There are things that I could say right now to accurately determine the age of most of our readers. “But I am le tired.” “Badger badger badger.” “Wiggle jiggle, yellow middle.” But, more than anything else, I can ask: which website did you visit the most in the early 2000s? If the answer is anything other than Neopets, EBaum’s World, Homestar Runner, YTMND, Something Awful, MySpace, Albino Black Sheep, A Softer World, or Newgrounds — well, you’re still welcome on this article! We’ll have no ageism here.
But pretty much anyone under the age of 25 who had the internet and a love for games in the early 2000s was on Newgrounds. Browsing goofy Flash videos like The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny and playing Flash games like The Crimson Room was my lunchtime dose of fun, before YouTube was a thing. Now, Flash is dead — dead like my dreams of being a tall marine biologist one day, which was my goal at the time. Now I am merely a short games journalist. Ah well.
But Flash’s legacy lives on, and so does Newgrounds, which is still going, and is still run by creator Tom Fulp. In fact, the Game Developers’ Conference just announced that Fulp, alongside industry veteran Laralyn McWilliams, would be receiving a special honour this year at the Game Developers’ Choice Awards.
So, as promised: here’s why that matters.
If you’ve been around for Flash games since the beginning, you’ve probably seen many of them graduate from browser games to full-fledged console games, many of which are on the Nintendo Switch: Super Meat Boy, N++, and even Hollow Knight, which was originally a game jam game made in Flash. You may even know that Among Us developers Innersloth began their career with the mega-popular Henry Stickmin games!
But more than that: Newgrounds was the breeding ground for the indie game scene we have today. Everything weird, quirky, experimental and unusual wasn’t to be found on consoles — it was on the internet, and just as Neopets was the place to be for anyone that loved small animals and free omelettes, Newgrounds was the place to be for playing games.
The sheer number of janky-looking games with stickmen as their main characters speaks volumes about the people who were making these games: small teams, or even just one person, with little artistic skill (sorry!) but easy access to Flash, a development tool which made game-making more possible than ever.
These days, development tools are even more accessible. Flash wasn’t actually free — though we could speculate that many indie developers found ways around that — but modern tools like Unity, Unreal Engine, and Blender are all free, with plenty of online tutorials to help you learn the ropes. Accessibility is a huge reason for the indie explosion that Switch has benefitted from, and without accessible tools, we might not have the diversity and creativity visible on the eShop today.
Would any of that exist without the groundwork that Flash laid? I don’t know! I’m not a historian! I just really like Flash games! But my guess is that the landscape of indie games on the Switch (and in general) would be entirely different if Newgrounds, Flash games, and even Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) hadn’t proved that there was a huge, hungry market for them.
So: congratulations to Tom Fulp on the Pioneer Award (and Laralyn McWilliams on the Lifetime Achievement Award!), and thank you for your contribution to video games. Without your work, I may have actually become a marine biologist.
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