Flash on the Beach 2008 – As good as the hype?

Having returned back from Flash on the Beach 2008 yesterday I finally have time to sit down and collate my thoughts.

I had been looking forward to FOTB for months, the constant emails from them bigging it up, the “you must be there!” attitude coming from the blogosphere, the list of impressive speakers. It was set to be 3 days of Flash heaven. In reality it didn’t quite pan-out like this. I think my expectations were a bit too high to be honest, and should I attend again I’d know exactly what to expect, and crucially which speakers to avoid.

I have full respect for anyone who can get up on stage and talk to hundreds of people. It’s something I know I’d have real trouble doing well, so I do genuinely admire them for it. But what I don’t admire are speakers who are highly dis-organised, easily distracted / side-tracked, or who delivered extremely content-weak sessions.

A couple of the sessions were truly terrible from an organisation point of view – minutes of wasted time spent messing around in iTunes, or frantically trying to find a file somewhere on the hard drive (is it really that difficult to organise your presentation material into a single folder or set of short-cuts on your desktop?). It’s not like they didn’t have enough time to plan for the event.

A few sessions also felt like little more than a narrated showreel of work (most of it quite old). This really bugged me, I wanted to learn new tricks and tactics to take home and play with, that is why my company had spent good money to send me there. But in reality this didn’t happen half as much as I would have liked.

But it wasn’t all bad and some of the sessions were truly incredible. The absolute highlight of the whole 3 days for me was Joa Ebert talking about “Audio Tools Private Parts“. This was a superb session and truly inspirational. He covered object pools (and how they applied to their new Tween engine), lots of detail of approaching the seemingly simple problem of bending a cable around an object (lots of graphs, lists, sorting methods, etc). He also alluded to the fact that their AS3 disassembler is nearly ready. In short, the guy is a genius and I have absolutely maximum respect for him.

I guess his session appealed the most because I’m a coder, I’m not a Flash “designer”, I didn’t acidentally fall into coding as a means to get my artwork to move. I’ve always been a coder. So it takes clever code to impress me. Joa’s 10 minutes of “live coding” in the Jam Session was excellent, but full respect to the C64 emulator (written in AS3) with sound support too :)

I’m still kicking myself for not going to Andre Michelle’s talk, but it clashed with a session on decompiling and hacking SWFs which I hoped would be far more in-depth than it actually was (but again I can appreciate why it stopped where it did).

Keith Peters did a good talk on playing around with verlets. It wasn’t complex stuff, but it was nice to see it presented so well. All of his slides were in order, his code easily accessible, his timing spot-on. I liked the little bits of history he dropped into it as well (about the real mathmaticians behind it all). It convinced me to pre-order his new book, not because I think it’ll contain anything earth shattering, but just because he has an obvious love for this stuff, and that’s always a good thing to inject into your book.

I regret very much not hearing Grant Skinner, Richard Lord or Rob Bateman talk. They all clashed with things that sounded more useful in my everyday work, but sadly didn’t turn out to be the case.

If I go back to FOTB I’ll definitely know how to pick better, which should hopefully increase what I ultimately take away from the event. But I can tell this much already – if none of the uber-skilled German guys are talking next year, I certainly won’t go.

Posted on October 3rd 2008 at 1:28 am by .
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  • October 3rd 2008 at 5:20 am

    Interesting insights! Thanks for posting them. I’ve never been to any of such events and honestly I don’t feel it’s necessary but rather they are hyped too much. Some of the talkers are worth watching as you said. I’d love to see Joa and Andrew releasing their glorified tween engine. 😉

  • October 3rd 2008 at 11:46 am

    Yeah I do think if you are a skilled developer already then you will learn very VERY little from events like this. Their Tween engine looked amazing btw :)

  • October 3rd 2008 at 5:16 pm

    It’s great to see an open and honest account of these things ( esp. when they cost silly money to go to ).

