Macromedia Flash Professional 8

New features make upgrade worthwhile

Macromedia Flash Professional 8 includes a host of new features giving interactive designers, game developers, and animators the tools they need to release their creativity. An improved interface, enhanced graphics support, new video features, better text rendering, and the addition of Script Assist mode in the Actions panel are just a few of the improvements.

Graphics enhancements include the new object drawing model that allows you to draw overlapping shapes on the Stage without having them change the underlying shape. The Object Drawing button located in the Tools panel toggles this mode on and off, allowing you to draw objects or ungrouped shapes. With the addition of object drawing, a Combine Objects menu has also been added. This menu allows you to combine and subtract any two objects, much like Fireworks or Illustrator.

The addition of graphic filters and blend modes allows designers to add graphic effects within Flash without significantly increasing file size. Graphic filters are applied to MovieClips and button instances as well as text objects. One of the most powerful features of Flash’s graphic filters is the ability to animate the filter using Motion Tweening. For example, you can change the position of an object’s shadow as it moves across the Stage by changing the shadow’s settings in the beginning and ending keyframes. Blend modes are applied to MovieClips or button instances via the Properties panel, or they can be programmed using ActionScripting for runtime display.

Speaking of Motion Tweening, the new Custom Easing Controls is an exciting feature. The Custom Ease In/Ease Out dialog, accessed by clicking the Edit button in the Properties panel, displays a graph representing the degree of change over time. The dialog allows you to either use one setting for all the properties or apply individual settings for each property. Properties that can be adjusted include: Position, Rotation, Scale, Color, and Filters.

The new Scale 9 feature preserves the width of a stroke contained inside a MovieClip symbol. In previous versions, if you scaled up a MovieClip containing a shape with an outline, the stroke’s width increased proportionally. The results were usually less than attractive.

Text readability, especially for small fonts, has always been an issue in Flash. The new FlashType rendering engine greatly improves readability of all fonts regardless of size. A new preset for anti-aliasing animated text speeds up animation and reduces file size. The trade-off is a lower quality of text than anti-aliased static text.

Video improvements include: a new video codec (On2 VP6) for better quality video and smaller video file size, improved Video Import Wizard, alpha channel support, and embedded cue points for triggering events from specific points in a video. The Video Import Wizard is simpler to use, providing a choice of different video playback interfaces. You can choose from simple layouts, with just a Play button and a volume slider, to full video controls. The best part is that no programming is required.

The improved script editor brings back the Normal Mode from Flash and has been renamed Script Assist. This feature allows nonprogrammers to create interactive programs using ActionScript.

So what’s not to love? Flash Player 8 is required to take advantage of the improved graphic and text features. If you use an earlier version of Flash Player to view your movie, your text will disappear. In addition, some of the quirkiness that has always plagued Flash remains. For example, adjusting the gradient spread in the Gradient filter is a game of luck. On my OS X 10.4.3 system, the Swatches panel pops up about half the time when I attempt to move a pointer.

Despite a few bugs, this upgrade is worth the money for designers, animators, and developers.—Cyndy Cashman

PRICE: $699 (Upgrade $299)
FOR: Mac and Windows
FROM: Macromedia, Inc.
PHONE: 800-526-0509