Converting flash games to other formats, what are the options?
September 20, 2021 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I need to convert 2-3 touchscreen games in flash running on Windows XP to something that isn't those things for obvious reasons. These educational games are part of an interactive public space exhibit.

I do not have much knowledge of this technology, so I am unsure of where to start. I'm not even sure I'm asking the right questions. I work with an IT person at my org, but they are swamped due to other reasons and this isn't their area of expertise either. They have limited availability, but do have some knowledge about how the games were originally built. Based on a previous conversation with them I gathered that we would likely need to build the games again in a new system, because of some issue with how they were originally designed.

Before I seek out contractors for this work, I need to understand the scope of the problem and what are reasonable outcomes to aim for. Assume I have a decent budget. I know where to look for more resources in this area of my line of work via professional orgs, but I don't know what I should be aiming for overall and wanted to get some ideas before handing it over to a contractor.

So, mefites with your varied and diverse technology backgrounds, what questions should I be asking? What is a possible end product I should be aiming for if my goal is a system that will not become obsolete in the near future, one that stands up to frequent use? Assume minor changes to content with the upgrade. Thanks all.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you seen the incredible effort at The Internet Archive to make Flash games run in emulation?

Consider reaching out to them for advice.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:10 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: While I haven't looked into it in detail, and there might be some complications or compatibility issues that make it unsuitable for you, there's an impressive Flash replacement called Ruffle. I've used it to get a very old animation running for a client and it a) worked and b) was pretty simple to drop in as a replacement.

If it works it can use the existing Flash files and just run them in emulation, no redevelopment required. For my needs I was only required to support recent desktop browsers, but apparently there's iOS and Android support as well.

On preview, this is exactly what the Internet Archive is using for Flash emulation.
posted by figurant at 1:14 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer:
What is a possible end product I should be aiming for if my goal is a system that will not become obsolete in the near future, one that stands up to frequent use?
The most future-proof platform is standard HTML/JavaScript/WebAssembly that run in any modern web browser, without proprietary plug-ins. There are several ways you can build games that run on web standards.

The easiest option, if it works, is to use a Flash emulator like Ruffle. This will let you run existing flash games without using the original Adobe Flash plugin. It can run as a standalone program, or you can embed it in a web page. The Internet Archive uses it to make their Flash software library playable in web browsers without Adobe Flash Player.

However, Ruffle can't yet play games that use features introduced in newer versions of Flash, so it might not work with your particular games, especially if they were created in the 2010s. (This might be the obstacle that your IT person was talking about.)

If the emulation approach doesn't work, and you need to recreate the games instead, Stencyl is a simple game development tool that targets some of the same niches that Flash used to fill. It can compile games to run on the web. That's just one of many game development frameworks that supports the web platform; you can ask prospective contractors if they have experience with others.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:20 PM on September 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This article lists some other Flash emulators that you could test, including the open source AwayFL.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You will need to avoid copyright infringement. Someone holds the copyrights on the artwork and possibly other aspects of those games. If you recreate the identical games without permission, you are infringing and the penalties can be significant. If you feel you may have defenses to an infringement charge, run them by qualified counsel, not amateurs on the Internet. The issues are not simple.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify: these games/interactive kiosks are our original content, they were built for us, we own the copyrights.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 3:25 PM on September 20, 2021

Response by poster: But JimN2TAW your comment is appreciated! Our prior prior contracts have been under review.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 3:33 PM on September 20, 2021

Best answer: well, an unpopular method is to keep the windows xp running with the flash player, as long as its not connected to the network (disable network, or remove cable/wifi all together) the security risks are definitely mitigated, even more so if the input devices are unavailable to the end user.

Note that some flash games rely on the internet to run properly, so you would need to test that your flash programs work without internet. Sometimes they are programmed for updates or non-critical functions, so if you have access to the developers, you could ask them to remove the internet functions, if they exist.
posted by edman at 3:17 PM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's no turnkey solution out there (that I'm aware of) for converting Flash content to something else, if that's what you're looking for, so if you can't get any of the modern Flash emulators to work for you, you'll either have to pay someone to rewrite it on a modern platform. That said, if it was written in the XP era, there's a very good chance that the emulators will run it, as it's less likely to be using the newer, less well-emulated features.

The other option I haven't seen mentioned is to run Flash on a newer OS. Unless the original creators did something seriously weird, you should be able to use an archived flash player on Windows 10. This only reduces your legacy software dependencies by 1 and I wouldn't consider it a long-term solution, but it's likely to be more secure than running XP at this point.

All of that assumes you want to try to keep on chugging with the existing Flash-based solution to save on costs. If you have the budget to target a more modern platform, then that's definitely a better course of action. I'm a Web developer, so I tend to think that HTML/CSS/JavaScript is going to be the most future-proof platform to target, but depending on what sort of game this is, it may or may not be the right fit. The Web platform should be able to handle all but the most esoteric of Flash features, but you haven't given much detail about what the game is like or what sort of interactions the game requires, so I can only guess. Looking for a developer that's done other web-based games is likely a good starting point.
posted by Aleyn at 9:37 PM on September 21, 2021

Best answer: My first thought was similar to edman's. If these are kiosk machines that don't need to be networked and have the public have limited input options via the touchscreen, then the risks of security holes in XP or Flash don't really apply. (Apologies if you've already considered this and it doesn't apply for some reason.)

Assuming you do need to replace the games, you're going to need a detailed spec at some point. One might already exist or you might want the eventual suppliers to create one based on the existing games. At this early stage, it would be helpful for you to figure out what the high level requirements are (the ability to update the content is a great example).

Does your institution have any policies (accessibility, data protection etc.) that need to be met? Are there any hardware constraints - does the solution need to be implemented on the existing PCs or are tablets an option? Are you OK with the solution using software that requires annual licensing or do you prefer this to be a one-off payment? Will you need the solution to be fully documented?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:22 AM on September 22, 2021

I think edman has the best solution, as long as your Flash apps (and the kiosks) never need to connect to any network (or can operate on a completely internal network with no internet exposure).
posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 AM on September 22, 2021

Best answer: On the third hand. It's a Kiosk touch screen 'game' i.e. "interactive public space exhibit" makes me think that game is a hard stretch. It's probably on the complexity level of Tic-Tac-Toe on a touch screen at a museum or such meant for kids to adults to poke at and 'play'.

Emulation to support the original is fine and dandy. No qualms there. If you have the original assets (graphics and such) and the 'game' is simple... It's probably something that could easily be easily re-created in Simple DirectMedia Layer - Homepage or some other simple game framework by a bright teenager.

If the 'game' is simple educational poke at the screen sort of thing then it's probably trivial for somebody to re-create it in a bespoke manner and you could replace XP Windows/Flash with a Raspberry Pi and forget about security issues and such, It's just a SD memory card that the little box boots from. No worries.

Why the H*** are your public kiosks running full-blown Windows XP? It's madness I tell you, simple utter madness.

But no, seriously... I'd go for emulation on a RPi. Your kiosk is just a fancy login shell.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:54 PM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all, this is very helpful. I will be marking this as resolved but of course welcome additional comments.

"Why the H*** are your public kiosks running full-blown Windows XP? It's madness I tell you, simple utter madness." --I can't argue with this, I have no idea. Let's just say I wasn't here for the initial contract, build and install. I'm trying to to not repeat similar mistakes, hence asking you all. Thank you again for taking the time.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 2:08 PM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

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