libraries. OpenFL focuses on mirroring the Flash API across pretty much everything and is especially popular for native and mobile targets. Flambe focuses on the web, with a great HTML5 target paired with a flash fallback and AIR for mobile.

Do you see a pattern here? The Flash workflow and tools remain relevant even as support for the plugin and/or AIR declines. There's no reason those workflow and tools can't continue to thrive in in the future, even if the Flash plugin goes extinct. Haxe in general and OpenFL and Flambe in specific, are carrying that torch forward.

I happen to be particularly fond of OpenFL, and I have high hopes for its future, particularly in HTML5 -- (it's already great on desktop and mobile). OpenFL also has a plan to build out support for the major home gaming consoles that I'm personally privy too, but I can't share any details about just yet. Stay tuned!

OpenFL and Flambe are both great choices for Adobe, and you should ideally support them both. Not only can they both produce Flash content that's just as good as anything that could be written with ActionScript, they expand your reach by providing new targets -- HTML5, native desktop, native mobile, and perhaps even major game console support in the near future. Besides, both OpenFL and Flambe's HTML5 targets are much more complete than your own HTML5 canvas export, which by your own admission is full of holes.

Okay fine, so coding cross-platform in Haxe is awesome. But what about Flash's signature art and animations?

Flambe gets Flash animations into the HTML5 target with a lot of help from the FLUMP tool, and OpenFL uses the SWF Library to directly render SWF content in non-flash targets, without resorting to an embedded Flash VM. I recommend both methods to both you and to former Flash developers who don't want to abandon their old pipeline.

I don't have any experience with Flambe's toolchain (though I've heard great things), but here's a quick example I created with OpenFL:

SWF Library example

That's an animated GIF of a C++ app I compiled with Haxe/OpenFL, using an animation I made with the Flash IDE.

Here's the original SWF file
Here it is as a C++ EXE
Here's the source code

Thanks to Haxe, I still have a reason to hold on to the Flash IDE. Think how many more developers might be out there contemplating abandoning their animation pipelines and starting over from scratch. By officially supporting Haxe you can keep those customers, and spread the word that their ecosystem has a future.

The bottom line is:

4. Stop building empires, keep selling TOOLS!

Owning a massively popular proprietary format like SWF/AIR is nice work if you can get it, but the old Flash empire is slowly sinking, and there's no reason to let the tools go down with the ship.

I think FlashBuilder and the Flash IDE could have their best years still ahead of them, if you don't tie their fates to the viability of the Flash Player and the SWF/AIR formats.

In summary:

Adobe should support Haxe, either by subsidizing open-source development or officially supporting Haxe pipelines in their tools.

Make no mistake, the Haxe community doesn't need Adobe to survive; but Adobe can save their own ecosystem by leveraging what Haxe has already built. This is happening with or without you, and it's a golden opportunity to get on board.

If you want to hedge your bets, go cheap and just subsidize Haxe development and reap the benefits from renewed interest in your existing tools. Great bang for your buck.

If you want to make a big splash, go all the way and build Haxe support directly into your tools, leveraging existing solutions to breathe new life into your products. Go big and win big.

After all, you've already started pivoting towards HTML5, so you've already recognized that the future is open and multi-platform. Just keep going in that direction: embrace Haxe and you'll reach more developers than ever before.

On behalf of Flash developers everywhere: restore our confidence in the Flash ecosystem, your tools will shine brighter than ever before, and most importantly: we'll keep buying them for many years to come.

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Tom Hughes
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I would be over the moon if Adobe supported Haxe. We've been making the transition to HTML5 at work and I've switched to Unity for my own projects. I miss writing in Actionscript 3. It remains my favourite language.

Dave Bleja
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I've been personally hit by the slow death of Flash. My most successful website ( was getting about 8k-10k visits per day for years, and this number was slowly growing. But then 'Apple threw Flash under the bus', and it now gets gets about 1k-2k. So I've probably bemoaned the death of Flash more than most.

But I don't really see what it is about the Flash tools themselves that is worth saving. They're horrible.

As far as I can see, the main benefit of Flash was that it was a visual-first tool geared specifically to designers. Programmers had serious coding environments like Visual Studio to work in, but now, visually creative people finally had one of their own, where they could build things their way, and gain creative control of an area previously dominated by programmers. And the result was the rich, imaginative, front-end-first websites that Flash became famous for.

