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Shockwave@6, Part 1

December 21, 2001
by Darrel Plant

December 2001 marks the sixth anniversary of the first Shockwave public beta. A Windows version of the Shockwave plugin for Director was released on December 5, 1995 (the Mac version of the plugin didn't appear for several months). A tool called Afterburner converted dir files for the then-current version of Director -- 4 -- into protected, compressed dcr files.

Shockwave's release really did change the Web experience. Sometimes for the good, sometimes in ways that weren't so good, but if nothing else, it opened the door to multimedia developers who had the ability and skill to do interesting work, but who couldn't always manage to work their way into a venue where people could see them; diskettes and CD-ROMs were the primary distribution methods for multimedia at the time. With Shockwave and other Web formats, worldwide distribution was possible, assuming you weren't trying to shove your CD-ROM content down a 14.4K modem pipe!

Three years ago while I was one of the Technical Editors at the defunct Macromedia User Journal, I asked three developers to discuss their experiences with online multimedia. At the time, Shockwave had already experienced a number of upgrades, with Director 5, 6, 6.5 and 7 all released in the interval between the end of 1995 and January 1998. Flash was still on version 3.

In the interim, we've seen not only some significant improvements in Shockwave -- things like digital video support, improvements in the multiuser server, and now 3D and RealMedia -- but also some problems related to the economy, tightening budgets at Macromedia and elsewhere, and public and customer confusion about just what Shockwave is.

So, to get some perspective on the state of Shockwave this anniversary, I invited the three panelists from the MUJ article to give their opinions again, and since it's the sixth anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to add another three Director developers to the panel. Our conversations took place by email over the course of several weeks, and are (lightly) edited here for your perusal. Happy Holidays!

Darrel Plant, Director Online

To start off: What does your company do, and what are your responsibilities within the company? Where are you located?

Mark Reijnders, PegHole

PegHole makes multimedia productions. Besides a lot of Shockwave games we also make CD-ROMs, kiosks and recently we even made a Director-driven, interactive theatre backdrop. We also design and market a couple of Director Xtras, with the OSControl Xtra being the most well-known. We do so in conjunction with PiMZ, another Dutch developer. My role within PegHole is as jack-of-all-trades. I'm the owner of the company and basically do all the functional design of our projects and a lot of the coding. But we hire other people if we lack expertise in a particular field or if we have too much on our plate.

PegHole is currently located in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but that might change in the near future since I'm looking into the possibilities of relocating to Montreal, Canada.

Rebecca Lovelace, Funnybone Interactive

Funnybone Interactive is a division of Viviendi Universal Interactive, and at our location we make children's software, mostly "edutainment" (some more educational than others, some more entertaining than others). I am one of the senior programmers, so I am usually a project lead (and often am involved quite a bit in the design process). Currently we have a total of 8 programmers. Our primary focus is CD-ROM, although we do some Shockwave and Flash games. We are located in Northeastern US, in a small town (Canton) in a small state (Connecticut).

Clint Little, Periscope3

The name of my company is Periscope3 and our focus is mostly on IT E-Learning Applications with an emphasis on 3D. We are located in Cary, North Carolina. I am the Senior Developer on the staff. I've also moved into a moosey Production Management role which entails all art and development of products. Essentially I still do most of the higher-end coding and architecture but gotta share hats with making people coordinated and happy.

Gary Rosenzweig, CleverMedia

CleverMedia is a game development company that has been using Shockwave to make Web-based games for six years. We have four game destination sites that are ad-supported with a total of more than 100 games. We also license these games and build custom games for other companies.

I am the founder, owner and chief engineer. I basically run the company. I also do a lot of the game programming and game design. There are three others at the company. We are located in Denver, Colorado.

Steve Bullock, Adveractive

Adveractive is an Internet entertainment content company located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Our specialty, since 1996, has been the creation of branded Shockwave and Flash games for clients all over the world. Recently, we launched a new line of licensable content on our developer showcase site,

I've been the President, C.E.O. and one of the primary programmers at Adveractive since the company's founding. Our company currently has eight employees equally divided between our graphic design and our programming groups.

