eLearning Guild eBook on Flash Tips

239 Tips for Producing and Managing Flash-based e-Learning Content (pdf)

A nice collection of tips to make your Flash work a little bit easier. I was very pleased to have tips published here and am humbled to be a very small part of the Guild. Some of my tips are listed below:

1) Add Second Life video (machinima) to your Flash work. It’s easy with a few inexpensive tools and tips. Using products such as Fraps and Sizer, capture video (at a specific frame rate and sized to your needs) and import it into Flash. It’s an easy way to add 3-D content to scenarios and questions.

2) When getting video out from Second Life, size the Second Life viewer to meet your requirements. If the final video needs to be 640 x 480 pixels, then set your viewer to that size, and test by taking a few seconds of video and viewing the video’s properties. This maintains the maximum quality by not resampling the video, and cuts down on production time.

3) To get clean and professional results for video from Second Life, hide your interface when filming by using Ctrl Alt 1. You can also turn off the chat bubbles under Preferences if desired. Check for attachments in a little test footage before doing your final filming.

4) Make your Second Life video in Flash shine by selecting the highest quality graphics settings you can. Reducing the size of the viewer GUI will reduce the resources needed by Second Life, and allow for higher quality video. If you will be using separate audio files imported into Flash, then consider turning off the audio and streaming audio (music) under preferences in Second Life too.

Often parcels have streaming music playing that take up valuable computer resources. Make sure to close any other programs, and consider using a third-party tool to capture video rather than the one built into Second Life. (note: the Second Life viewer no longer contains a video capturing option due to poor performance)

5) Using screencasting software allows you to add high-quality video to your Flash e-Learning. Whether capturing metaverse video or desktop applications, using a video-based tool may work very well. Several tools, that are very reasonably priced, are used for capturing MMORPG. While we are used to other recording software, one that outputs a video-specific format, such as Fraps (http://www.fraps.com) typically works well with Flash’s video compression.

6) The default frame rate in Flash has been 12 since at least Flash 4 (was that 1999?). Today computers normally run video content at 30 frames per second, so why not try a higher rate with Flash. While the Flash Player is not the same as a video player, using appropriately sized Flash pieces will play very well at 30 frames per second. And this allows you to bring in video at it’s native frame rate (in the US, 24 for PAL) and yield better results.

7) Use the document properties in Flash to set your most often used frame rate, stage size, and background color as your default. Now every time you create a new Flash piece you can save a few clicks.

Also using snap to pixels will reduce anti-aliasing of your text and images and yield crisper and more professional results.

8) Do you sometimes tween images and notice how pixelated the edges look as they move? For smoother results, check Allow smoothing under Bitmap Properties for the images in question. You will notice the jagged edges are gone and your animation will look much smoother.

9) Keep your product skills razor sharp by actively participating in online forums for those products. Most tools have many forums to choose from and each forum will have it’s focus as well as community feel. Try a few and find the one that challenges you.

Actively seek posts that push your problem solving and you will see your skills increase as well as other people’s approaches to the same problems.

10) Try it out on paper first. It’s all too easy to jump into Flash and start creating your interactions. Although they are often based of of storyboards, it sometimes helps to sketch it out on paper first. If you can’t make it work on paper, you won’t be able to make it work in Flash.

11) If you get really stuck on some ActionScript and have searched the forums, take a break! Five minutes away from the computer, and your challenge, might be worth an hour of frustration.

12) Almost any flash interactions can benefit from a loading indicator for the user. A 300 KB piece can take five seconds to load at DSL speeds. To be effective for small files, the loader itself has to be small.

Here is ActionScript for a loader that is about 300 bytes. Simply create a horizontal fill, for example 5 pixels by 100 pixels, and convert it to a movieclip. Add this code to the movieclip itself to make it self-contained and reusable.

This will be your loading indicator that is placed in the first frame of the root timeline. This code includes a function to fade out the movieclip if it spans more that one frame.

onClipEvent (enterFrame) {
this._parent.stop();// stop the root timeline
percent = Math.abs(_parent.getBytesLoaded()*100/_parent.getBytesTotal());
this._width = percent;// the movieclip that will scale horizontally
if (percent>=100) { // you can set this to any number (0-100), 100 represents the entire swf
this._parent.play();// any action you want after loading reaches the amount you specify
this._alpha = this._alpha – 5; // this fades the loader movieclip by 5% per frame
} else {
// if needed, you can add action to do here, such as play a loading message movieclip
}
}

13) Edit your photographs for Flash in your image editing software to the final size needed in the Flash piece. Avoid scaling images in Flash, unless for a tween, to maintain optimal file sizes and best quality of your image assets.

If you are not certain of the final size needed, import your image and, once the size is determined, use the built in editing feature to resize your image in Fireworks or Photoshop.

Turn off Allow smoothing if the image is not going to be tweened and always place your images on whole pixels for best results.

14) Adding audio to Flash pieces is a powerful learning tool. However, audio adds a lot to the final file size and benefits from external editing before importing into Flash. You can also use the Property Inspector’s audio edit feature to trim dead air off the start and end of audio files. Even silent audio space takes up kilobytes.

Consider adding a text display to any files with audio. This can be a simple text feature that can be shown or hidden by the user and helps make your content richer and more accessible.

15) Consider swapping between two types of mice on a weekly or monthly basis. It will help prevent repetitive injuries like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel.

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