That Flash managed such a feat - allowing people to build most of a website by painting and animating rather than coding - was a great achievement. Nevertheless, Flash was only ever a jack of all trades, and in terms of its tools themselves, it stunk. Adobe managed to improve it a bit over the Macromedia versions, but they never managed to hammer out all of its awkwardness.

As a graphics tool, it's dreadful, and can't even be compared to Photoshop or Illustrator. Its typography support was always lacking. As an animation tool, it's capable with the bare essentials, but incredibly fiddly and slow to use. After Effects, for example, has a dramatically smarter workflow, and is way more powerful. As a game development tool, it's nowhere near as simple to use as a dedicated 2D game engine like Clickteam Fusion. Programmers better than me have told me that its coding environment is dreadful too.

I'll admit, the last version of Flash I ever used was CS3, and I've never touched Flex or other such products. So maybe I'm missing something. But I refuse to ever use Flash again, as it's just too painful. If the SWF eventually dies and I'm forced to rebuild, I'd rather build it from the ground up in something else than return to a Flash environment.

I've probably misunderstood something from your article, but I just can't see why you want Flash to be saved. If the proprietary SWF format isn't needed, and if Haxe does all the coding stuff better, and there are also superior design, animation, and game development solutions available, then what does anyone really need Flash for? You've explained why it'd be in Adobe's interest to keep it alive, but what's in it for us?

Lars Doucet
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I personally use FlashDevelop with Haxe for all my coding needs. Most serious Actionscript coders use either FlashDevelop or Adobe's FlashBuilder (the other product I mentioned), as opposed to the Flash IDE itself, which everyone agrees is dreadful for coding.

That said I think you underestimate the appeal of the Flash IDE as an animation tool. It's not the best one out there for doing standalone animation, of course (Toon Boom Studio is far better), but it was and still is one of the best animation tools tied to a simple pipeline for interactive applications.

And as for Typography support, yes for standalone text it's nowhere near as good as say, Photoshop or proper Text publishing stuff, but I'm not type-setting my Master's thesis in Flash: the context is applications and games.

And within that context, MAN, Flash is way ahead of the curve. Flash has built-in IME support (for typing in Asian languages), all kinds of crazy font embedding options, support for almost every language under the sun (including difficult stuff like right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic), etc. Compare that to your average game coding environment where you're lucky if your text object class has a kerning property and can even render Unicode.

Above and beyond that is UI.

Even on consoles, one of the most popular UI solutions is Flash -- artists author their stuff in Flash, and use Scaleform to get it into their game engines.

Ryan Creighton
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After Effects does not produce interactive content. If you want to produce an interactive thing with a piece of text in it, i guarantee you, nothing is faster than Flash.

Here are the steps:

1. Open a new AS3 file.
2. Click the Text tool
3. Click on the stage and type something.
4. Publish.
5. BONUS: Don't like the font size? Select the text, click the spinner, reposition the text box and republish.

In any other tool, language, or technology i've used, achieving the same results takes MUCH longer. It involves familiarizing yourself with a language and its syntax, looking up the appropriate keywords in the manual, typing/bugfixing at least half a dozen lines of code, and - worst of all - laying out your text in your head, rather than visually "on the page".

i'm okay with building conceptual elements conceptually, in the "codespace" in my brain. But visual elements should be constructed visually. It doesn't make sense to me any other way.

It amazes me that you say Flash can't be compared to Illustrator. Allow me to compare:

Flash: quick and snappy
Illustrator: slow as balls. Recommended for anal retentive designers with nothing but time and patience on their hands.

If you overlap two similar colours in Flash, the shapes automatically unite. If the colours are different, they automatically subtract. Stroke lines "cut" shapes, allowing you to "sculpt" filled spaces quickly and easily. If you want to bend a line in Flash, you just click and drag the line. Need more nodes? CTRL+click.

In Illustrator, you have to spend an ungodly amount of time pulling tiny control handles around. If you want paths to cut, unite, or subtract, you have to open a special tool panel and choose which effect you want from a list. That's nice if you have time and money to burn. Sadly, i don't. :)

And as Lars mentions, no serious AS3 programmer uses the Flash IDE to code.

Olivier Besson
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+1000 !!

... and "tool" developers (including Flambe and OpenFL) should pay attention to how easy or tedious is the process of including new assets, and setting them up visually.

