Programming in Flash

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It seems like there's a lot to draggable objects. This hour has included a lot of detail so far because using draggable objects is one of the most advanced features that doesn't require a lot of programming. The term programming gets tossed around a lot, but my definition of programming is using the ActionScript language to make a Flash movie play back differently based on user input, user interaction, timing issues, or data found outside Flash. If you want your movie to play back the same way each time (like a narrative or a cartoon, for example), you don't need to do any programming. Even if you want relatively sophisticated interactivity (buttons, draggable objects, and so on), you can achieve it with basic actions or behaviors. However, for a much more dynamic (changing) movie, you need to do some programming. Fortunately, ActionScript is fairly easy to use. Behaviors insulate you from the actual code. Also, the Actions panel includes helpers such as code hints, code completion, and Script Assist. When you approach the process of programming in small steps, you will probably find it easier than you would imagine after looking at the cryptic code some programmers create. It doesn't have to be difficult.

The rest of this hour introduces you to most of the programming capabilities of Flash. An entire book could be devoted to this topic (actually, I've written several), so naturally, it can't be fully covered in just this hour. I'm just going to point the way. If you have little interest in programming, it's safe to skip the rest of this hour. You can always come back later if needed. There's plenty more information in later hours, so only jump ahead to Hour 17, "Using Components." (Don't skip the rest of the book!)


Variables are a safe (yet temporary) place to store information. Imagine each variable as an individual whiteboard. You can write whatever you want on the whiteboard, erase it, and then write something else in its place. Variables are similar. Variables are useful because you can use them to save data while a movie plays.

A key concept with variables is that each one has both a name and a value. With a whiteboard, whatever is written on the whiteboard is the current value. If you have several whiteboards maybe one has a phone number, another has an address, and so on you would want to name (or label) the whiteboards so you know which one is which. If you name one phone_number and the other address, you could simply find out the value of phone_number. It would be less complicated than trying to remember which whiteboard is which. Transferring this analogy to real variables, imagine that you have a variable named phone_number whose value is whatever number you put into it.

You can do two things with variables:

  • Set or change their values

  • Ascertain or check their values

Notice that I didn't mention that you can create variables. You don't need to take a formal step to create them; they simply exist as soon as you set the value for one. However, the way you create a variable is to start with the keyword var followed by the variable name as in:

 var myVariableName; 

In practical terms, common tasks that you'll need variables for might include the following:

  • Asking the user for his or her name (so you can use it later)

  • Counting how many times the user has been to part of your movie (so you can change the course after he or she has seen something several times)

  • Quizzing the user and tracking his or her score

  • Displaying text that changes frequently, such as a prompt. You can use the Dynamic Text option to reflect the current value of a variable that you keep changing.

In the following task, you'll learn how to use a variable to get a user's name.

Try It Yourself: Use a Variable to Get the User's Name

This task involves letting the user input data (his or her name), and it also shows how you can monitor the user's input. Here are the steps:


In a new file, select the Text tool and then open the Properties panel. Set the Text Type drop-down list to Input Text (the default is Static Text). Also, select the Show Border Around Text button (as in Figure 16.6). Click once to create a block of text. The little square at the bottom right of the text can be used to change the margins of the text box. One thing that's interesting about the Input Text and Dynamic Text settings is that with them, you can create text blocks with nothing in them.

Figure 16.6. The user will type his or her name into this input text block.


With the text block selected (using either your I-beam cursor in the field or the Selection tool), select the entire block. Then use the Properties panel to set the instance name to username_txt (see Figure 16.6).


Put a stop action in Frame 1.


Create a button and put an instance of it next to the text block you created in step 1. You're basically going to let the user advance to the next frame when he presses this button. However, it will be especially nice to let the user advance by simply pressing Enter on the keyboard. Open the Actions panel and select your button instance. Type this code in it:

 on (press) {  username = username_txt.text;  nextFrame(); } 


Before you go on to the next frame, you need to make sure Flash stops on the first frame. Also, we'll formally declare a homemade variable called username. Click once on Frame 1 in the Timeline (make sure the Actions panel tab says Layer 1:1) and type this code:

 var username; stop(); 


Click once on Frame 2 and insert a blank keyframe (by pressing F7). In Frame 2 create another text field. This one should be set to Dynamic Text (so the user can't edit it).Give this field the instance name message_txt.


Now you're going to put a couple actions in the keyframe on Frame 2. The first thing you do is populate the text field or, more specifically, change the text property of the instance named message_txt. (You saw earlier this hour how you can change the _x or _y of a clip; text instances happen to have a property called text.) Select the keyframe and then open the Actions panel. Type the following code in it:

 message_txt.text="Welcome " + username; 

Translated, this means "set the text property of the message_txt instance to the string "Welcome " followed by the value of the variable called username."

