Silverlight 2 Released

Silverlight 2 has been released. This is the real silverlight release.  The release last year 1.0 was just a javascript release and only had one object, the downloader, not even a text input.  But now there are real tools like rich ui controls, services support (REST), DLR (C#, Linq, ironpython/ruby) and Sockets which are much needed for games and game platform development.

There are also much better tools at this stage:

Bam. Silverlight 2 is out. There’s the expected stuff, like the final SDK, Expression, and Silverlight tools:

And from Tim’s blog:

But there’s also http://www.eclipse4sl.org/. Yes, that means you can code Silverlight in Eclipse. Details and progress at the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight Blog. It’ll be licensed under the EPL 1.0 License.

I have done lots of Silverlight initially when 1.0 came out as well as the agency I was working at.  We did video players, mini-games, demo apps and even the Halo 3 online manual at silverlight.net.  But it wasn’t really ready until now.  It still has a long way to go to really be an alternative to Flash but it is capable platform at version 2 for applications, mini-games and video apps for sure. But in the end it just provides competition to make both the Flash/Flex platforms and Silveright compete for developer support.

Google Now in the Casual Game Ads Market

Google has entered the flash gaming ads market.  Right now that is pretty much owned by MochiAds for flash game devleopers at least pre-game ads anyways.  Advertising can be annoying but MochiAds has pulled it off where the ads are usually advertising other games or interesting things and it monetizes game development for Flash, Unity3D, Director and others, which is a win.  There are many flash gaming sites that are great fun that use ads almost stylistically like Nitrome and typically the ads are pretty fast when they are during the game loading.

Although advertisements in games have long been a scurge on gamers fun when they are trying to insert them into fat client, immersive MMOGs where it totally takes away from the experience, that doesn’t work.

What does work is stuff like MochiAds and possibly Second Life type sponsorships, where advertisements are almost nostalgic or fun and integrated. Developers and publishers have to make money somehow, the better the experience the more impactful and the more games for all. The key is making the integration a good user experience.

We shall see how Google plans to do this.  This might go along with their Lively strategy. The ad market entrance in games is possibly what started the rumors that Google was going to buy Valve for Steam, rumors which quickly died down.

Anyways, the one good thing about this announcement is advertisments go to where the eyes and crowds are going or already at, they are apparantly going massively to online web games and causal experiences make for easy advertisment integration. TV, Radio and many other industries have been supported by advertisement interest due to consumers using and buying the content.  So online gaming is just another one of those entertainment industries and it will grow further with this news.

Hardware of the Casual Gamer

Making great games, applications and tools using flash, silverlight or other tools that are emerging such as Unity3D takes great style, effort and knowing your target. We need to know what the end-user machine has at hand.  The Unity 3d guys put together a great post on the capabilities of casual gaming machines. With all the talk about flash 3d, unity3d and silverlight what level are you targeting and what group of people can actually PLAY your games as you envision.

Pretty much everyone knows Valve’s hardware survey – it’s a very valuable resource that shows what hardware the typical “hardcore PC gamer” has (that is, gamers that play Valve’s games).

However, the “casual gamer”, which is what Unity games are mostly targeted at, probably has slightly different hardware. “Slightly” being a very relative term of course.

Lo and behold – we have a glimpse into that data.

How? First time the Unity Web Player is installed, it submits anonymous hardware details (details in the EULA). This happens only once, and contains no personally identifiable information. It’s much like visitor statistics trackers on the websites that gather your OS, browser information and whatnot.

Remember, all this data is from people who installed Unity Web Player (most likely because they wanted to play some Unity content on the web). Hardware of standalone game players might be different, and hardware of your game’s players might be different as well. The data set is well over a million samples at the moment.

Check out the full stats here.

The most interesting stats to me:

OS Platforms

Windows 96.8%

Mac OS X 3.2%

CPU Core count overall

1 54.7%

2 44.1%

4 1.1%

8 .1%

Wow this one is surprising, but with the type of gamer that will play and download a quality new plugin to get to a game, maybe not.  They need to have the latest and greatest.  Multi-core processors have been selling for about 2-3 years so this is a continuing trend that will make Flash 3d and even plugins like Unity 3d better over the short term.

Also when you check it over at Unity Blog note the top cards, it is a bit painful if you are a casual gamer developer.  Not a decent card in the top 10-15. But that is changing rapidly over the next 1-2 years in this regard. But this also vyes well for flash based games that rely on dual core software rendered results right now as a decent constraint for developers to keep content painfully accessible to all states of machinery out there.