Although they probably do a great job on the final steps of cross-platform publishing (I dont mention the unique language, because it's more Haxe's pride) it seems that they still require a lot of work for setting up a rapid workflow.
They typically fall into the "do all by code syndrome" which is the opposite way of WYSIWYG tools like Flash. I don't blame them, because such workflows may depend on people, studios, etc. and moreover developping visual tools is more costly that command-line tools, but it looks that they didn't really understand that the power of flash mostly came from it's (relative) accessibility. They "understood" it, from the the point of view of high-profile developer for sure, but clearly not from graphic designers.

Steve Fulton
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Especially Unity 3D! Your book makes it easier, but it's still a horrible pain.

Greg Scheel
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Mr. Steve Jobs was right, and Flash is as dead as he is.

Why Google still uses flash for youtube, I do not know, but it just does not work right at all.

Marc Magi
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ok?... That was about as helpful as me calling you an idiot. Not that I'm calling you one but I'm thinking it.

Chris Melby
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The only one that is truly dead is Steve Jobs and fortunately the crusading-fools he inspired are no longer out in force.

And I call BS. I've not had a problem with YouTube via the Flash plug-in on any computer that I can recall.

I use a MacBook Pro 17". I've been using Macs as my primary computer for almost 20 years now. I'm pointing this out, because it was my fellow Mac users that fell for Jobs' bullshit and went forth and started spreading his propaganda… I guess they forgot how to Think Different…

YouTube on Firefox -- my browser of choice -- runs without a hitch in Flash and when I go fullscreen, it doesn't do some asinine full-screen animation like the video-tag. The same is true for my wife's MacBook Pro -- which is older than mine. This is also true for my desktop PC ( i7 Windows 7 ) and my Wacom Companion( i7 Windows 8 ).

Kyle Redd
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"Adobe AIR still hangs on to a few niches on desktop and mobile, but it suffers from a similar reputation problem as the Flash Player."

The "reputation problem" link points to the Wikipedia page for AIR. Was it supposed to go somewhere else? That Wiki page does not contain any information or references to criticism of AIR.

Lars Doucet
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That's what I get for citing wikipedia, looks like the section was edited away since I linked to it.

Something like this then, perhaps:

Kyle Redd
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An overzealous editor, it looks like.

E Zachary Knight
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As a Linux user and dev, I really love Haxe. I had been working in flash because of its strong Linux support and the ability to code games on Linux using Flex. Then Adobe abandoned Linux. They stopped releasing Flash plugins for Linux users leaving us with a broken and much less secure version.

Then I stumbled on Haxe and HaxeFlixel. It is awesome. While I can still create Flash games with it, I can also create native Linux apps and games as well. So it was a life saver.

I am still in need of strong Haxe compatible tools though. I use Flash Develop when I am on a windows machine, but there is still nothing comparable to it on Linux.

Chris Melby
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InteliJ IDEA does Haxe development and is cross-platform. I use it on my Mac and PCs and it also supports Linux. It is hands down the best IDE I've used and is well worth their asking price.

InteliJ IDEA:

Haxe Plugin:

I've only worked a tiny bit in FlashDevelop -- so can't compare, but FlashBuilder is absolute shit in comparison to IDEA.

I found IDEA when looking into HAXE the other year, but then ended up using it for all of my development form FLash/AIR to the web; IDEA actually makes JavaScript pleasant to work with and is a much much better HTML/CSS editor than anything I had worked in prior -- SublimeTex, TextEdit, HomeSite, etc...

I was planning on dumping Flash, but AIR just kept on getting better and as long as Adobe keeps pushing the support for free -- where as I don't have to log on to their BS cloud -- I'm going to stick with it for targeting Android and desktop. But, I'd like to target Linux because of STEAM and Adobe truly sucks for dropping support, so Haxe might be my best option and I know my favorite IDE supports it.

It's nice having one IDE that does it all and does it so well, it makes me much more efficient.

Jesus Boadas
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You can use the community edition of intellij idea with haxe see here

Jeremias Eichelbaum
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I couldn't agree more!
I'm often tempted to write some Flash-like tools for haxe, because I think Flash as a tool is a great thing that enables designers and especially animators to go berserk, creating highly sophisticated designs / animations, but as a coder standpoint I gave up on Flash since I started using Haxe

Andreas Ahlborn
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Moving to Haxe could be part of the recipe but I fear won´t cut it alone. Last year I argued (
ving_on_the_Gamemarket.php ) that Adobe lacks some tools in their workflow to make Flash relevant again.
Haxe would be a nice "addition" but nothing to write home about.

