Q&A with SparkChess’ Armand Niculescu

We recently caught up with Media Division’s lead developer and co-owner Armand Niculescu about SparkChess. Check out the Q&A below to learn about SparkChess, Armand’s process and why he relies on Adobe to deliver games across platforms and the globe. Enjoy!

Why did you use Flash/AIR to develop this app?

I’ve been using Flash since 1998 and over the years I’ve learned its strengths and weaknesses. Things that won me over were its availability across platforms, the rich toolset from Adobe and third parties and the ease in combining great graphics and animation with programming.

When I started working on it there was no HTML5, and even today I would not be able to deliver the same experience with Canvas & Javascript without worrying about compatibility or making compromises.

How easy was it to deliver your app across multiple platforms/channels?

SparkChess is built with Flash Professional  for interface elements, and I’m using FDT5 and Flash Builder to manage the code base – about 25,000 lines of code spread in 80 classes. The code is the same but I have slightly different graphics and layout for each platform. The biggest challenge was that the game had to be tested on each device, not as much for functionality but for the user experience, especially on tablet devices. A 7” tablet needs bigger buttons than a 10” one, the aspect ratios are different, you need to take the onscreen keyboard into consideration and so on.

The packaging and signing process is different for each platform, and can be confusing at first, but once I had it worked out, I created some batch files to automate packaging and signing for all platforms. Submitting to the various stores requires some preparation and organization, but it’s nothing daunting.

The multiplayer functionality is built with Union Platform, providing a consistent experience across platforms.

Are you monetizing this app currently? If not, do you have plans to do so in the future?

Yes. There are some significant maintenance costs associated with the game – CDN, multiplayer servers and so on.

SparkChess is available for free with ads and as a paid version with no ads and some very nice additional features.

How many people are currently using the app?

In total, across platforms, there are about 420,000 weekly users (single player and multiplayer). 8,000 chess games are played in multiplayer every day.

What drives you to create these apps/games?

I wrote my first game when I was 11 on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It’s what got me started with graphics and programming. Games are some of the most challenging types of applications: they have to look great, run smoothly and above all, entertain. They are an excellent way for any programmer to push the envelope and learn new skills.

As part programmer – part designer (though I absolutely despise the term ‘devigner’), I was always interested in creating visually appealing apps. With SparkChess, my goal is to have a chess game that’s actually fun to play by casual players and that also helps them improve their skills. I’m also told by parents that kids love it, that it is a game for all ages.

Do you have anything else up your sleeve?

Yes! I’m listening to user feedback and I’m constantly tweaking SparkChess to make it an even more enjoyable experience and to take advantage of the upcoming features in Flash Player and AIR.

Based on this experience, I’m in the planning stage of a new multiplayer strategy game.

What do you want developers to know about creating apps with AIR/Flash?

Since the beginning, the beauty of Flash was its ability to deliver a consistent experience (graphics, fonts, animation and later program logic) across browsers and platforms. With AIR and native extensions, I can now deliver a native-like experience on all major operating systems and platforms. In a way, Flash is Java done right. Recent advancements in Javascript, CSS, the Canvas element and other HTML-related technologies can make HTML5 an alternative in some cases, especially for features that need to look integrated in a website. On the other hand, the browser quirks and lack of solid development environments make development of complex apps much harder, resulting in higher costs. An objective assessment should be done on a a per-project basis.

What I love about Flash, compared to any other platform, framework or environment, is the ease in combining programming with animation, graphics, sound and video in a seamless way, and with the new 3D support, the possibilities keep expanding.

 

 

Machiniarum Machinations with the Adobe Flash Platform

Becoming a number 1 iPad 2 game is probably as challenging as building a futuristic robot and navigating him through scrap yards. Not coincidentally, Czech game developer Amanita Design accomplished both with its critically acclaimed online adventure game, Machinarium, built with the Adobe Flash Platform.

The game tests players’ puzzle-solving skills, as they guide their robot through puzzles and obstacles to reach the city of Machinarium and save his girlfriend from the bad guys. Gamers praise the gameplay, but were particularly impressed with the game’s textured and animated graphics. Since it began in 2003, Amanita Design has used the Flash Platform to not only deliver great visuals, but also easily bring Machinarium to virtually any desktop or mobile platform.

The team leveraged Adobe Flash Builder to reuse original code from the web version of the game to bring it to other platforms like Android, with BlackBerry Tablet OS coming soon. The best part is that it only took two months! To create the game’s rich graphics, Amanita used a combination of Photoshop and Flash Professional, as well as Adobe AIR to deliver the game across mobile devices.

