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8-Ball to Win: Great New Features Abound in Flash 8 : Page 5

Flash 8 may have just been announced but you don't have to rummage endlessly for the juicy details. This extensive review gives you a preview of all the great new features—for designers and coders alike—plus Studio pricing and more, all in one place.

Drawing Improvements
Designers will really be happy with the drawing improvements in Flash 8. At last, lines with corners! How many times have you had to create lines out of shapes because you needed square corners? All that labor is a thing of the past with the introduction of the new Cap and Join controls. With these two beauties you can have the default rounded corners and end caps of yore, or sharp end caps and mitered corners (see Figures 11 and 12). Another cool option is the scale type for the line. This allows you to specify, when scaling the MovieClip, whether lines are scaled normally, only vertically, only horizontally, or not scaled at all.

Figure 11. Cap and Join: New Cap and Join options allow you to control the appearance of line ends and corners.
Figure 12. Cornucopia of Corners: The three lines in this illustration show not only the variety of corners and endcaps but also demonstrate the new ability to use gradients on strokes.

All of these options can be set with ActionScript through the new MovieClip.lineStyle method for unprecedented control. You can define line thickness, color, alpha, caps and joint styles, and miter limit, as well as pixel hinting (whether or not lines should be rounded to the next full pixel), and the aforementioned scale type.

New Gradient Options

Figure 13. Object Drawing with Ease: A new context-sensitive button available in drawing tools enables the Object Drawing model. With this option enabled, shapes are "pre-grouped" so they will not destroy each other when overlapping.
Expanded controls over gradients have also been introduced. These include setting the focal point of a radial gradiant, overflow modes (so the gradient can be expanded, reflected, or repeated if it continues outside your preset focal area) and even applying gradients to lines (see Figure 12).

A New Shape Drawing Mode
One of the initially confusing behaviors of Flash's natural drawing tools involves the overlapping of shapes on the same layer, which causes them to interact and "destroy" each other. That is, shapes of differing colors will interact with each other, with the top shape erasing the areas in common with the underlying shape.

Once you get used to this approach, it can be very useful. It's very handy for doing quick fill or line bisections, reflections, color changes, and more. But you need to take extra steps to avoid this behavior when it's not preferred. The simplest is to group the shape you've created before deselecting it. But this doesn't always solve the problem, and any method you use involves extra steps.

Flash 8 introduces a new "object drawing" model that creates shapes that do not automatically destroy other shapes. Think of this technique as automatically grouping everything you draw. If you want the shapes to interact, you can break them apart and merge them at will. Similarly, you can double-click to edit any shape object just like you would a group.

Fortunately, the Flash team has handled this elegantly. An additional context-sensitive button in the tools palette allows you to enable and disable object drawing whenever you want (see Figure 13).

Custom Easing Controls
For animation work, Custom Easing controls let you create realistic, and even quirky, tweening motion. In previous versions of Flash, you could specify a value from -100 to 100, to ease out of your first key frame (acceleration) or ease into your second keyframe (deceleration). Flash 8 allows you to draw Bezier curves to describe your motion (see Figure 14).

Figure 14. Custom Easing with Curves: The new Custom Easing interface allows you to draw the behavior of motion tween properties. In this case, the same curve is affecting all applicable properties.
Figure 15. A Curve for Scale Only: Separate curves can be created for each property controlled by the tween. In this case, the curve shown affects scale only.

The curve in Figure 14 takes me halfway through the tween in the first five or so frames, then does little over the next 10 frames, and then speeds up again and quickly finishes the last 50 percent of the tween in the remaining five or so frames.

Position isn't the only thing you can manipulate, either. Because a tween can affect several MovieClip properties, you can draw different easing curves for each relevant property. This can cause some interesting effects. As a hypothetical example, Figure 15 shows that the scale change is approximately 70 percent complete about one-third of the way through the animation, and then slowly completes the transformation over the remainder of the tween. Because the checkbox for "Use one setting for all properties" is unchecked, I can create entirely different curves for position, rotation, color, and filters.

Interface Enhancements
As I mentioned earlier, it's easy to get excited about new features that may provide you with new creative opportunities. Some of the nuts and bolts interface improvements, however, may make those in the trenches just as happy as the loudest bell or whistle. For brevity, I'll highlight just four of my favorite changes.

First, the Macintosh version finally has an option to collect all open documents in a single window, accessible via a tabbed interface (the Windows version has had this feature for awhile). You can even elect to have your test SWFs open in a tab, but it may take some getting used to. It's helpful if you want to look at a script, or other interface element, during SWF playback, but it's initially strange not automatically finding your test movies in the foreground.

Both platforms now have a far friendlier, unified Library panel. Previous versions of Flash housed every library for every open window in a separate panel--each of which could be hard to find depending on whether or not that panel was open, or minimized. Flash 8 libraries for all open documents appear in a single Library window accessible via a menu (see Figure 16). You can easily switch back and forth between any library, regardless of which document has focus. Plus, you can pin a library so that even when changing focus of a document, the library won't change with it. This is very handy when you spawn a new Library window, because it makes it really easy to copy assets between them. Also, libraries remember their position like other panels.

Figure 16. Consolidated Library Panel: Managing multiple libraries has never been easier than with the new consolidated Library panel.
Figure 17. Tabbed Panels: Two different color panels are shown, each with multiple controls collected in a tabbed view.

Finally, the other panels have also been improved by allowing you to group a panel with any other panel of your choice in a new tabbed panel that can optionally be renamed to your liking. Figure 17 shows two color panels grouped together, as well as the components, component inspector, and behaviors panels sharing a single tabbed panel.

Finally, text assets can now be resized without scaling the text therein, just by dragging handles on the stage. It's no longer necessary to use the text tool and double click to edit the text, just to resize.

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