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Captain Claw

Could you tell us a little bit about Monolith?
Monolith was started about 2 yrs ago by a group of guys who worked in an educational software company and had always been gamers. They decided to put together a demo cd to shop around for publishers and Microsoft became interested about that. So they landed a contract and created a sampler cd for microsoft, the windows 95 sampler CD. And shortly thereafter we landed another game title with microsoft then the company started to grow. We ended up producing Blood and right after blood we decided to do Claw. There about 60 people in monolith of which about 45 are directly involved in development.

Monolith's last blockbuster game was Blood, that was a game a bit like quake. That's quite a big difference between that and Claw which is cartoon based.
One of the things here is that everyone in monolith is a gamer. We play games all the time. We played doom when it first came out, we played wolfenstein before that and when Duke Nukem came out it completely consumed the company, and we really enjoyed playing 3D shooters. But there were also alot of people that were at the same time playing those games and also playing console style games. We played games on the super nintendo and the sega genesis and of course now we're playing playstation and ultra 64 games. But we really wanted to capture some of the gameplay from those console systems. But we hadn't seen a quality PC game that we could say "that would be great on the console". And the ones that had already been made for the PC were actually nintendo or sega ports, without any really added benefits on the PC except you could play on the PC. So we set out to make the world's greatest console style game for the PC. And since the PC player is pretty discriminating, we said we just can't have cool levels and a cool character we wanted to add to the experience. So the first thing we said was we really needed a story to back this up so we came out with a really detailed storyline and that's where the cinematic aspects of claw came in. Once we had established that then we added all the stuff we could do with the music the multiplayer aspects of the game which are a ton of fun and really everything that the pc player could want in a console style game.

Could you tell us what the game claw is all about?
Sure, the player in claw plays captain claw who is a cat pirate which takes place in a fantasy world where cats and dogs are essentially people. So they walk around on two legs, they wear clothes, kind of a very fantasy like environment. One of the things that we wanted to do was take a lot of what we had seen as kids in cartoons and bring that to the computer screen. So as Captain claw you're a pirate on a ship with a crew and you are captured by captain Le Rauxe and Le Rauxe is one of the captains of the local prison, and because you've committed numerous crimes he captures you and your crew and imprisons you in Le Roca. All this action takes place in the first cut scene, at the end of the first cut scene you break out of prison and find out about the amulet of nine lives. The amulet is a mythical amulet that rumours say could provide the wearer near immortality(nine lives). Claw discovers one of the first gems to the amulet of nine lives early on in the game. And as the game progresses claw finds out more about the amulet as the game progresses and the fact that it is not a myth but the amulet actually exists. He also finds pieces of a treasure map that leads him to tiger island. And tiger island is supposed to be where the amulet is kept and protected. Throughout the game you meet a few of your arch enemies, other pirates other captains and specifically Red Tail whom you've met numerous times in the past.

And there is a dedicated website for the game as well right?
Yes, the dedicated website can be found at www.captainclaw.com. And we've really gone into alot of effort to provide as much information as possible on the page. There's a high score page where people can post their high scores to there's a multiplayer ladder where people can challenge each other. There are detailed facts, tips, cheats all kinds of back story information as well as ordering information.

I understand that movie clips are used to link the storyline behind the game?
Yes, one of the things we really wanted to do with claw was present a really compelling background and plot throughout the whole game. Alot of similar console games were really just "finish the level and go on to the next level" or figure out the puzzles" types of games. There were no plots on why you were battling the enemies or why you needed to finish the level. So we decided to push the cartoon style animation and include 20 minutes of animated cutscenes. Now these were done in a very disney like style, we spent alot of time with the animation studio that we worked with to do this, in terms of working on scripts, developing the storyboards and characters. Eventually we ended up with about 20 minutes of 30 frames per second 24 bit artwork which is perfect for DVD. These cutscenes really enhance the storyline and the intro is probably one of the best game intros I have ever seen.

Now one of the special feeatures of the game is that it allows 64 players at one time.
Yes, when we first worked on claw we really looked at it as a single player type of game. Then we realised that as PC gamers ourselves we wanted multiplayer aspects in the game. And alot of multiplayer console games offered were basically just 2 players on the screen at the same time or maybe some head to head stuff via linkup. So we experimented with some of that stuff and felt that it didn't really add to the gameplay experience. So we took kind of a different approach on providing multiplayer experience. We came out with the term called "level reacing" and essentially you could imagine 64 players running through an obstacle course at the same time and whoever got to the end first won. That's essentially what claw "level racing" is about. One advantage of claw is that because of the way the game is setup, latency isn't that big an issue as compared to other games like Quake where even a bit of latency would really affect your game. Claw can be played over the internet or a LAN even with a little bit of latency and the experience would be alot of fun.

Claw also makes use of soundfonts, now how does making use of soundfonts actually enhance the game.
When we first started doing claw, we really wanted to make use of MIDI sound. That was something our sound department had been working on for a little bit. And we started talking to Creative Labs about some alternative technologies that we could use. Because of the way soundfont works, where you could remap some of the general midi stuff to soundfont banks, it enabled us to get a near orchestral score with MIDI and at the same time also saved alot of disk space on the CD as well. Also with soundfont it allowed us alot of control whereby we could change the tempo of the musical score on to fly to fit the mood of diffrent parts of the game. Overall, between the sound fonts and the other ambient sounds that we have, it's a really compelling package.

Having already developed a CD-ROM version of the game, why develop a DVD version?
When we started working on the cutscenes for claw, we wanted the animations as high quality as possible. Even though we knew initially it was only for CD-ROM we decided that we wanted to have high quality material and worry about compression later. When we started working on claw, DVD was just starting to be talked out and we knew we would eventually take advantage of DVD but we just didn't know when. By taking the movies which we had and doing MPEG2 versions of it, the quality just jumps up tremendously. Whereas the compressed version on a CD version would be at 320-200 at 15 frames second and pretty pixelated, In the DVD version of the game, the movies were essentially S-VHS quality or better video right on your computer screen.

DVD being a new technology, what were some of the difficulties you encountered when developing this game?
One of the first things we ran into was this there aren't too many people that know about DVD. We've got some excellent people over here in monolith but obviously we need some help from the hardware manufacturers, fortunately Creative Labs have been pretty helpful by providing some of the information we needed but converting all the original source of material for the movies to a DVD compatible format took a little time, it was something that only a few places in the US that even do that type of work. And when it came to intergrating them into our application, there weren't that many people that have done it yet. so it was like working from scratch as compared to working with CD-ROMs where all the necessary info is readily available.

Despite all the difficulties, do you think that it was justified developing a DVD version?
Definitely. The advantages that you get far outweigh the learning process, being able to store multiple versions on the same DVD disc and the DVD standard for movie playback is MPEG2 which is the same format and the same quality as to those found in home theatres. The quality that the end user gets is far beyond what any CD can offer, Gamers are expecting so much that it is getting more difficult to deliver on CD and this is where DVD comes in. We should be seeing a huge increase in people buying DVD drives and players in the next year or so.

What's next for monolith?
We've got a couple of things in the pipeline, we're currently working with Microsoft on a title called Riot which should be released in Spring. It will be up to microsoft or not whether it will go DVD but I would guess it would probably will because we'll be including a couple of cinematic sequences and after seeing the differences between the CD and DVD cut scenes, the quality is just not comparable. We're working on another title for GT and we're also working on another game internally which will likely be DVD as well. Initially we plan to release both CD and DVD versions but within a few years we will probably be doing DVD only.


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