To learn more about how Amanita delivered this top game so quickly across different devices and platforms, visit here.

 

 

News from Adobe MAX

- Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 available later today

- Flash-based apps live on Samsung SmartTVs; LG and TiVo latest partners to support AIR on TVs, digital home devices

- Adobe enters into an agreement to acquire Nitobi, creator of PhoneGap

Adobe MAX is in full swing in LA and CTO Kevin Lynch kicked off today’s opening keynote. You can tune into the keynotes on both days live and on-demand through MAX Online. Here’s a rundown of the Flash, AIR, and HTML5 news:

Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 will be available for download tonight at 9:00 p.m. PT for desktops and supported mobile platforms, including Android and the Amazon Marketplace. A production release with support for 3D for mobile platforms is expected to ship in an upcoming release. As we recently announced, dozens of new features allow developers to deliver a new class of gaming and premium video experiences, as well as sophisticated, data-driven apps with back-end systems integration across devices and platforms including Android, Apple iOS (via AIR), BlackBerry Tablet OS, Mac OS, Windows and connected TVs and others. For more specifics on new features like 3D support visit the AIR and Flash Player Team Blog. For more details about amazing 3D apps already available today, visit Adobe’s Gaming Solutions site or check out our demo video (link below)

Demo video of Flash-based apps with 3D graphics and others running on a Samsung Smart TV and other devices:

We are also thrilled to announce that Flash-based entertainment apps are available on Samsung Smart TVs today and that LG and TiVo have become the latest partners to bring Flash based apps to connected TVs and digital home devices. With more than 100 unique digital home devices already certified to support Flash and AIR, we expect rapid growth for Flash based apps across connected TVs. New gaming apps like Frima Studio’s Zombie Tycoon, VH1’s ‘I Love the 80’s’ Trivia or Raider from PlayJam, as well as premium video experiences from SnagFilms, Flingo, EPIX and others are just a few of the apps powered by AIR. Also, check out what some of our partners have announced around Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 including a demo of new 3D apps shown at MAX:

Watch this video to see some examples of how Flash is driving 3D experiences on the web:

We’d also like to congratulate the winners of the “Adobe Flash/AIR” competition in the fourth annual BlackBerry Partners Fund Developer Challenge. Apps were judged based on quality and use of development best practices, level of visual appeal, user experience, and creativity and innovation. Read the announcement and check out these winning apps on the BlackBerry PlayBook from BlackBerry App World.

HTML5

We are also excited to announce an agreement to acquire privately held Nitobi Software, the creator of PhoneGap and PhoneGap Build. PhoneGap is a popular open source platform for easily building fast, cross-platform mobile applications with HTML5 and JavaScript. With PhoneGap, Adobe will offer developers the choice of two powerful solutions for cross-platform development of native mobile apps, using HTML5 and JavaScript with PhoneGap or using Flash with AIR. The acquisition is subject to certain closing conditions and is expected to close by the end of October 2011.

Adobe also released a third public preview of Adobe Edge, the new HTML5 web motion and interaction design tool that is bringing beautiful animation to websites and mobile apps using HTML, JavaScript and CSS capabilities. The new release contains innovative interactivity features and other additions based on feedback from the development community, and helps content creators easily deliver a new level of visual richness to HTML5-only websites and mobile apps.

Follow MAX from Wherever You Are

This is only part of the day one news at Adobe MAX, but things are off to an exciting start! For all the news, visit the Adobe Conversations Blog. You can follow MAX online through the keynote video streams, Facebook, Twitter (#AdobeMAX) and YouTube. There’s even a live radio and podcast stream from the show floor, courtesy of Nerd Radio and CodeBass Radio so tune in. We’ll have more news from MAX this week so check back to the Flash Platform Blog for updates!

[UPDATED: 10/5/11 at 7:15 p.m. PT]

The Adobe Flash Platform Helps Tell Woven Interactive’s Big Fish Story

Woven Interactive, an Atlanta-based digital marketing agency with a client roster that includes BP, Disney, Lifetime Channel, Lucent Alcatel, NASCAR.com, TNT, Turner Broadcasting and Reader’s Digest, has always been known to stay on top of new technologies and digital experiences. The company and president and co-founder, Charlie Schulze, knew that development agility, performance and the ability to deliver content across multiple devices would be vital to the success of its newest mobile and tablet game about an adventurous fish, Comb Over Charlie. The company turned to the Adobe Flash Platform to make this a reality.