I wonder if this information is available on the flash player and public? This is specific to the Unity 3D plugin that is also a bit of a different market that is willing to install a plugin for better experiences.  With Flash it is usually preinstalled or auto updated for a casual user and might be different as Flash has a 98% penetration rate.  Or for that matter the Director users which would be more gaming focused which amout ot about 40% of internet users.  But as with the case of Unity it is specific to games right now and a small penetration rate, Flash is also apps, ads, tools, demos, interactives in addition to games.  Having this information on Flash or Director would be nice.

Flash Deep-Linking and the YouTubeAPI with SWFAddress

Rostislav added a sample for his excellent SWFAddress kit using the new YouTubeAPI and deep linking to parts of the video. Part of the YouTubeAPI is by Geoff Stearns (the creator of SWFObject who works at YouTube now) and allows much more script control and embedding of the youtube player (chromeless with just the video canvas).

The sample Rostislav at Asual has, shows how you can incorporate SWFAddress now that the youtube player can be embedded by script, and thus how it can have deep-linking to sections of the video from the url.

So, today I spent some time trying to integrate SWFAddress with the sample YouTube video and the result is now available online. There were some tricky parts and probably the code can be encapsulated better, but overall I’m satisfied with the result. Every pause action or significant jump in the playback produces a deep link which will definitely make sense for long videos or specific scenarios. If you want to automatically start the video from the second verve just try this deep link. For this case I decided that it will be better to disable the generation of browser history and the SWFAddress strict mode.

The sample is available in the SWFAddress repository and will become a part of the upcoming 2.1 release.

The cool part about all this is is makes it extremely easy to add commenting at moments in time throughout youtube videos, enables deep-linking, allows snapshots of not just the flash application but also the video that might be playing in that chapter. This is done on services like viddler and others but now you can do it for youtube videos and this will also possibly start a standard way to do this across media players so that a platform of video commenting emerges.

The integration of SWFAddress is simple, on the normal onSWFAddressChange you just pass in the value to the seekTo call:

function onSWFAddressChange(event) {
                time = seek = parseInt(event.value);
                ytplayer = document.getElementById('myytplayer');
                ytplayer.seekTo(time, true);
            }

Google video always had jump to time params like:http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5830318882717959520#01m30s (this is a classic/hilarious Erlang video)

…but this is not very workable with the google video player, also you can always add this to other players but having this ability for youtube is a great leap in allowing a more integrated commenting, chapter and community like feel to video.

Since youtube is so big finally having some more control with the YouTubeAPI will allow much more great additions to the capabilities of using youtube video in many more ways and integration of more great javascript kits like SWFAddress.

The YouTube API is really quite useful. Here are some links of interest:

A Take on Flash on the iPhone by Daring Fireball

Flash not being on the iPhone yet is quite telling of the type of company battles going on. I like what Apple produces many times but they love a locked down environment more than Microsoft, in fact Microsoft seems like an open company and open market that is for sure compared to Apple. I am starting to think it will not happen, Flash on the iPhone. I have to boycott the iPhone for the type of closed environment that only non-developers can love. There are certain technologies, open or not, that become base technologies that create a platform of commonality to even make a market possible, the mobile market seems to be doing everything to not let that happen.

Daring Fireball (John Gruber) has a good take on the situation.

There are currently two ways to develop software for the iPhone (and iPod Touch): using HTML/CSS/JavaScript web standards, and using Cocoa. Cocoa is proprietary, but from Apple’s perspective, it’s the good sort of proprietary: a competitive advantage completely owned and controlled by Apple. Apple doesn’t control the HTML/CSS/JavaScript web standards, but neither does anyone else. And Apple does control and own WebKit, which is by anyone’s measure the best mobile implementation of these standards today.

Flash, on the other hand, is (from Apple’s perspective) the wrong sort of proprietary — owned and controlled by another company. Apple and Adobe aren’t enemies, but they’re certainly competitors, and the history between the two companies is not entirely warm.1 In the grand scheme of things, I suspect Apple’s executives aren’t happy at all about Flash’s prominent and entrenched role in desktop computing, particularly the fact that Flash, rather than QuickTime, has become the de facto standard for video on the web.

It is all about control…

The mobile market is wide open in ways that the desktop market is not. E.g., in the mobile OS market, Microsoft isn’t even in first place, let alone a monopoly. And, in the mobile world, Flash is rare, not ubiquitous. Why would Apple help Adobe establish Flash as a de facto standard for the mobile web, too? If Flash does turn into a major force in the mobile world, Apple can always add it later. But why shouldn’t Apple push for a Flash-free mobile web future now?