The biggest issue I have with the "deciders" at Adobe/The Flash Team is decisions like their abandoning of Unity publishing to Flash (after it was practically ready for launch), streamlining their CC release to the point that many essential features for animators were deprecated (I´m a programmer, but can stiil feel for my collegeues)

Adobe messed it up, when they had Stage3D/Starling, back then they could have expanded their own portfolio in the direction of Scaleform, instead the y choose to jump on the html5 bus and made a bunch of second-rate apps (Edge Suit) that are cheap copy cats of Flash/Dreamweaver etc. only to cater to the casual crowd.

Now I see strange projects popping up on the Adobe forums ( )calling for integrated physics, a thing that should have happened years ago, when you had geniuses like Imbert working full time on flash, now its far too late, too little.

Adobe these days seems like a buch of headless chickens, not knowing when to die honorably, but instead choose to keep the Halflife zombielike state their gamedev tools are in.

Steve Fulton
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I think this is a great idea. Very nice article.

Olivier Besson
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For sure, Adobe has to do something: it already lost the trust of thousands (maybe millions?) developers.

It shows once again Adobe is (and has always been) too much hype/perception oriented: and when Steve Jobs claimed the death of flash Adobe was stuck, slayed on the battlefield of hype/perception. Hard blow.
And their subsequent decisions only made this perception a reality.

Adobe should not give up Flash player, it's iOS who should accept plugins.
Adobe can create the reality they want, not bow to self-fullfilling propheties of more powerful evangelists.

Ryan Creighton
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About a year ago, i asked the one remaining Flash evangelist why Adobe doesn't beef up the animation tools to compete with ToonBoom/Harmony, and play to the strengths of the tool. i said "you've got all these animation studios building entire animated series with Flash, and they could really use a better toolset." He said - seriously, he said this - "People use Flash to animate teevee shows?"

That, for me, completely summed up Adobe's understanding of, and commitment to, the Flash platform.

Lars Doucet
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Steve Fulton
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I got the same response in 2005 when Adobe came to my work and I told them to support game makers. "People make games with Flash?" they said.

Paul Furio
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"If you want to make a big splash, go all the way and build Haxe support directly into your tools, leveraging existing solutions to breathe new life into your products. Go big and win big."

Yeah, I've looked into transitioning to Haxe development, but on OSX the tools are not where they are on PC (FlashDevelop), so I've stuck with FlashBuilder and Scout, which are great. Haxe support in FlashCC and FlashBuilder would be super helpful.

Wayne Marsh
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I don't think your "Look how easy it is to get SWF animations running in OpenFL!" example is doing much good. As soon as the developer realizes that your contrived example (I mean that in the nicest possible way!) is essentially the limit of what they're able to do, and that for any serious work they're going to be frustrated about the accuracy of the free implementation of the SWF renderer, the performance considerations of rasterizing large animated vectors on mobile and the general disparities of working with a cross-platform API that looks like Flash on the surface but is really an opposite mindset underneath. And then the numerous device compatibility and general bugs that you experience in a medium-sized open source project. Worlds away from what the Flash developers you're trying to attract are used to.

I really appreciate the efforts of the OpenFL, but I found making the simplest game to be a massive grind (and I'm somebody with lots of experience as a native dev and a Flash dev - somebody coming from only one of these worlds is surely going to be completely baffled). At the end of the day you can't develop for mobile and avoid the texture-based mindset of the graphics chips, and having that all bent and warped to fit into the Flash API (not a beautiful thing in itself) doesn't make much sense. It's not like you can just port something from Flash to OpenFL and expect it to work the same with anything but the most trivial example.

Hell, I found that native targets were using radians for one API when Flash targets were using degrees. Most developers can't deal with that!

I think the Lime+NME part of the project is great - having a unified API and language for getting those textures to the screen in a cross-platform way is just ideal. If only there was an easy-to-use API on top of that that didn't mix its metaphors like OpenFL does.

Jesus Boadas
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How many games have you did in OpenFl ?

Wayne Marsh
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I feel like the answer would be irrelevant. ONE simple game shouldn't be a chore to write in any modern framework, and even with the most convoluted framework the developer will have figured out a quick-ish workflow after five games.

Having issues with one simple game is the big issue there, particularly for a framework designed to look like an existing one to help people transition more quickly...