Built using Adobe AIR and ActionScript with Adobe Flash Builder 4.5 and Adobe Flash Professional, Schulze was able to create a fast-paced game that could be delivered seamlessly across devices, running with native performance.  More specifically, the Flash Platform made it possible for the app to be developed once and published across multiple platforms using the same code base in minimal time, even several hours!

Woven Interactive also used Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium to develop and promote the game, Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended to help with the creation of characters and other elements for the app, and Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5 to develop the promo site.

Initially created for Android, Comb Over Charlie is now available for download across more platforms, including BlackBerry Tablet OS and Apple iOS. Charlie and his team are excited about bringing this app to other websites, social media sites like Facebook and future devices using this streamlined workflow. 

Be sure to download the game for Android (free trial version), BlackBerry Tablet OS and iOS! To find out more about the integration between Adobe technologies or to download the Comb Over Charlie app for yourself go here.

 

EPIX and the Adobe Flash Platform Engage Movie Buffs Across Multiple Devices

Today’s technology savvy audiences want to experience content across multiple platforms and devices, and are beginning to move away from passive forms of entertainment—they want to participate and interact with others to shape their experience. EPIX—a multi-platform premium entertainment channel, video-on-demand, and online service– teamed up with Adobe to bring current releases, classics, and original entertainment to all video platforms—linear TV, on demand, online, and mobile—while also encouraging social integration and sharing to reach the broadest audience possible.

With the Adobe Flash Platform, EPIX, a joint venture of Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, and MGM Studios, was given the necessary tools to create and carry out broadband authentication systems to over 30 million U.S. homes through its distribution partners including Charter Communications, Cox Communications, DISH Network, Mediacom Communications, NCTC, Suddenlink Communications, and Verizon FiOS with little to no development effort.

Using multiple Adobe technologies such as  Adobe Flash Professional, Adobe AIR, Adobe Flash Media Server, Adobe Flex, Adobe Flash Builder, and Adobe Flash Player, EPIX delivers content beyond the Web by building a library of available movie titles, which are encoded for delivery to a specific platform across different devices like Motorola XOOM, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Boxee Box. One of the notable capabilities in EPIX is “Screening Room: Watch With Friends,” a feature that includes sharing capabilities allowing users to watch movies in a social event, turning the experience into a more into viral, interactive, and engaging gathering. The Screening Room is great for large-scale events like concerts on-demand to bring fans together.

Learn more about how EPIX how it provides premium HD content to its subscribers on devices everywhere here.

Frima Studio and the Adobe Flash Platform Bring Zombies to Life

Canadian-based game development firm Frima Studio boasts a client list that includes Electronic Arts, Warner Brother and Nickelodeon and a reputation for high-quality 3D games such as Zombie Tycoon, one of the original six games available in the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) Mini. Looking to expand beyond the console, Frima Studio uses the Adobe Flash Platform to bring those same, engaging 3D experiences to the widest number of devices.

Zombie Tycoon is a single-player game in which zombie squads take over the world. The game is full of puzzle-filled cities, 360 degree animations, and skybox effects, which have delighted PSP Mini gamers for years. But to bring that same 3D experience to web gamers, Frima tapped Adobe Flash Player and Stage 3D APIs, a new method of 2D and 3D rendering in Flash Player.

The Frima team recognized a number of other advantages in the Flash Platform for its gamers.  Since Flash Player is everywhere—98 percent of the world’s Internet-connected computers—concerns about downloading a separate player to play these games are dispelled.

Using the Flex framework to build the tools to create the 3D apps, Adobe Flash Professional and Adobe Flash Builder to build the game UI menus and Adobe Photoshop CS5 to texturize images, developers reap the rewards too. Flash Player’s reach across screens worldwide offers developers greater monetization opportunities, particularly for Facebook games and free-to-play games. The new set of Stage 3D APIs, allows Frima developers, most of whom are ActionScript developers more versed in 2D game building, to easily create rich effects, texture and atmosphere in its games without sacrificing performance.

Frima is also very excited about its future 3D games for multiple device platforms using the Flash Platform. Learn more about how they engage a new gaming audience with immersive 3D experiences enabled by the Flash Platform here.