As it stands today, Apple is dependent on no one other than itself for the software on the iPhone. Apple controls the source code to the whole thing, from top to bottom.2 Why cede any of that control to Adobe?

Unfortunately if Gruber is right the mobile market will continue to be a lag in areas such as gaming, vector based apps, video, competitive markets, and many other things that lead to innovation. I think some of the recent changes in mobile recently are extermely cool (iPhone, Android, new flashlite) but unfortunately they have added about 20 new directions that mobile developers have to develop for. It is anything but a consistent platform even within the company silos being created in the mobile market.

AS3 BulkLoader Useful Flash Asset Loading Kit by Arthur Debert

Found via Zeh, this great bulk loading kit for AS3 from Arthur Debert.

AS3 Loaders are very useful, but when you have large projects there is always a pause and focus on loading scenarios and architecture needed for your loading scenarios, sometimes this can literally eat days and entirely change performance with wrong moves. BulkLoader is a well written kit from Authur Debert that makes loading scenarios or using BulkLoader as a base to your loading situations a great pluggable piece of code that has many excellent features.

Some of the calls like BulkLoader.getLoader(“main-site”).getContent(“bg”), are also very similar to Silverlight’s downloader object that can be queued like this. All in all a kit that is very useful that I have already put to work and will help teams standardize on bulk loading for those killer flash apps.

Creating a BulkLoader instance:

// creates a BulkLoader instance with a name of "main-site", that can be used to retrieve items without having a reference to this instance

var loader : BulkLoader = new BulkLoader("main-site");

Add urls to load:

// simplest case:loader
.add("logo.png");

// use an "id" so the item can be retrieved later without a reference to the urlloader
.add("background.jpg", {id:"bg"});

// since the url by itself can't tell us what the filetype is, use the type property to let BulkLoader know what to do:loader
.add("/some-web-services?size=Large", {type:"image"});

// add an item that should be loaded first (higher priority):loader
.add("/data/config.xml", {priority:20});

// add a max trie number (defaults to 3)loader
.add("/unreliable-web-services.xml", {maxTries:6});

// you can also use a URLRequest object , this will load from a POST request

var postRequest : URLRequest = new URLRequest("/save-prefs.php");postRequest
.method = "POST";

var postData : URLVariables = new URLVariables(myPostDataObject );postRequest
.data = postData;loader
.add(postRequest, {"id":"settings"});

// of course, all options can be combined:loader
.add("the-sound-webservices?name=maintrack", {"id":"soundtrack", type:"sound", maxTries:1, priority:100});

Listening for events:

// attaching events to all items:

// this will fire once all items have been loadedloader
.addEventListener(BulkLoader.COMPLETE, onAllLoaded);

// this will fire on progress for any item

// the event , BulkProgress is a subclass of ProgressEvent (with extra information)loader
.addEventListener(BulkLoader.PROGRESS, onAllProgress);

// this will fire if any item fails to load:

// the event is BulkErrorEvent and holds an array (errors) with all failed LoadingItem instancesloader
.addEventListener(BulkLoader.ERROR, onAllError);

// you can also listen to events in individual items               

// this will fire as soon as the item registred with the id of "bg" is done loading (even if there are other items to load)loader
.get("bg").addEventListener(Event.COMPLETE,onBackgroundLoaded)

// this will only trigged if the config.xml loading fails:loader
.get("data/config.xml").addEventListener(BulkLoader.ERROR, onXMLFailed)

Starting the loading operation:

BulkLoader will only begin loading once you call the start method:

loader.start();

Retrieving content:

You can retrieve an untyped object and cast it your self:

var theBgBitmap : Bitmap = loader.getContent("bg") as Bitmap;

// you don't need to keep a reference to the loader intance, you can get it by name:

var theBgBitmap : Bitmap = BulkLoader.getLoader("main-site").getContent("bg") as Bitmap;

// you can also use the conviniece methods to get a typed object:

var theBgBitmap : Bitmap = loader.getBitmap("bg");

// grab a BitmapData directly:

var theBgBitmap : Bitmap = loader.getBitmapData("bg");

Other convenience functions: getXML, getText, getNetStream, getSound, getMovieClip, getNetStreamMetaData.

You can retrieve an item using it’s id, it’s url as a String or as the URLRequest object (if the item was created with an URLRequest).

