Adobe Flash Professional CS6 features and reviews

Over the last couple of years, rich content has moved from Flash and flex (now Flash Builder, in Adobe’s incarnation) towards HTML 5 with help from JavaScript libraries. Apple’s refusal to support Flash in browser on iOS has been echoed in Microsoft’s plans for Windows 8, and Adobe thus finds itself repositioning Flash as a means of creating content rather than a method of delivering it.

Flash Professional CS6, continues in this trajectory, focusing on the current most appropriate platforms. So a number of the new features target gaming and development across multiple platforms and devices.

Many of the improvements are behind the scenes. In the past, Flash development revolved around the timeline: you'd place vectors in the timeline, use transitions to create animations, and then add loops to have these animations repeat themselves. If you're trying to produce a game app, this is a less-helpful approach. The new dedicated Sprite Sheets feature specifically supports the eponymous method of animating objects within a Flash production. Creating a sprite sheet in previous versions of Flash was a lot more manual and time-consuming.

In some ways, this is really about optimization, and in a Flash-only production it's generally better done late in the process, or at least after the design work is finalized. It may not seem that necessary for small to medium-sized projects, but it's more efficient than the old method of dealing with tweens and objects.

But it's not just an optimizing trick, and one very interesting point is that sprite sheets make it easier to take Flash frame-based animation content out of Flash Professional, for use in other software. A leading feature of Flash has always been its animation abilities; this seems a useful method of getting Flash animations into more specialist game development environments that use sprite sheets, such as XNA or Eclipse.

The Generate Sprite Sheet window has a handy Preview panel that shows the sprites cycling through their states, and the sheet's contents can be organized in the most efficient arrangement to keep the size of the final bitmap document small. Once a sprite sheet is generated (as a PNG file with transparency), the original assets aren't needed, except for corrections to the sprites.

Recognizing the usefulness of tools such as this for games development, Adobe has provided the flexibility to export graphics in Starling (a Flash 2D framework), JSON, JSON-Array (for developing HTML 5 games), Sparrow and Cocos2D (iOS). This provides a number of alternatives to the previous methods of generating assets for client use. Stage3D provides easy access to low-level GPU acceleration for 2D and 3D graphics on a range of devices from smart phones upwards. For advanced developers, it makes graphics-heavy games much more achievable in Flash. Using this is simply a matter of choosing Direct rendering mode in the Properties panel. Where hard- ware acceleration is possible, it will be used.

A great deal of work has been put into improving the capabilities of end products to be used on mobile devices via Adobe AIR. Debugging has been improved, with support for remote debug of content on iOS from within Flash Pro1ssional CS6: it's easy to step through the code, set a break-point and see exactly what's going on. A simulator is now included so you can test mobile functionality within the software; previously the remit of Device Central, which is discontinued as of CS6, it's a sensible integration.

You can also simulate touch gestures and tilt actions for Android apps in the AIR Debug Launcher. Rather than having to port test builds across to devices - which can be inconvenient in commercial situations and downright impossible in education environments, for example — this keeps it all on the development Mac, at least until the final stages before deployment.

Besides swipe actions, this can also be used to test pan, rotate and zoom gestures as well as general tap/touch events. There are also accelerometer and geo location testing features, all through a SimController app that opens alongside the AIR Debug Launcher. It's a slightly odd arrangement, but it works.

If you need to create content for a device that's not currently supported by Adobe AIR, you can now create your own extensions written in the native language of the target platform, bridging the gap between AIR and the device. This can't be applied to iOS development for the App Store, of course, as Apple won't allow you to release an app that hacks the operating system. Adobe provides helpful guidance on the Native Extension protocols online.

Captive Runtime support has been added to allow the export of AIR content to Mac, Windows or Android devices that has AIR included as a part of its installation. This is the same principle Adobe relies on to generate iOS apps, since Apple's mobile devices don't permit the independent installation of runtime environments such as AIR.

Adobe also plans to release an extension for Flash Professional CS6 that will allow the export of Flash content to JavaScript and H'I'M L5, enabling easy use of Flash-created assets without dependence on Flash.

A feature of CS5 that we considered very promising for designers was Flash Catalyst, aimed at quickly creating user interfaces for rich internet experiences from Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks content which could then be included into Flash Builder.

Disappointingly, this has now been discontinued before it really had a chance to prove its worth, leaving the gap between designer and developer as awkward as ever. Another regret is that code completion hasn't been improved over previous versions of Flash. It's there, but it isn't universal; it works for adding 'event listens' to the stage, but not to objects, a strange omission. This still seems like a lightweight implementation, doing Flash's coding credibility no favors.

There are a few user interface additions, however, include autosave, controlled from Document Settings in the Properties panel.

If you still think of Flash exclusively as a technology for delivering rich websites, think again. More than ever, it's now for preparing games and apps for deployment via the web, using modern technologies, and for creating apps for mobile platforms. But it still feels as if it's finding its new feet.

Price: £667.20 including VAT * Flash Builder 4.6 Premium £495.60
Seller: Adobe
Requirements: Multi-core Intel processor, OS X 10.6, 2GB RAM (3GB recommended)
Pros: Quick to create mobile content, Built-in testing for mobile, Templates include gestures
Cons: Uncertain future, Flash Catalyst absent

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