The Internet Archive is Saving Classic Flash Animations & Games from Extinction: Explore Them Online

Flash is final­ly dead, and the world… does not mourn. Because the announce­ment of its end actu­al­ly came three years ago, “like a guil­lo­tine in a crowd­ed town square,” writes Rhett Jones at Giz­mo­do. It was a slow exe­cu­tion, but it was just. So use­ful in Web 1.0 days for mak­ing ani­ma­tions, games, and seri­ous pre­sen­ta­tions, Flash had become a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, a viral car­ri­er that couldn’t be patched fast enough to keep the hack­ers out. “Adobe’s Flash died many deaths, but we can tru­ly throw some dirt on its grave and say our final good­byes because it’s get­ting the preser­va­tion treat­ment.” Like the ani­mat­ed GIF, Flash ani­ma­tions have their own online library.

All those love­ly Flash memes—the danc­ing bad­gers and the snake, peanut but­ter and jel­ly time—will be saved for per­plexed future gen­er­a­tions, who will use them to deci­pher the runes of ear­ly 2000’s inter­net-speak. How­ev­er sil­ly they may seem now, there’s no deny­ing that these arti­facts were once cen­tral con­stituents of pop cul­ture.

Flash was much more than a dis­trac­tion or frus­trat­ing brows­er crash­er. It pro­vid­ed a “gate­way,” Jason Scott writes at the Inter­net Archive blog, “for many young cre­ators to fash­ion near-pro­fes­sion­al-lev­el games and ani­ma­tion, giv­ing them the first steps to a lat­er career.” (Even if it was a career mak­ing “advergames.”)

A sin­gle per­son work­ing in their home could hack togeth­er a con­vinc­ing pro­gram, upload it to a huge clear­ing­house like New­grounds, and get feed­back on their work. Some cre­ators even made entire series of games, each improv­ing on the last, until they became full pro­fes­sion­al releas­es on con­soles and PCs.

Always true to its pur­pose, the Inter­net Archive has devised a way to store and play Flash ani­ma­tions using emu­la­tors cre­at­ed by Ruf­fle and the Blue­Max­i­ma Flash­point Project, who have already archived tens of thou­sands of Flash games. All those adorable Home­s­tar Run­ner car­toons? Saved from extinc­tion, which would have been their fate, since “with­out a Flash play­er, flash ani­ma­tions don’t work.” This may seem obvi­ous, but it bears some expla­na­tion. Where image, sound, and video files can be con­vert­ed to oth­er for­mats to make them acces­si­ble to mod­ern play­ers, Flash ani­ma­tions can only exist in a world with Flash. They are like Edison’s wax cylin­ders, with­out the charm­ing three-dimen­sions.

Scott goes into more depth on the rise and fall of Flash, a his­to­ry that begins in 1993 with Flash’s pre­de­ces­sor, SmartS­ketch, which became Future­Wave, which became Flash when it was pur­chased by Macro­me­dia, then by Adobe. By 2005, it start­ed to become unsta­ble, and could­n’t evolve along with new pro­to­cols. HTML5 arrived in 2014 to issue the “final death-blow,” kind of.… Will Flash be missed? It’s doubt­ful. But “like any con­tain­er, Flash itself is not as much of a loss as all the art and cre­ativ­i­ty it held.” The Archive cur­rent­ly hosts over 1,500 Flash ani­ma­tions from those turn-of-the-mil­len­ni­um inter­net days, and there are many more to come. Enter the Archive’s Flash col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The U.S. Nation­al Archives Launch­es an Ani­mat­ed GIF Archive: See Whit­man, Twain, Hem­ing­way & Oth­ers in Motion

36,000 Flash Games Have Been Archived and Saved Before Flash Goes Extinct: Play Them Offline

What the Entire Inter­net Looked Like in 1973: An Old Map Gets Found in a Pile of Research Papers

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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