    My one bit of Flash training was going to a Grant Skinner workshop weekend about Flash8. The guy is just sickening. Cool and talented ( Be one or the other, not both, that’s just pulling the piss )
    It’s only when you see someone bang at the top of their game like him does it bring you down to earth and help you realise exactly where you stand in the grand scheme of Flash.

  • October 3rd 2008 at 5:34 pm

    From what I’ve seen from the “best in the industry” your skills are well up there mate.

    Seb Lee-Delisle did an intro session on PV3D which was a good overview (he presents with good passion), but the audience were clapping at the most inane of things – I mean he puts a skybox into the demo and then flies around it. That’s it, just one skybox, and the audience are “oohing” like it’s the second coming (which he was egging on too much imho).

    I’m sat there thinking “what the fuck? it’s just a cube guys, calm down”. Then he puts a 3D cow into the scene and the frame rate drops through the floor and I couldn’t help but smirk :) Don’t get me wrong, I respect the amount of work that has gone into PV3D, but let’s just say I like to keep things in perspective.

  • October 3rd 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for the write-up, Rich. I’m always Jealous because there seems to be such a great set of Flash developers working together in the UK, while out here in California, there seems to be a black hole.

    The sessions on decompiling and disassembling sound like they were worthwhile? Were they preventative, or were they like DEFCON sessions? What is the AS3 Disassembler good for if not cracking games?

    Also, where can I find that C64 emulator? Any game specific sessions?

  • October 7th 2008 at 2:44 am

    Hey Jeff – Well FOTB is coming to Miami! I guess a little closer to you? :) The SWF hacking session wasn’t all that great. It did show nicely just how open most AS3 code is, but it didn’t cover breaking into it beyond just using some off-the-shelf tools. The AS3 tool I talked about actually appears to be a “compiler” of sorts, in that it’ll read your source and tell you where you are being inefficient! So quite the opposite to what I thought it was going to be.

    No idea where the C64 emulator is I’m afraid :( shame, as it looked really neat!

  • October 10th 2008 at 5:38 pm

    John Davey (the head honcho of FOTB) took the time to email me privately about this blog entry, he tried to post his comments here but it wouldn’t let him, so here they are incase anyone still wants to read this :)

    Take it away John … ——————–

    Hi, my name is John Davey and i am the organiser of FOTB.

    I love reading all comments on blogposts, and appreciate the feedback. I take all feedback very seriously. I feel I should make a couple of comments and address a couple of things here. I will write to Rich privately to get a better insight into the who’s and what’s so I can fix them for next time.

    First up, ever heard the phrase ‘can’t please all the people all the time’? Well, I try and do exactly that! Inevitably, that’s never gonna happen. I am always getting emails saying, too fast, too slow, too difficult, to easy etc etc. This is always going to be tough to fix. We have tried to address this by indicating on the schedule and session descriptions who the session is aimed at and what skills level it should suit.

    Honestly, if people are looking for a training session, then they should book a training course which would cost more than an FOTB ticket. The idea of the conference is to pick up tips and tricks, get inspired, get pumped about what you do and to network. I am amazed at the amount of emails I get thanking me for putting people in a position where they have got work, contacts, projects etc through the networkig opportunities at FOTB. No-one mentions that in their round-ups because they are focused on what they have seen over the 3 days.

    The ‘hype’ about FOTB does not come from us. Of course we are proud, but we intentially let others sing our praises (it’s the British way!). Remember, we have not been around as long as FiTC or FlashForward, so the buzz around FOTB has taken us by surprise too! We don’t do ‘hotel based conferences’ we do not do ‘corporate feel’, if people are looking for a quiet classroom type session, then do not come to Flash on the Beach! If they are looking for a creative, inspirational, educational, networking buzz that wants you to be pumped that you are at an event with an exciting vibe, then come to Flash on the Beach.

    I hope this has been helpful, and I hope to see many of you at FOTB Miami!

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