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Glimpsing History and then Commanding It

After you get Flash and the History panel open, walk through the following steps to see how it works. For this example, I'll start with something you'll assuredly have to do at least a thousand times in the next week: draw a square and turn it into a symbol.

  1. Choose the Rectangle tool in the Toolbar.

  2. Hold down the Shift key, click on the Stage and drag your mouse down and to the right a bit to make a square, similar to Figure 1.

  3. The Shift key constrains the shape as you draw it, so you should end up with a perfect square.

    Figure 1Figure 1 The perfect square.

  4. Choose the Selection tool in the Toolbar.

  5. Double-click in the fill area of the square.

  6. This procedure selects the fill and all the lines of the stroke (border) around the square.

  7. Choose Insert > New Symbol (F8) to open up the Create New Symbol dialog box.

  8. Type the word Box into the Name field of the dialog box, choose Graphic from the Behavior options, and then click OK.

  9. This process results in the box being converted into a Graphic symbol. It should look like Figure 2.

    Figure 2Figure 2 The square is now a symbol.

  10. In the History panel, you should see a list of everything you just did.

  11. f you don't, you're doing something seriously wrong. You should just give up. (Joking, of course.)

  12. Press Shift and select the top and bottom items in the list in the History panel.

  13. This procedure highlights the whole list in blue, indicating that you have selected each item.

  14. Click on the little disk icon in the bottom-right corner of the panel to save the selected steps as a Command.

  15. This process opens the Save As Command dialog box.

  16. In the Command name field, type Make a Box and click OK, as shown in Figure 3.

  17. Figure 3Figure 3 Go ahead, make a box.

    All this may seem a little rudimentary because I'm sure you could have made a box without reading the above steps, but this is leading somewhere. At this point, I've been having you complete a specific set of steps, and if you've done them exactly in that order, there won't be any extra steps or clicks or anything in the History panel, and it will match this list:

    • Rectangle

    • Change Selection

    • Double Click

    • Convert to Symbol

    If your panel matches this list, you're on the right track. When Flash saves steps as a Command, it saves all the steps you specify, so it's important that you not clog up the system with unnecessary actions. It can be hard to tell which steps are necessary and which are not when you're saving them, so it's easier to perform a sequence of tasks exactly as you want them saved.

  18. Close your open Flash document.

  19. Don't bother saving it—you won't need it anymore.

  20. Open a new Flash document.

  21. Choose Commands from the menus along the top.

  22. Your command, Make a Box, should be there, ready for you to use any time you need it, as shown in Figure 4.

    Figure 4Figure 4 Your command is Flash's command.

  23. Select Make a Box from the menu.

  24. Open your Library (Ctrl/Cmd + L) and notice that there is now a symbol in it called Symbol 1.

Flash names your new symbol using its default naming method. If you ran another command to create another symbol, it would be called Symbol 2, and so on.

Congratulations! You've just automated the creation of a box. Any time you need one from now on, just choose Make a Box from the Commands menu and call it a day.

You may notice that the box created via the Command is automatically placed in the same spot on the Stage where you created the Command. This is because the History panel tracks the arguments and JavaScript used in completing each step and then copies that information into the saved Command.

I'm sorry—what? You have no idea what I'm talking about? Well, have no fear. Here's the scoop:

Flash MX 2004 has what's referred to as an "extensibility layer" built into it. This means, in so many words, that Flash can be extended, by you or anyone else, via the cunning use of a few different programming languages. In the case of Commands, Flash is using JavaScript to write a document for your Command. The document, called Make A Box.jsfl (JSFL stands for JavaScript Flash), has been automatically created and saved into the install directory for Flash MX 2004 on your hard drive. You don't have to write a single line of code, and you've got this groovy little box at your disposal. Check out the file in Figure 5.

Figure 5Figure 5 All that code...and you didn't write a lick of it. Lucky you!

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