Stephanie Lone,, Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLN) is at the leading edge of media companies providing Internet sports content, community and e-commerce on a global basis., Inc.'s content includes more than one million pages of multimedia sports information, entertainment and merchandise. The Company's flagship Internet sports service is CBS which is rated by MediaMetrix as the #1 sports site in terms of unique monthly users., Inc. also publishes the official sites of the NFL and the PGA TOUR and has strategic relationships with Major League Baseball and the NBA, and serves as the primary sports content provider for America Online and Netscape. In 1999, the Company commenced operations in Europe through Limited.

I am currently responsible for the Applications Engineering group which encompasses everything from the information coming into SportsLine to how that information is expressed on the web page. This would include a variety of products like real time scoreboards, scoring applications like GameCenters and Game Day Live for the, injuries, schedules, standings, news stories, transactions and more.

Darrel Plant

For something that's only six years old, Shockwave has gone through a lot of changes. Apart from the number of software updates -- both major and minor -- it started off as a part of a pack of "Shockwave" products when it was introduced; it was buffeted by the Shockrave/Shockwave launch; there was the uproar from certain developers when the Remote suddenly appeared; Shockmachine; and, of course, there's been the phenomenal success of Flash to contend with for the past five years. Has this affected your (and your clients') decisions about how to deliver multimedia content? Whether to use Shockwave or Flash (or HTML, or Java, etc.), or even to stay out of online delivery as much as possible?

Gary Rosenzweig

I think everyone agrees that Macromedia made some mistakes in how they promoted and branded Shockwave. They tried several different strategies, each making it more confusing. The first problem was having a different name for the delivery mechanism, Shockwave, and the development tool, Director. Then they made it worse by including playback engines for Authorware, Freehand and Flash under the Shockwave name. They've been better recently as they seem to refer to the Flash playback engine as Flash, not Shockwave. Still, most clients need the difference between Flash and Shockwave explained to them.

What really made things worse was Some people think that all Shockwave content is affiliated with Other people think that, not Macromedia, makes Shockwave. It is getting worse now that uses other technologies, like Java and non-Shockwave 3D engines. No one really understands what Shockwave is anymore -- if they ever did.

The darkest times were when the Remote appeared. Macromedia saw it as added functionality. But publishers like myself saw it as a way for Macromedia to sneak little pop-up adds for onto my site. Fortunately, they agreed to add tags that would allow me to suppress the Remote when users surfed my site. They still push when you go to download the player -- that's got to go as well for Macromedia to be fair to their developers.

The growing popularity of Flash has definitely affected our business. Two and a half years ago, everything we did was in Director. Since then, we have started an entire site dedicated to Flash games. This site passed all three of our Shockwave arcade sites in popularity about six months ago. In addition, our clients are asking for Flash games more and more often. They are impressed by Flash's ubiquity. They are also ignorant of the power of Director. We've had several clients that have started out asking for Flash, but then switch their request to Director after they find out that what they want requires some of the advanced functionality in Director.

Clint Little

I would say that with most of the clients I deal with they are very intent on Web content. They see the benefit of it and how important it is as a business solution. With that said, I have also noticed they don't necessarily understand all the different technologies and what the pluses and minuses of each are. From my perspective, they have a good understanding of HTML vs. Java, but when it comes to Macromedia products, they are confused. When you discuss the term "Shockwave", they immediately say Flash and when you say Flash I believe they assume Shockwave... You have to explain what the differences between Director, Authorware, and Flash are. Then, you can build a recommendation and comfort level for them to work with. I would say this isn't a fault of the client but a fault of the product marketing (or in some cases the lack of). When all clients hear about is one product type, they tend to go with their comfort zone (as all people would). Not that I am a marketing guru or anything remotely close to that, but I would say Macromedia has three very strong products out there that overlap in some areas but have definite strengths and need to be pushed defined and recognized for that...

Rebecca Lovelace

When Shockwave was first introduced, we were doing exclusively CD-ROM. In fact, we weren't doing much Web stuff when the Remote was introduced, but it did affect some of our CD titles! (That was a fun tech support issue). It was only when everyone was jumping on the Web bandwagon that we really started doing Shockwave and Flash pieces. And, just like everywhere else, the decision makers always seem to ask for Flash first because they assume Shockwave and Flash are the same thing. Or there are the Flash pieces that -- once feature creep sets in -- you realize should have been done with Shockwave. I think the fact that both plugins have a fairly wide presence helps our parent company to feel comfortable with pieces done in either Shockwave or Flash (and not asking for Java), and I think the people in our organization are finally starting to learn when one is the obvious better choice over the other. That's a reason it's good to have one organization to contend with rather than a slew of clients, they have the opportunity to actually learn from prior projects. We've drifted back to focusing more on CD-ROM, although we still take advantage of the flexibility of having almost "instant" Shockwave demos from Director content.