PrePress Center Powers the Flip-Page Experience with the Flash Platform

When the developers at PrePress Center Oy, a European-based company focusing on digital publishing solutions, set out to make print-to-screen, magazine-style publishing easier and more powerful, they turned to the Adobe Flash Platform and Adobe Creative Suite software to create eDocker.

eDocker, a 2010 MAX Award finalist in the digital publishing category, is an Adobe AIR application that lets publishers produce easy-to-customize, digital flip-page documents directly from Adobe InDesign CS5. Aside from AIR, eDocker was created using Flash Platform tools, including Flash Professional CS5, Flash Builder 4, Flash Catalyst, Flash Player and Flex. The resulting application replicates the format of the original InDesign publication and delivers magazine-style publications to the broadest possible audience for playback via Flash Player.

As a result of using Adobe Flash Platform technologies to build eDocker, PrePress Center was able to reduce programming costs and accelerate its development cycle. And the Flash Platform technologies have poised eDocker for tablet and mobile versions in the future using the existing code base in the Flash Platform environment.  Since it’s made with Adobe AIR, PrePress can monetize eDocker and sell the application through Adobe InMarket on multiple application stores, and can run on both Mac and PC systems.  Find out more about how PrePress Center used Flash Platform technologies to create eDocker here.

Lucid Design Group Uses the Flash Platform to Help Save the World One Dashboard at a Time

With global warming on the rise, Lucid Design Group, a privately held cleantech software company, wanted to create something that would educate and inspire people to change their daily habits to help reduce consumption in their homes and offices (like turning off lights and unplugging appliances). Lucid developed Building Dashboard, a data visualization and communication application that monitors the use of electricity, water, natural gas and heating, and encourages social networking around the topic of resource conservation. It’s available via the Web, kiosks and mobile devices using the Adobe Flash Platform and Adobe Creative Suite Design Premium. With Building Dashboard (a MAX 2010 award finalist) in place, Fortune 500 companies, universities and residential customers saw consistent energy reductions up to 20 percent.

Coined “the first social network for buildings,” Building Dashboard employed the Flash Platform to help develop and deliver widgets, apps, maps and flow lists to encourage users of all technical backgrounds to save resources and understand their resource consumption levels. Currently, nearly 100 U.S. colleges and universities are using Building Dashboard to support key sustainability initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions across campus.

To streamline the developmental process behind Building Dashboard, Lucid used a variety of Adobe products including Flash Catalyst, Flash Player, Flex, Flash Professional, Photoshop and Flash Builder. The advantage of working with various Adobe products is seamless integration. For example, Adobe Flash Builder helped improve the Flex development process while Adobe Flash Catalyst and Adobe Flash Builder expedited design/developer workflow, ultimately reducing design and development time by one third. By adding Adobe Flash Player to the mix, Lucid developers could run their product across different platforms, devices and operating systems, while cutting testing time in half.

To learn more about how Lucid worked with Adobe technologies and to see how New York-based Hamilton College uses Building Dashboard, read their story here.

Wacom Showcases the Power of the Pen and Multi-Touch with the Flash Platform

Leading tablet maker Wacom has always pushed the envelope when it comes to creative expression. However, when the company wanted to extend its brand from the physical world to the virtual one (targeting the mass consumer market) they decided to go with the Adobe Flash Platform given its ease of use and broad reach.

After bringing on the help of digital agencies Gugga and Fantasy Interactive, Wacom created Bamboo Dock, a downloadable Adobe AIR desktop application that holds, manages and launches applications for Wacom’s line of Bamboo tablets. Aside from AIR, Bamboo Dock was developed using Flash Platform tools, including Flash Professional CS5, Flash Builder 4 and Flash Catalyst. (Bamboo Dock even won an Adobe 2010 MAX Award in the ‘Social Computing’ category).

With the stroke of a pen, users can open and minimize the Bamboo Dock as well as open and add applications—providing a fast way to access fun, easy and useful tools for everything from note taking and doodling to gaming and sharing work with friends. Wacom turned to the Flash Platform to inspire users, drive hardware sales and bring creative users together through a growing lineup of applications.

In its first year, Bamboo Dock helped Wacom sell 30 percent more Bamboo tablets than the previous year, and they received 3 million application downloads plus 600,000 dock downloads. Strong technology integration across the Flash Platform allowed Wacom to quickly make updates and deliver results in a third of the time they anticipated. Already in the works, Wacom plans to transfer its applications across multiple devices and platforms. Find out more about how Wacom used Flash Platform technologies to deliver Bamboo Dock here.

