Foundation ActionScript

by Joe Gillespie — Apr 1, 2001

Introduced with Flash 5, ActionScript is what you might call a "designer's programming language". Earlier versions of Flash were just glorified animation packages that let Web designers get some movement into their sites without hogging too much bandwidth but ActionScript gives them some real power.

Learning any programming language can be a daunting task, especially of your talents are more artistic than mathematical. Artists and designers tend to think in pictures, not in words or numbers, and many programming concepts are hard to grasp if your brain just doesn't work in that way.

ActionScript itself is one of the more accessible ways into programming. Purists would call it 'scripting' rather than programming but, hey, we are designers! Like other scripting languages - HyperTalk, Lingo, JavaScript etc, ActionScript makes some sense when you read it, it's not like reading a completely foreign language or a mathematical formula. If you just relied on the Flash 5 documentation, you would get there eventually, with a bit of trial and error but there are a lot of things it doesn't explain well.

Foundation ActionScript assumes that you know something of Flash basics, but little or nothing about programming and because designers think visually, it uses pictures, lots of them. Not just screen grabs, but graphic diagrams that help to convey some of the more abstract concepts and make them more understandable.

Starting off on a very gentle slope, the book takes you through the basic concepts of planning your project and introduces the concept of 'events'. Events are things that 'happen' and things are always happening when you run a Flash movie, it's just a matter of controlling them to do what you want.

When you create a button in Flash and click on it, something is supposed to happen. Firstly, there is some visual feedback because the mouse has gone over the button and clicked it, but what happens after that? It could be that you just go to another page, that's just simple navigation, but with ActionScript, it can trigger a whole chain of events.

If you already use Flash, you will know how to make a ball travel across the screen using the timeline, keyframes and 'tweening. But the path of that ball will always be the same, it is 'frozen' into the timeline. This book demonstrates that by using ActionScript events, you can control the ball, or anything else, by manipulating its position on the screen. Then you can add 'conditions' - what happens if it hits something, the edge of the screen or another ball? It might make a 'boing' sound, bounce away in another direction, increase a score - anything you can imagine.

It goes on to explain more advanced techniques like dragging and dropping, controlling 'sprites' and introduces the idea of 'modular' scripting where you can create your own library of 'building blocks' that can be put together in different ways and re-used in future projects.

Very often, books on programming are written and produced by programmers. They are dry, and if there are any visual examples, they are usually fairly ugly. Foundation ActionScript always gives designers the impression that it is talking to them in their own language. Even the examples and project illustrations are well designed. Progress through the book is fairly effortless yet when you get to the end, you are left with a real sense of achievement - and some very useful skills.

If you want to do more than just basic animation with Flash, Foundation ActionScript is a truly outstanding resource.

Foundation ActionScript
Manufacturer Friends of Ed
Price $29.99 (Amazon price $23.99)
Summary If you use Flash 5, this book is a must!
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