Steve Bullock

I think that Gary has the history down pretty well and I agree with his analysis of the confusion and missteps that have plagued the marketing of "Director/Shockwave" these past years. It's unfortunate that the water over the dam has been pretty muddy. Although difficult to quantify, I am convinced that the missteps have cost both Macromedia and Director Developers money due to lost and lower sales.

In general, we've found that our clients ask our opinion on whether a game would best be done in Flash or Director. And in most every case, they have listened to our advice. We are comfortable working in either program. There are still a lot of frame-rate issues if you are trying to move a lot of pixels at the same time in Flash. So Flash works very well for puzzles, for shooting a single "ball" at some static objects, card games, for a single set of blocks dropping, etc. But if it is a game where the whole screen needs to move or animate in some fashion every frame at a smooth frame rate of 20 FPS plus, Director/Shockwave can do this elegantly whereas Flash will bog.

Our experience is that "simple" games can be created as efficiently in Flash as in Director (efficiency = price to the client). But if the project is programming-heavy, calling for 1,000+ lines of ActionScript or Lingo, then Director/Shockwave is the far better, lower-priced option. Some critics wouldn't agree, but I see Lingo as a mature language with a really full set of calls and functions. There are a few, occasionally bothersome holes in the Lingo language. But the holes in Actionscripting (because it really is first generation) are huge. One can work around most of them with three to five lines of code or a specially designed function, but Lingo would be doing it on a single line.

We don't have any choice about staying "out of online delivery". Online multimedia is our core business. And though I see many of our clients slimming down their budgets in the current economy, they generally agree that online content is central to their plans for the future.

Mark Reijnders

I started with Director just as Shockwave was introduced. At the time it was just a hobby, I was an animation film maker back then and used computers only to line-test my animations. But Shockwave gave me a way to reach an audience overnight, especially compared to the slow process of (traditional) animation. So I was immediately hooked on it. Later on, I did a lot of CD-ROM work with Director. The good thing about CD-ROM work is that if it works it usually still works. And even though the engineers at Macromedia went to great lengths to provide backward compatibility I had to rewrite some parts of my games with almost every new version of Shockwave.

I only use Flash for assets inside Director/Shockwave, I just don't do Flash scripting. I don't want to throw away all my experience with the "do"s and "don't"s of Shockwave development and delivery. Also, the games I make in Shockwave tend to have a lot of Lingo in them (a game I'm currently working on has more than 17,000 lines of code) and would be really hard and expensive to develop in Flash.

So if one of my clients really wants a Flash game, I'll send them over to someone else. It's that simple.

Stephanie Lone

Gary hits the nail on the head as far as Macromedia's path with Shockwave. I have to admit, as much as I have been a fan on Shockwave in the past, I have found myself having to explain why Flash was included as part of the Shockwave download, etc. etc. to not only people in management here but also the end users of our site. We have several products that use Shockwave, but the most recent example is our Game Day Live product that we produce for Users' questions and feedback clearly showed that they didn't understand the difference between Shockwave/Flash. Internally, we gave some serious thought to our implementation choices for the product before we started to build it.

Flash, with its growing install base, has become increasingly popular not only in the arcade-style gaming community but the content community as well. We are serving more Flash ads and creative than in years past and a lot of products that we had created in Director previously have now been migrated to Flash or dynamic HTML. Even some of our competitors have moved to Flash interfaces and tickers on their sites.

Ubiquity plays a large role in our technology decisions. As we move forward, we evaluate what is the best technology for the job. Using Director and Shockwave seem to be coming up less and less these days in favor of dynamic HTML, Flash and Java applets (which may or may not come up with their own set of problems with the onset of Windows XP and IE6, but that topic can be belabored during another session).

Our discussion will be continued after the holidays!

Darrel Plant is Technical Editor of Director Online. He is the Publisher at Moshofsky/Plant Creative Services in Portland, Oregon, and the author of or contributor to a number of books on Macromedia Director and Flash, including Special Edition Using Flash 5,, Flash 5 Bible, and Director 8.5 Studio..

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