Adobe is killing Flash at the end of 2020, but Flash games are an important part of internet history. Thankfully, a community project called Flashpoint is stepping up to save them. Here’s how you can keep playing all your favorites for the foreseeable future.
In Memory of Adobe Flash
Adobe announced that it will “stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020.” The company encouraged content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to “new and open formats.”
The web has been moving away from Flash for years as browser-based technologies, like HTML5, WebGL, and WebAssembly, become more widespread.
Unlike Flash, these open technologies don’t require a third-party plugin. Open source technology is often held to a higher level of scrutiny. Anyone can look at source code and probe for exploits or implement the technology in their own projects.
Plugins, like Flash, the long-dead Silverlight, and the infamous Java browser plugin, operate under a closed source development model. They are (were) maintained by a single entity that seeded all updates and fixes.
In the latter half of the last decade, Flash developed a rocky reputation for its rampant security flaws, many of which were zero-day exploits that put people at serious risk.
Apple led the charge by making Flash a thing of the past. The company decided not to include support for Flash on the iPhone which forced a change that was long overdue.
Browser technologies like HTML5 emerged to replace Flash video containers. Google forced people using Chrome to run Flash in a sandbox and, later, blocked it entirely, refusing to index pages with Flash content.
In 2020, very few websites still use Flash. What does this mean for the tons of animations and interactive games that made the internet so much fun at the turn of the millennium?
How to Play Flash Games with Flashpoint
Of course, the internet won’t let all those classic Flash games disappear into the night. The solution is BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, a free, open-source application for Windows (Mac and Linux versions are in the works).
Experimental Mac and Linux builds might not include support for the full catalog, though. During testing, we noticed the Mac version currently supports just over 30,000 games.
If you’re on Windows, you can choose between Flashpoint Ultimate or Infinity. Ultimate is the exhaustive package. It includes the full archive of Flash content and requires around 300 GB of disk space to install.
Infinity allows you to download games on-demand as you play them and requires only around 300 MB of free space. If you have a Linux or Mac machine, you’ll have to make do with Infinity for now.
Click the “Games” tab to get started. On the left, you see several curated lists of games, in addition to the exhaustive “All Games” list. If you’re looking for something specific, type it in the search field at the top of the window. When you find something you want to try, double-click it and wait for Flashpoint to spring into action.
On the Mac version we used, it took a while for the game to launch. This is because Flashpoint has to first start its server, redirect any assets based on the game you’re playing, and then launch a modified browser window to display the content.
If you want to jump right to the good stuff, check out the “Flashpoint Hall of Fame” curated list. You’re bound to spot a few old favorites in there, like QWOP, Portal: The Flash Version, Alien Hominid, and Yeti Sports.
How Flashpoint Works
Flashpoint is a self-styled “web game preservation project” that supports content made in Adobe Flash, Adobe Shockwave, HTML5, Java, Unity Web Player, Microsoft Silverlight, ActiveX, and other formerly popular web plugins.
The project is comprised of three main components: a web server, redirector, and launcher. These all work in combination to create the illusion that you’re accessing Flash content (and other technology) over the internet.
This is necessary because Flash SWF files can be picky. Some content only works when it’s hosted on certain servers, and some loads resources from elsewhere. Some content tries to talk to certain servers and won’t work if it can’t find them.
Flashpoint is ultimately a preservation project. Much of the technology on which these games rely has to be emulated and hosted locally. Flashpoint takes care of all of this for you, so you can enjoy Happy Tree Friends animations and pandemic simulators like it’s 2003.
BlueMaxima is just as concerned about preserving content as it is with developing the underlying technology.
The Flashpoint project is primarily concerned with preservation. Since the games have been salvaged from across the web (including original source websites, the Internet Archive, and user-contributed files), the legality of all this becomes somewhat of a gray area.
The Flashpoint FAQ invites any content creators who want their games pulled from the archive to contact them. It does say the company will probably try to convince you to let them keep it for posterity’s sake, but “we aren’t unreasonable.”
So, are you breaking any laws? It’s difficult to say for sure. While the copyright aspect is a gray area, many creators have agreed to let their creations be included in the archive. Most of the websites that originally hosted the content are long dead. And most of the content doesn’t even work without the tricks employed behind the scenes by Flashpoint.
Many flash games could be classified as “abandonware,” i.e., software that’s been “abandoned” by its copyright owner.
Just like downloading ROMs from the internet, it’s a tricky legal area to navigate. However, like emulators themselves, there’s nothing illegal about Flashpoint as a technology.
Modern Remakes of Your Flash Favorites
Copyright uncertainty aside, some of the games in this collection have gone on to much greater things. If you have a favorite from yesteryear, there’s a good chance it’s now a mobile game or available for purchase on Steam, or other gaming services.
The following popular franchises all started as Flash games:
Many of these are in the Flashpoint archives, but they’re far from the best versions. Modern versions designed for computers, consoles, and mobiles are visually superior, have better controls and more content, and allow you to support the creators by buying them outright.
Got .SWFs? Emulate Flash with Ruffle
Flashpoint isn’t a true Flash emulator. As we mentioned previously, it uses three components (a web server, redirector, and launcher) to get Flash content to work as if it were hosted on the web. It’s not a simple case of importing an SWF file and clicking play. Some titles require a lot of tweaking and work behind the scenes before they can be used.
Ruffle is a true Flash Player emulator. You can use it both in a browser or on a desktop to play .SWF files, as if it were Adobe’s own Flash Player. To use it, though, you need some .SWF files to load—it doesn’t come with a collection of games like Flashpoint.
The project uses a browser technology called WebAssembly to ensure compatibility across the board. Newgrounds announced plans to use Ruffle to continue to serve as much of its content as possible after Flash is dropped for good. If you continue to use Flash content on the web, you’ll probably be using Ruffle to do so before long.
Finally, there’s always Adobe’s official standalone Flash Player, which should still be available for download in 2020 and beyond. You can use it to open and play individual SWF files outside your web browser.
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