If you put a word such as Welcome in quotes (as a string), it's taken literally. When you refer to a variable name (such as username), the value is used. The plus sign actually performs a concatenation when used with strings. (Concatenate means to connect.)

By the Way: Populating Fields

Populate is a popular term for the process of filling in data. It can be a manual process that you follow while editing, or it can be done at runtime with scripting.


Using Test Movie, see how your movie works.

The preceding task lets you experiment with two basic features: controlling variables (by setting values) and controlling the text the user sees in a field. You let the user directly affect text property of the field (by typing right into the input text).

The next task shows you how to increment a variable. It's very simple: A variable named count will increase every time the user clicks a button. Then, just to prove it's working, you'll have another button that reveals the current value of count. This task might seem simplistic, but it's very useful. What's more, incrementing variables is so common that you need to know how to do it.

Try It Yourself: Increment a Variable

This task demonstrates how to increment a variable and then reveal it to the user. Here are the steps:


In a new file, create a button and a dynamic text block. Give the text field an instance name counter_txt.


Create a button and give it an instance name counter_btn.


This time we'll put all the code in a single keyframe, so select the keyframe (not the individual button or text field instance) and type this code:

 var count = 0; counter_txt.text = count; counter_btn.onPress = function(){  count++;  counter_txt.text = count; } 

Translated, this code says we'll be using a variable called count with an initial value of 0. The second line pre-populates the counter_txt instance. Then, every time the user clicks the counter_btn instance you increment the count variable and update the counter_txt instance's text property.


Test the movie, and you should see the count variable increment. There's nothing wrong with this code, but I want to emphasize you don't need to continually display the value of variables for the user's benefit. For example, if you're tracking user's scores there's no requirement that you show them their running score. Let's keep track of the user's clicks but only reveal that value when they click another button.


Create another button and give it an instance name reveal_btn.


Completely change the code (in the keyframe) to read as follows:

 var count = 0; counter_txt.text = ""; counter_btn.onPress = function(){  count++; } reveal_btn.onPress = function(){  counter_txt.text = "You clicked " + count + " times"; } 


You can test the movie again. This time, the user doesn't see anything until they press the reveal_btn instance.

Did you Know?: Increment Shortcut

To increment the value of the variable count in the preceding task, you simply used the script count++. You can also decrease the variable's value by using the script count-- (that is, use your variable's name followed by two minus signs). Finally, if you want to increment by a larger number than one, you use count+=5, which increases the variable count's value by five. To decrease in larger numbers, use count-=5, replacing 5 with whatever number you want the increments to decrease by. Just realize that ++ and -- work only when the value of count is indeed a number (not a string).

You might notice that when the Properties panel is set to either Dynamic Text or Input Text, there are a bunch of extra options. Of particular interest is the Embed button (shown in Figure 16.7). When you click this button, you can opt to embed character outlines for any particular glyph (or letter) in your typeface. These options only apply to dynamic text and input text because the actual words and letters that appear may change. Flash needs to know whether you expect the user to have the font installed already. If you use a fancy font that your users don't have (and you leave these buttons deselected), another font will be used as a substitute. The overall look and the spacing may change drastically if you do this. (Of course, it won't be an issue on your machine when you test because you have the font installed.)

Figure 16.7. Clicking the Embed button reveals the Character Options dialog box.

If you're not sure your users have the selected font (the safest bet is that they don't), you can opt to embed the entire font outline (well, uppercase, lowercase, numerals, and punctuation) so it will appear properly, no matter what the contents of the text block may become. This, naturally, adds to the file size significantly. As an alternative, you can even specify just the characters you type into the field under Include These Characters. Including the minimum necessary will help maintain a small file size.


Every object changed during authortime. You can think of properties as visual attributes (although some properties are not visible). For example, every object has two position properties (one for x and one for y). Common built-in properties include _x (x position), _y (y position), _alpha (current alpha setting), and _rotation (current rotation of a clip). All the built-in properties are listed in the Properties category of the toolbox list in the Actions panel. Clip instances, button instances, and dynamic or input text objects work differently from other objects in Flash. Not only can you set these objects' properties during authortime in Flash, but through ActionScript you can change them dynamically during runtime, too. For instance, you can effectively move a movie clip instance by changing its _x and _y properties.

Setting Properties

Although instances of Graphic symbols can have color styles and other properties changed during authortime, only instances of the three object types (button instance, clip instance, and dynamic or input text) can change during runtime. To change a property of an object with ActionScript, you simply address the object (that is, target it), specify the property, and set it to a new value. The following task shows you just how easy this can be.

