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The history of Clickomania

The honor of having invented the idea behind the game is unfortunately not mine. And even though I tried hard to find out, I still cannot tell whose idea it was to turn Tetris upside down and confront the players with a field filled with colored tiles. The inventor has not revealed himself to me. And that’s why I still lack the chance to praise the man the way he deserves. Clickomania existed before Clickomania. I reckon that the video game console players already had fun clicking on groups of colored stones. Some folks have told me that they have seen versions on Commodore 64, but since were without computer when those machines were hip (only a friend of mine had one), it’s not the source of my inspiration. I came across the game when I first surfed the web. I found some Java or JavaScript mini app. It looked pretty ugly, but nevertheless, it had its addicting effect on me. But it wasn’t the ugliness that made me write my own version. The Internet was a rather expensive thing back then. At my hometown, there was no local Internet provider, so I had to do long distance calls to dial in with CompuServe. The resulting phone bill obviously had an impressive impact on my pocket money. So, the idea of an offline version was apparent. Especially because I had started to play around with Borland Delphi. It’s completely startling to a lot of people but I liked the coding and decided to make it to a hobby of mine. I’ve learnt the basics of Pascal programming at the secondary school with Turbo Pascal for the Macintosh and I still remember the cool bug icon this thing used when it could not compile code (that means when it was not able to make a program from my source code). Then already, I programmed games – a version of “Schiffversenken” (“Battleships”; a game where you have to sink ships). With Delphi I had programmed a version of Tic Tac Toe so far. It was ok for practice, but not really a challenge – not for my, the developer, and even less for the players. So, this click-away-stones business just suited me fine. I had a lot of ideas for additional features – the possibility to use own background pictures, the sounds, the animations, just to name some of them.

The first public version was ready by the end of 1997 and it took me twenty, maybe thirty hours to write it – if memory serves and if I do not idealize the good old time. Clickomania 1.0 had no animations and it used a shatter sound when stones were removed. The configuration dialog was as simple as the one of Clickomania next generation. I tried hard to keep the file size small, which made was not so easy because the sound files always got big. And my biggest problem were the background pictures: The users could use their own from the start, but since I did not know the scale and the aspect ratio, I had to figure out how I could adapt the size of the game field without getting messed up completely. The number of stones in the field should not change that much, regardless of the proportions. For the default background, I played around with the Dream 3 D designer from the Corel Draw suite 6. The result of my efforts was rather poor, as anyone knows who was able to remove more than half of the stones from the field. But I am still no artist, even though I design the icons, symbols and logos still on my own (well, as a freeware programmer, I cannot really afford to hire pros).

But I was incredibly proud about my “you lose the game” sound effect. The “oooouuu” you hear is my voice, slowed down at the end. The other sound bits I got from some collections, maybe from shareware CDs I bought in quite considerable quantities before there was the Internet. My biggest achievement was the name, that’s for sure. I cannot tell if it was a flash of inspiration, or if I had to think hard. But the inspiration was my thoughtless wild clicking way of playing the game. Today, I would think of something else, since my ambition has augmented: I do not click around. I try to win every game and the average of 1.9 stones left (in the default configuration with 5 colors) proves that it’s possible to win almost every game. But Thinkomania is no option for a name, so Clickomania will stay.

The possibility to take back moves allowed a more thoughtful game play: the player could start to explore different strategies. With the possibility to restart the game over and over again allows players to find out how it can be won. The Undo button had its first appearance in Clickomania 2.0 if I remember it right (I have to admit that I do not have the older versions handy anymore. I suppose could all could be found on the Dozens of CD ROMs I got during the last years that featured Clickomania.

But back to the beginning. I wrote the first version between Christmas and New Year’s Eve of 1997 and I sent it out as an e-mail New Year’s greeting to my friends. Their reaction was euphoric and encouraging enough to persuade me to release it to the public. Which suited me fine: Some months ago, I had started a webpage, but it lacked content worth mentioning. The numbers of downloads went up very quickly, but after a quite positive review of hotfiles.com, they skyrocketed. (What a pity, that those websites do not list games like Clickomania anymore – they ask for money now and because I was not able to pay the sum of some hundred dollars, they removed Clickomania from their database. Well, to me, it’s obvious that freeware programmers cannot afford to pay for listings on download sites and so, this is a loss mainly for the users of those sites, who find commercial software in the first place and do not come across cool freeware anymore.)

Clickomania was a great project and it was obviously that there had to be following versions. The biggest challenge was the implementation of the animations. I had to recode the central elements of the program, since the old one was not able to handle disappearing stones and move stones smoothly. I cannot tell how much time I struggled, until it worked as expected. It was a lot!

Well, by the end of 1999 I decided to give up the postcard ware state. I asked to send me a postcard in the first versions of the game – I have expected to get a dozen postcards or so. In the end, I got several thousands. I never managed to count them. I guess that I got around 25 kilos of postcards. And still, more than five years after the end of Clickomania as postcard-ware game, I get postcards every week. An incredibly big thank-you to the Swiss postal service. They forward all those postcards to my new address. I do not live in Thalheim anymore since 2000, and since then, they have diverted several thousand postcards. Believe me folks; I feel guilt because I have caused you so much additional work. My only excuse is that I didn’t expect…

And I got more than 35’000 mails so far – I tried to answer them all, but soon, I was not able anymore to send each and every sender a personal answer. I had to cope with the flood with newsletters this way. I reckon that I have disappointed a lot of people. Clickomania was an invitation for a personal communication and a lot of people believed this Mr. Clickomania to be a person open to mail friendships. I am… but my means are limited – even though that’s obvious I never liked to use this excuse. And it seems that my original photo in the “About” dialog encouraged a lot of people to get in touch with me. Honestly, I never understood that. But it was flattering, of course. Even though there were some approximations I could have done without.

Well, Clickomania brought me a great deal of experiences, a lot of programmer practice, contacts to people all over in the world, a reputation as programmer, an interview on the German television. And I met my girlfriend only because of Clickomania. Clickomania next generation is a sign of gratefulness for the people who made this happen – the players of Clickomania.