On Improving Privacy: Managing Local Storage in Flash Player

Adobe Flash Player delivers some of the most compelling, interactive experiences on the web. The team works hard to add new features and push Flash Player capabilities so designers and developers can make the richest content available. We’re also committed to continuously improving Flash Player in less conspicuous areas, such as privacy. Privacy is a hot topic, and there are good reasons it’s on many people’s minds, so we wanted to share some of the work we’re doing to help you protect your privacy.

Some of the Flash Player team’s privacy efforts are happening around a feature of Flash Player called “local storage” (often called local shared objects or LSOs, and sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Flash cookies”). Local storage is required functionality to provide the quality web experience you expect from today’s rich Internet applications (RIAs). It is used by a number of Web technologies, including Flash Player and similar plugin technologies, as well as browsers that support HTML5.

Why is local storage helpful for web apps? Using local storage means information doesn’t need to be stored on a website’s servers. Instead, small amounts of information are stored locally, on the user’s computer. For Flash Player, the default amount of disk storage space is minimal – the LSO is at most three-hundredths the size of a typical MP3. Local storage can be used to allow you to save your website or app login details, site history, or form information so that you can avoid retyping data the next time you visit. Local storage allows you to store work in progress from a photo editor or productivity app, for example. Local storage is also the feature that helps your computer or device remember that you like the volume turned down when you watch videos of your favorite TV show on YouTube, or a video website can show you your most recently viewed playlist without requiring a user account or login. This kind of helpful productivity data is saved on your computer, and Flash Player protects this information so that only the exact website that saved that information can access it.

Since local storage allows sites and apps to remember information, there are concerns about the use of local storage to store tracking information – or of greater concern, to restore tracking information to a browser cookie that a user has intentionally deleted. This use of local data storage has raised questions about privacy. So we’re continually working to make sure that users have better control over the local data stored by applications running in Flash Player.

Most recently, we’ve been collaborating with browser vendors to integrate LSO management with the browser UI. The first capability, one that we believe will have the greatest immediate impact, is to allow users to clear LSOs (and any local storage, such as that of HTML5 and other plugin technologies) from the browser settings interface—similar to how users can clear their browser cookies today. Representatives from several key companies, including Adobe, Mozilla and Google have been working together to define a new browser API (NPAPI ClearSiteData) for clearing local data, which was approved for implementation on January 5, 2011. Any browser that implements the API will be able to clear local storage for any plugin that also implements the API.

Keep your eye on the Google Chrome dev channel to see this feature show up in the coming weeks.

We expect other vendors to be rolling out support for this capability in the near future, and we will continue to work on additional capabilities to improve user privacy in partnership with browser vendors.

The ability to clear local storage from the browser extends the work we did in Flash Player 10.1, which launched with a new private browsing feature integrated with the private browsing mode in major browsers, including Google Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Apple’s Safari. When you are in a private browsing mode session in your browser, Flash Player will automatically delete any local storage that was written by websites during that browser session once the browser is closed. This ensures that Flash Player can’t be used to store any history or other information from your private session. In striving to ensure a great user experience, we’ve made this seamless and automatic for the user.

Finally, you will soon see improvements to the Flash Player Settings Manager. Since local storage functionality was first introduced, users have been able to fully control their local storage settings using the online version of the Flash Player Settings Manager. By right-clicking on any content that is written for Flash Player, and selecting “Global Settings…” (or by visiting the Flash Player Settings Manager directly), you can customize which sites, if any, are allowed to use local storage. You can even turn local storage off entirely, if you don’t feel you need the functionality for things such as saving game data or your preferences on websites. If you’d like to turn it off just click on “Global Storage Settings panel,” drag the storage amount slider to “None” and select “Never Ask Again.”

Still, we know the Flash Player Settings Manager could be easier to use, and we’re working on a redesign coming in a future release of Flash Player, which will bring together feedback from our users and external privacy advocates. Focused on usability, this redesign will make it simpler for users to understand and manage their Flash Player settings and privacy preferences. In addition, we’ll enable you to access the Flash Player Settings Manager directly from your computer’s Control Panels or System Preferences on Windows, Mac and Linux, so that they’re even easier to locate and use. We expect users will see these enhancements in the first half of the year and we look forward to getting feedback as we continue to improve the Flash Player Settings Manager.

These local storage improvements will give you better control over the information stored on your computer and are part of our ongoing efforts to help you manage your privacy.

Emmy Huang
Group Product Manager, Flash Player