Wick: Bringing the Spirit of Flash to the Modern Web

TL;DR: Flash is officially dead, but we loved it. We’ve built an open-source Flash alternative called Wick. It’s powerful, easy to learn, runs in pure JavaScript, and supports authoring in the browser.

The Internet was a very different place when I was a kid in 2003. The big players we know today, like YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites hadn’t come about yet, and creative people on the web usually hung out on small, independently run websites like Neopets¹, Newgrounds², Albino Blacksheep3, and others which hosted games and animations that ran entirely in the browser. This was all made possible by a popular (but expensive) tool called Flash.

Desperately wanting to participate in these creative communities, I eventually got my hands on a copy of Flash. I immediately started making animations and adding simple scripts I found online to make my projects interactive. I taught all of my friends how to use Flash and became a tiny Flash evangelist showing everyone I knew how to create things and put them online. My enthusiasm for Flash continued well into high school, but unfortunately, Flash as a technology was beginning to show signs of age and dysfunction⁴.

Relics from my “Flash Renaissance” period

After its slow death, Flash didn’t really cross my mind until I was well into college . My eight-year-old sister really enjoyed making projects in Scratch, but as she had gotten older, she needed a more sophisticated tool⁵. I was the same way at her age: I also wasn’t interested in the steep learning curve of traditional game programming and wanted a program that still had drawing and animation tools. It was a huge disappointment to realize the way I liked to introduce people to creating things on computers was now obsolete.

Flash was incredibly easy for beginners to jump into while being versatile enough for advanced projects.

Today, there’s still nothing quite like Flash with its hybrid way of combining an animation system with a programming environment. The way it blurred the lines between programming, artistry, and animation kicked off a unique era of the Internet full of creativity and culture.

With this in mind, I’ve been working on a way to somehow bring back the spirit that was lost Flash died. HTML5 was very promising — it had most of what Flash gave you (sound, vector graphics, buttons, etc) and there were plenty of libraries to do things like motion tweening⁶ — but you still had to write a lot of code to even get something to show up on the screen. I figured that if there was even just a simple interface with a paintbrush tool, an animation timeline, and a way to export everything to a webpage, it could be the missing piece that the modern web needs to be like Flash.

The Wick Editor

I started making a prototype. Very slowly, that prototype has become something sort of usable. Recently, my friends and I got a bunch of people together to refine that prototype into a more polished tool, and we named it Wick.

In light of the recent news of Adobe officially ending support for Flash, now is the perfect time to officially give Wick to the Internet (even in its work-in-progress state). Wick is free and open-source, so we hope that the web as a community can come together and help build Wick and to bring the spirit of Flash to the next generation of online creatives.

Wick is online now at www.wickeditor.com—check it out sometime! We hope you enjoy it.

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Wick is currently being developed by Zach Rispoli and Luca Damasco. The ongoing development of Wick is made possible by generous support from the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Assemble, and The Henry Armero Award. Special thanks to Golan Levin, Sarah Guthals, Nina Barbuto (and everyone at Assemble including Jess Gold and Lieu Wolfe), Tom Hughes, and Michael Eagle, as well as the Wick design team (Gautam Bose, Cameron Burgess, and Anna Gusman).

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1 Neopets.com hosted the Neopian Times, a weekly newspaper that fans could submit fanart, stories, and Flash animations to.

2 Newgrounds was the first popular Flash “portal” that creators could upload projects to where a lot of famous Internet things came from in the early-to-mid 2000s. There’s a good interview with Tom Fulp, the creator of Newgrounds here where he talks about how Flash was important.

3 Albino Blacksheep was a popular website mainly focusing on independent Flash animators.

4 Flash was infamous for being slow and being a common vector for viruses, but many people agree that Flash started to truly “die” after Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash — in a way, Apple’s decision to not support Flash on the iPhone set the standard for other mobile devices to rely only on open web standards, which was part of the reason why the web moved away from a dependence on 3rd party plugins like Flash.

5 Scratch projects can only be uploaded to the official Scratch website — Scratch needs to exist in it’s own closed environment because of laws having to do with kids younger than thirteen on the Internet to keep the youngest kids safe online! Plus, the drawing/animation tools in Scratch are definitely sub-par to those that Flash had.

6 More information about the technology behind wick can be found on the Wick GitHub repository