Try It Yourself: Change the Alpha Property of a Movie Clip Instance

In this task you'll change the alpha of a movie clip when the user clicks a button. Here are the steps to follow:


In a new file, place a button and a movie clip on the Stage. Select the movie clip on the Stage and use the Properties panel to name the instance of the clip theClip.


On the button instance, use the Actions panel to add this code:

 on(press){  theClip._alpha = 50; } 


Test the movie, and you should see the instance theClip change to 50% alpha when you click the button.

By the Way: Rotating or Changing Alpha on Dynamic Text

If you want to do the preceding task with a text object (that is, change the _alpha or _rotation property of a text object), you need to embed characters for the font used (as discussed earlier). This isn't necessary with static text, but then again, you can't give static text an instance name.

The seemingly cryptic line of code you put into the button in the preceding task (theClip._alpha = 50) is actually pretty simple. It uses "dot syntax." This syntax is a little funky at first, but after you get it, there's no stopping you. It always follows the form In this case, you want to change the alpha of an instance called theClip. The object is the clip instance, and the property you're changing is _alpha. (Notice that many but not all built-in properties are preceded by an underscore.) Translated, theClip._alpha = 50 means, "theClip's alpha is assigned the value 50."

The fact that you're referring to the clip from outside (that is, from the button, which is not inside the movie clip) means you had to address the clip. To be more technical, I should have said the form is path to Say you want to target a clip that itself was inside another clip; you can address the clip in the form theClip.clipInAClip._alpha=50, where clipInAClip is the instance name of the clip inside the movie clip. Notice that addresses and properties are all separated by periods (when speaking, you say "dot," which is why it's called "dot syntax"). Remember from Hour 15, "Using ActionScript and Behaviors to Create Nonlinear Movies," you addressed a clip within a clip to make it stop the same way you're now addressing clips to change their properties.

It's not always so tricky. You could change the code to read _alpha=50. Unless the code begins with _root, you can assume that the keyword this is implied in front of any address. That is, _alpha=50 is the same as this._alpha = 50 (which means "this Timeline, you set your alpha to 50"). Go ahead and try it. First, draw a circle or something on the Stage (so you'll see more than just the button and movie clip). Then change the script inside the button to _alpha = 50, test the movie, and notice that everything on the Stage changes! Now go back and cut the button from the main scene and paste it inside the master movie clip. Now when the button is clicked, everything inside the clip instance (including the button) changes to alpha 50. Copy and paste the clip so you have multiple instances of the clip (now with the button inside each one). You'll see that the button only changes the alpha of the instance in which you clicked. This is kind of cool, considering you don't even have to name any instances or specify the clip you're targeting. In conclusion, you can target specific clip instances by name, or (if you omit the target) Flash will consider that an implied this precedes your object. By the way, starting any address with _root (as in _root.clip._alpha = 50) targets the main Timeline, from which you can address any object. This is called an absolute address (as opposed to all the relative addresses we've used so far).

Getting Properties

Besides setting properties (like how you set the alpha of the clip), you can also ascertain that is, get the current value of any property. In fact, you can get the value of any property but set the property of only some (albeit most) properties. For example, you can't set a clip's _totalframes property at runtime. To access a property, you use the same form as in the preceding example (you'll just check it, not change it). For example, say you have a dynamic text block with the instance name message_txt and an action that reads

 message_txt.text = "The current alpha is " + theClip._alpha + "%" 

Because theClip._alpha is not within quotation marks, Flash will get the current alpha value of the clip and stick it between the two parts of a string. Then the whole (combined) string is placed in the text property of the message_txt dynamic instance. Access to properties follows the same form whether you're setting the property or getting the property. It's always

Getting a property can be combined with setting a property. In the following task, you'll use two buttons that change the alpha of a clip. One button reduces the alpha, and the other increases it. Obviously, this will require more than just setting the alpha. You can't just set the alpha to "10 less." You have to know "10 less than what." Therefore, you'll first get the current alpha and set the alpha to 10 less than that. (This is easier to understand when you try it.)

Try It Yourself: Make Buttons That Increase and Decrease the Alpha Setting of a Clip

This task involves both setting and getting properties of a clip. Here are the steps:


Place two buttons and one clip on the Stage. Name the clip instance (as before, not the name in the Library) theClip.


Use the Actions panel to put the following code on one button:

 on(press){  theClip._alpha = theClip._alpha - 10; } 

This means theClip's alpha should be assigned the value of "theClip's alpha minus 10."


The other button will have nearly the same code, except it will add 10:

 on(press){  theClip._alpha = theClip._alpha + 10; } 


Test the movie!

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    Sams Teach Yourself Macromedia Flash 8 in 24 Hours
    Sams Teach Yourself Macromedia Flash 8 in 24 Hours
    ISBN: 0672327546
    EAN: 2147483647
    Year: 2006
    Pages: 235

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