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September 19, 2021
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How a studio founded to make Flash games transitioned to Steam

by John Kukushkin on 07/26/21 10:21:00 am

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.

 

Hello everybody! We are FlyAnvil, a small Russian indie studio, currently working on Decision: Red Daze – an action RPG with a unique mix of survival and tower defense mechanics. Red Daze is the latest entry on an IP that kicked off as Flash games… and had to evolve to a full-fledged PC game after Flash was doomed to disappear. In the wake of the recent death of Flash, we wanted to share with the community what Flash meant for us, the lessons we learned along the way, and the impact that its disappearance had on us as developers and players – and on a significant number of other video games and people like us.

For us at FlyAnvil, it all started back in 2009, when we released our first Flash games. We decided to develop our first titles on that platform because, on the one hand, the industry looked rather promising at the time; and on the other, creating simple games didn't require lots of resources. Since the dev team is just the two of us, and we didn't have much experience, we decided that Flash was the best course of action for us. This technology had many limitations, which helped us to define the scope and avoid unnecessary difficulties: we could only do what the Flash technology allowed, so we had to focus on polishing our core mechanics. It was almost impossible to bite more than we could chew.

Thus, our first games were small but self-contained. We found different and exciting ways to make them look different from the usual Flash games, which helped us attract more players. And let's not forget that getting attention was kind of easier for Flash games —all we had to do was post the game on a Flash portal and see how players reacted to our projects. For a very long time, publishing on Steam looked like too high of a mountain for us.

Screenshot: a Decision game from the Flash era

Our biggest hit so far has been the Decision series. The first entry in the franchise was released in 2012, and we developed three more games between 2012 and 2014. Steam was already a profitable platform for indies by that time, but we felt comfortable working for Flash. We had polished the development cycle so much and created enough assets and ideas that we could easily implement everything and get the game in the players' hands in a reasonably short amount of time. We already had experience creating and releasing games in Flash, so it was only natural for us to continue developing the franchise on Flash.

But all good things must come to an end. Eventually, Adobe announced that they would discontinue Flash and it would be as good as dead. At least, we saw it coming and started to prepare for the transition years before it happened: right after we released Decision 3, we decided the next game would be for Steam; a few months later we started learning Unity. When a Flash gamedev conference such as FlashGamm (which we sometimes took part in) changed its name to DevGamm, we think everyone read the writing in the wall; many developers began to plan their leap to Steam and other platforms.

We prefer to look at the silver lining here: it was good while it lasted; it brought a lot of innovation, and many developers created their first titles thanks to it, so it was a stepping stone for lots of talented devs. Its technology provided us with invaluable experience in game development -- and many players still email us about how much they have enjoyed the Decision games in Flash. Flash was our ticket into the realm of video game development.

One Troll Army, our first Steam game

Flash and conservation

But there's a question that worries us. FlyAnvil wouldn't be working on a Decision game for Steam if it weren't for Flash -- but with Flash gone, the first Decision games are gone with it. What if somebody wants to experience Decision again? What if somebody wants to discover it for the first time? All games deserve to be played. Or replayed. And the same goes for the incredible wealth of creativity and talent that was the Flash game scene – it's (almost) all gone. Such indie classics like Meat Boy or Binding of Isaac started as Flash games, and the gaming scene wouldn't be the same without them. Every game is like a picture painted by an artist or an art film — creativity is always relevant, and should be cherished and celebrated.

We know that the preservation of games is a tricky matter. There are lots of legal layers and complications – everyone understands that no company should be forced to keep supporting a product forever (in a nutshell: this is not a rant against Adobe) but at the same time the games industry risks forgetting its past and origins. Individual people can't sustain by themselves these preservation efforts: it's a job for big organizations, like museums (be them public or private) or for the political initiative.

It's not just nostalgia, spending rainy afternoons playing games from your childhood or showing them to your kids. It's not just a matter of respect and appreciation for the talented creators and pioneers in this industry's past. If you want our collective knowledge to advance, to make games an even more relevant and deep cultural media, having places where you could find, experience, and even study the incredibly valuable trove of games of this industry's past is absolutely essential. Just the same as you cannot really advance in any other art form, without knowing, understanding, and celebrating its past. With that in mind, a few months ago we put together this video explaining how to play Flash games today.

There are lots of personal feelings and business decisions tangled in this topic, of course. What about our past Decision games? We've lost a lot with Flash going into the sunset, and it's next to impossible to recover all that we had. It would even be hard to port them right now, because it would take a big team of enthusiasts to create a mechanism to run Flash games on other platforms. But we often think that, in the future, we would love to remaster our previous games if we get the chance.

A look into the future

As much as we enjoyed creating games for Flash in the past, Steam is our future. And it is a promising one. We aren't the first studio that started making games on Flash and has transitioned to Steam. It hasn't been an easy task, and it took us a long time to gather the experience needed to create games for Steam. Getting acquainted with new tools was one of the toughest issues, and we didn't want to jump into a new Decision game before mastering those tools.

Fortunately, transitioning to Unity was an easier deal than it might look from the outside. As difficult as it surely is to learn a new technology, there are tons of resources out there to learn by yourself, and the indie community is always welcoming and happy to help a fellow developer. We tried to avoid third-party assets and tools, so as not to depend on other developers’ support: bugs and errors are everywhere, and we had enough with dealing with those in Unity or in our code! On top of that, we’re reining the scope of our game, not using too sophisticated technologies that could delay our development (or even get it stuck), and designing graphics and mechanics that don’t require a lot of extra assets. 

A screenshot from Decision: Red Daze, the new entry in the franchise, currently in development

With all this in mind, we decided to begin with a small game about a giant troll. One Troll Army was our first entry on Steam. It was released in 2016, and it gave us enough confidence to work on a new Decision game. When we uploaded the first build to Steam we faced a, let’s be honest, not-so-intuitive interface – but eventually we got used to working with Steam. We now have the experience, we have tons of ideas, and we think the scope of this game will be unlike anything in the series. We can't wait for the community to experience this new entry in the series!

Taking a look back at our career, we are proud to have been able to establish ourselves as a Flash studio. Back in those days, games were free to play, and all you needed to do was reach an agreement with gaming portals — kudos to Armor Games, and Daniel in particular, who were especially helpful on that side. Steam is a whole different picture, both for the developer and the publisher. Steam games need bigger scopes as players spend tons of hours playing there, and the catalog has grown insanely over the past years. Luckily, publishers are there to help you. We had to look for a long time, but we finally found Nordcurrent, who is helping us publish the game while letting us focus on the most critical task: creating the best Decision game possible.


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