.8. Extending Flash
Of course, an appendix could hardly contain an exhaustive list of extensions for your consideration, so what follows is a mere sampling, in a variety of categories and in no particular order, for you to evaluate. See the "Resources" section of this appendix for more information on extending Flash.
.8.1. Flashloaded Components
Flashloaded is one of the best commercial component vendors around, offering a wide variety of components that add prebuilt functionality in the areas of text, 3D, navigation, image manipulation, menus, and more. Some components, such as the ultimateScroller (a superior scrolling component that improves font legibility and includes easing) and the legendary Bit Component Set (the industry-leading replacement component set for users who don't want the size overhead of Flash's built-in components), improve on functionality that is already available in Flash. Other products provide features that aren't easily achieved, such as 3D simulations and advanced tree navigation systems. The components are all very reasonably priced and easy to use. For detailed reviews of six Flashloaded components, visit this book's companion web site (http://www.flash8projects.com).
.8.2. Flashloaded Sound & Video
Other useful products offered by Flashloaded include video and sound loops for use in your Flash projects. The VideoPacks are very well made, seamless video loops that come in a variety of sizes, from 350 x 150 to 800 x 600. Using single frames of video in each frame of a movie clip creates video loops that are compatible with every version of Flash. This makes it easy to integrate the loops into any file and to change the tempo of the loops to match your preferred frame rate. Flashloaded's SoundPacks are also well made and are available in a variety of moods, tempos, and musical styles and for a variety of uses, including intros, effects, button sounds, and even voices.
.8.3. Fonts for Flash
Fonts for Flash offers the largest single collection of fonts optimized for Flash. The company specializes in pixel fonts, which provide superior clarity at small font sizes without anti-aliasing. Fonts are available for the Mac and PC and include serif, sans-serif, display, dingbat, extended, condensed, and many more styles. A number of free fonts are available for testing.
AccRepair is an innovative tool that allows you to scan your Flash files for ways to improve accessibility for the widest possible user base (see Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, available at http://www.section508.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Content&ID=14). It can test for text elements that have been made accessible but that are improperly configured, it can test the tab order provided for keyboard navigation through your application and related issues, and it can test for static text elements that should be made dynamic for better screen reader compatibility. It can also make some repairs to your files for some of the issues detected. Running AccRepair is an excellent first step in making all your Flash assets accessible to all users.
Hi-Caption is another accessibility product available from Hiawatha Island Software. It allows you to take transcripts of your linear media and add captions for display in your Flash files. It includes a caption-creation package as well as a caption-viewer component, and it uses XML as a data standard. Hi-Caption also syncs well with existing Flash components. Adding closed captions to your applications has never been easier!
Zoomifyer is a fabulous software suite that will display your high-resolution images in a variety of on-screen sizes, up to and including their native resolutions, with intuitive zoom and pan controls. You begin the process by simply dragging and dropping your image onto a standalone converter. The converter creates a folder of multi-resolution tiles and a data file, and the Zoomifyer viewer reassembles the tiles at runtime. Very easy to use, and with a very small file-size overhead, Zoomifyer allows the user to zoom in to great image detail, without the accompanying file size of very large images. Appropriate image tiles are loaded on a need-to-use basis, keeping your applications lean and meanall with little to no scripting. Best of all, a free version, Zoomifyer EZ, is available for you to try and use. This is a must for anyone who needs to present images with great clarity.
.8.7. Sorenson Squeeze
Sorenson Squeeze is an excellent standalone video-encoding application. It is sold in a variety of configurations, from a complete suite that offers a comprehensive list of supported formats to a version that is specifically designed for Flash video. Squeeze can encode videos into SWF files for embedding videos, or into more useful external FLV files that can be loaded into your SWF files at runtime. Videos can be encoded using the Sorenson Spark codec for compatibility with Flash versions prior to 8 or, with an optional plug-in, using On2's VP6 codec for Flash 8. It has many useful features, including batch processing, a watch folder, one-pass variable bit rate encoding, and a large list of presets.
.8.8. On2 Flix
Flix is an excellent standalone video-encoding application created with Flash designers and developers in mind. It is simple yet powerful and provides an impressive array of features. Flix can encode videos into SWF and FLV files for Flash Versions 3 through 8, and it can create audio-only files and vectorized versions of your videos for interesting effects. It can batch process, add overlays and players, and add simple scripts to SWF files it creates. Repeated tests also confirm that it is the fastest encoder on the market at the time of this writing.
gProject is a Project panel replacement for the Professional versions of Flash MX 2004 and Flash 8. Projects are a way to organize larger applications that typically use multiple FLA and/or SWF files, external ActionScript files, and more. gProject allows you to publish and save groups of files and easily access just about every file used in a project. It adds some really great features, the most useful of which is the ability to read and write to directories from within the panel. This feature allows you to create and open new files, look at modification dates, and carry out similar actions without ever leaving the Flash IDE. gProject also offers multiple compile options, support for testing frameworks (ASUnit and AS2Unit), the ability to manipulate class files, and more. It even does a few nice smart things, such as maintaining a list of recently opened files and allowing you to adjust your preference settings, map custom keyboard shortcuts, pin directories, and more. If you plan on working with large projects in Flash Professional, gProject is a must.
.8.10. Swift 3D Xpress
Swift 3D Xpress is an extension that allows you to quickly create simple 3D simulations right within Flash. Swift 3D Xpress will take any vector asset from your Stage and intelligently mimic 3D behaviors within the Flash 2D environment. Best of all, no 3D experience is necessary to use the product. You can extrude, rotate, and similarly manipulate objects with ease. You can also dip into the gallery of prebuilt drag-and-drop materials, lighting schemes, and animations to kick-start your creativity. If you want to take your 3D simulation to the next level, you can add shadows, specular highlights, reflections, and even transparency. Once you're finished with your object, Swift 3D Xpress will transfer the final asset back to Flash's Stage as a movie clip. If you really dig this extension, you can graduate to its senior standalone counterpart, Swift 3D.
FlashAmp is a fabulous standalone application that will analyze amplitude and/or spectral data in sounds and export Flash-friendly data files for your programming needs. Using the arrays it generates, you can map frame-specific values of amplitude and/or up to 16 bands of frequencies to your animation. Using FlashAmp, you can synchronize sound with Flash events better than ever before, including lip-syncing with surprising ease. The standard and Pro versions support batch processing for greater efficiency and normalizing for higher sound quality. You can even set your dB output scale to match a useful range that will make your programming easier.
For example, if you want to show frames within a 10-frame animation, set the scale to 010. If you want to manipulate alpha values, set the range to 0100. Or, if you want to control rotation, set the range to 0360. What you do with the easy-to-use numeric output that FlashAmp generates is entirely up to you.