Arthur also has experience on Tweener so making simplified calls and minimalist code to make a library successful is very clear in the notes/goals on the project and the resulting code:

BulkLoader is a minimal library written in Actionscript 3 (AS3) that aims to make loading and managing complex loading requirements easier and faster. BulkLoader takes a more dynamic, less architecture heavy aproach. Few imports and making heavy use of AS3’s dynamic capabilities, BulkLoader has a one-liner feel that doesn’t get your way.

BulkLoader tries to hide the complexity of loading many data types in AS3, providing a unified interface for loading, accessing and events notification for different types of content.

This library is licensed under an open source MIT license.

Features:

  • Connection pooling.
  • Unified interface for different loading types.
  • Unified progress notification.
  • Events for individual items and as groups.
  • Priority
  • Stop and resuming individually as well as in bulk.
  • Cache managing.
  • Statistics about loading (latency, speed, average speed).
  • Multiple kinds on progress indication: ratio (items loaded / items to load), bytes , and weighted percentage.
  • Multiple number of retries.
  • Configurable logging.

Design goals:

  • Minimal imports.
  • Few method to learn.
  • Dynamic nature: items can be added by specifying a url as a String or a URLRequest .
  • Items can be assigned an identifier key to be used on retrieval.
  • Only one class to learn / use.

BulkLoader tries to gracefully handle progress notification in these use cases:

  • Few connections to open: bytes total can be used instantly.
  • Many connections opened: progress by ratio
  • Many connections opened for data of widely varying sizes: progress by weight.

Check out and download AS3 BulkLoader!

This is quite a contribution to the flash community and is a perfect candidate for the base of your loading assets projects and scenarios. Thanks Arthur!

MosesProposes: Standardizing Animation and Motion Kits for Flash, Flex, After Effects, Javascript and I add Director and haXe

The Proposal

Moses, the maker of FuseKit, is hoping to influence Adobe product lines to include a common base for animation and motion going forward. Currently the AS3 world is very alive and is inspiring developers like myself to build lots of toolkits and really creating reusable code and kits that can make things very easy from going to Flash to Flex. But wouldn’t it be nice if a part of these kits that have to be downloaded every time you have an application use them be part of the native Adobe applications, or a core animation kit that partially standardizes animation basics to build upon further?

Are we just asking for trouble or is this a good idea? I don’t’ think it can hurt to bring this to the surface. I know that common syntax and familiar kits can really help the developers and designers move from Flash to Flex to After Effects to Javascript, it could also help Adobe with usage and usefulness of their entire suite of products. Or further this could be a standard that allows Silverlight to also build upon (open standard) and may the best platform win.

I think it would be very wise for Adobe to:

  • Standardize animation toolkits across their products and
  • Start standardizing some of the basic tools of building motion and filter kits to native but still allowing a flourishing open source and community research and development aspect.

What MosesProposes:

Moses did speak with someone at Adobe about this and it is generally in the plans:

“It was also a pleasure to see Richard Galvan present the upcoming crop of Flash features: the sleek update to the animation timeline (better late than never?), support for columnated flowing text (double finally!) and the big one, native 3D player support for Display Objects as rotatable 2D planes. He ran out of time and didn’t get to a few others shown at Adobe MAX, such as built-in IK (inverse kinematics) and faster pixel-level drawing for texture-mapping and photoshop-like filter effects.

Talking to him after the presentation I learned that Richard has a keen awareness of exactly where each feature is at currently. We chatted about low-level animation mechanics of the Flash Player, and I found out that the holy grail of a time-based player is indeed on the distant horizon, but that each rev will need to be a small step toward this goal. The new Flash timeline features meld After Effects, Premiere and Live Motion, and from what I’ve seen I have to say that they are nailing this long-overdue upgrade with great design decisions and a level of usability we’ve never seen in Flash. Kudos, team!”

The Current Situation

Right now Tweener and TweenLite (and animation package and a few others) have a unique position in that they work the same almost for AS2 and AS3 (Flex or Flash – with minor property changes such as _x to x as that has changed in AS3). But it would be nice if these kits also had a version for After Effects (really bringing that tool into Flash/flex developer worlds) and Javascript and it would be great if Silverlight also were supported (AgTweener anyone?).

Tweener is leading the pack in this aspect of creating a similar experience from AS2 to AS3 in Flash and AS3 in Flex and even JSTweener for Javascript, and a kit for haXe which is becoming my favorite toy and the dark horse with the most upside potential, with haXe on the loose these points may all be moot as haXe can target any platform (except After Effects easily, correct me if I am wrong and Silverlight but it could easily be done so to do it for Silverlight 1.0 which is ES3 based).

I don’t use After Effects as much right now but if I could easily incorporate this into Flash/Flex and script and animate in a similar syntax and way I know After Effects would definitely have a boost in interest.

