By now, you must of heard about the great new features available in the latest Flash Player 11 (still in beta / incubator phase as of this writing). The GPU enhancement is undoubtedly one of the most talked-about addition to the popular web / mobile platform. Developers can now expect to create graphically-rich content that will perform much more fluidly under high volumes of sprites and animations on the stage.

This feature mostly gained a lot of hype because of its ability to render 3D content (models, textures, shaders, etc). But a lot of developers (including myself) are still far more interested in making use of these rendering speed improvements with 2D content.

When I took my first look at some code examples from the AdobeLabs website (http://labs.adobe.com/) and notice the complex “assembly-like” code that had to be written before you could even render anything – I was quite disappointed in the complexity I would have to go through to toss a simple 2D graphic on the screen.

A few months later though, I stumble upon a site that gave me hope! Behold…

The Starling Framework

http://www.starling-framework.org/

The people that created this framework really made it a priority to make it easy for developers to carryover their knowledge of the current Flash DisplayList architecture – to this new powerful one.

In a nutshell, they’ve disguised the Molehill / Stage3D API into classes that most AS3 developers are already familiar with. For instance, you can still call “addChild( … ), removeChild( … ), getChildIndex( … ), getChildAt( … ), etc.” on their framework’s subclasses. In fact, they’ve even named them the same, so really the main difference in your code will be that you import Sprite and MovieClip from their starling.display.* package instead.

There is really nice advantages to use this library, especially if you’re a game developer. It can handle Particle Effects, Sprite Sheets, and makes it easier than ever to port your project for iOS devices since it is based on the Sparrow Framework.

My personal favorite feature though is the use of Bitmap Fonts!

It is still early to decide whether this will be the most popular 2D API of choice for Flash Developers. Another one I’ve taken a look recently is called ND2D by Nulldesign (http://www.nulldesign.de/2011/03/10/nd2d-molehill-2d-engine/) – though I can’t say too much about it in comparison to Starling.

Regarless of who “wins” the Best 2D API wrapper for Flash Player 11, we still can’t expect a large audience to see our content until it actually comes out.
ZDNet UK News shares some details on the Release Date for Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 – we might be able to expect it this early October 2011! (see story here: http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/application-development/2011/09/21/flash-11-and-air-3-get-a-release-date-40093988/)

Until then, get your hands dirty in GPU accelerated 2D Flash content (or 3D) to stay ahead of the game! ;)