Also, the forgotten one Director, can we please get an ES4 based language in that application, or an update? Then kits and add-ons are much more possible. I really miss hardware accelerated 3d in browser as a pushed technology, Director is still around but it does not get the focus it needs. Feel the freedom and coolness just in this small test here in director, hardware accelerated 3d is the best, the Director application environment and Lingo and hacked in javascript are not the best. As a long-time Director user, hobbyist and professional I am disappointed in Director’s support at Adobe thus far, but I digress.

The Reality

The reality is right now the only problem with kits like Tweener, TweenLite, Tween, mx.transitions, mx.motion, etc is that the source has to be embedded in movieclips multiple times. Sometimes there are multiple animation kits per compiled SWF that have to be used for more advanced features. This adds bulk that if common might not need to be there (this comes into play still on mobile and large games/apps).

Let’s say you have an application that pulls in many disconnected SWFs and they all have animation in them, well if you have 20 of these let’s say, and you embedded a very small Tweener at 9k per SWF. That is about 200k of duplication of AS code. Due to the kits small sizes this is not a problem really but when animation kits like Animation Package come into play, you are talking 40k per SWF which would leave you with almost a meg of just duplicated animation code. I don’t think this is that major of a problem for kits like Tweener (9k compiled) and Tweenlite (3k compiled) but as projects get bigger and more depth of animation platforms needed this can be a problem. This can also be solved in architecture with a controller and dummy SWFs to animate but there are times when you need animation in the compiled SWFs and then also need it in many others and the controller.

The other reality is the animation kits (mx.transitions.easing, mx.transitions.tween) for Flex and Tween for fl are a little bloated, more difficult than needed to use and as has been seen, much slower than kits currently available in the community. My one fear about this is that if Adobe makes this, possibly like Microsoft’s toolkits and libraries they put out, they are always bloated and slower, then because they are embedded they are untouchable. If it was standard enough as building blocks that are faster because they are native, then this is the best option as embedded script would be hard pressed to beat native code in the players/applications.

The Future Plans

Some of this is underway….

Animation kits for future, Adobe is releasing Flash 10 called ‘Astro’ that has many new improvements in tweening with xml closer to flex or even Silverlight like transitions and storyboards. Aral Balkan, a sponsor of OSFlash, posted on this and even that Diesel Flash CS4 will include more Tween tools for IK/bones. Tweener , TweenLite, Animation Package, Animation System etc these are all helping to define the best way to do animation kits.

Physics toolkits have their own animation kits currently usually to handle the movement according to algorithms. FOAM, APE , Box2DFlashAS3 (just released very recently will be posting more on this after I check it) and Motor Physics (unreleased but heavily demoed at polygonal labs) are great physics toolkits and I like this being part of the community to get refined, maybe one of them or the best performing ones becomes part of the proposed Adobe Animation bundle. These will define the best way to do physics kits.

3d in flash toolkits have also been emerging rapidly in 2007 with Papervision3D, Away3d based on pv3d, Sandy, and even engines starting to get built on top of these platforms.

The general direction is moving towards another platform in there somewhere but I think much work is left to be done to standardized physics systems, 3d and advanced motion filter tweens and bezier, splines (Catmull-Rom), editors, etc. I think it is getting time for basic animation kits to become more standard though and in latest versions of flash this is included in the flex and flash scripts but not the native code.

Right now the standard in syntax and the broadest reach is Tweener and due to the bigger fish syndrome, haXe that can target any platform, it also has a Tweener and can create code for as2, as3 and any target written in if After Effects, Premiere or other apps get more robust and standard animation and motion kits. Tweener has kits made and contributed for AS2, AS3, haXe, Javascript and others.

There is also Hydra and the AIF Toolkit that are standardizing After Effects and Flash shaders and filters into a new shader language like Cg and reminiscent of processing.org.

As humans we trial and error and build new platforms in the market to step on to create better platforms to build cool stuff, it is evolving right now. AS3 is inspiring platforms within platforms of Flash and Adobe kits as well as on Silverlight and in the Javascript world with JSTweener, jquery etc. As these things are refined we build a level standard platform to build more stuff on. Eventually this will be there and whoever does the standard platform for animation will probably reap in users and abilitty to easily add new products and solutions where people already have training. Silverlight is an example with .NET developers. .NET was also an example with C# so similar to Java. ES4 based AS3 has proven it is inspiring all types of new platforms and kits and will continue to do so and it is an interesting time in this industry whichever direction it goes.