“Chew on this”
If you’ve recognized where the aforementioned phrases come from, pat yourself for being among those who grew up playing one of the most amazing video games of all time.
If you don’t, well. It’s never too late to get yourself immersed into the world of Claw (or Captain Claw). A spectacular side-scroller about a swashbuckling anthropomorphic cat, on a quest to find nine gems which make up an amulet.
It was made by Monolith productions, in the year 1997.
The game was not just known for its memorable foes, intricate level-designs, and great background music, but also for its soul-crushing difficulty. Defeating the final boss, who was ridiculously tough to beat, gave an acute sense of pride and joy to the player back then.
But for those who weren’t really patient about Claw’s intrinsically challenging nature, god bless cheat-codes!
The game eventually turned into a cult-classic, and got itself admirers from many parts of the world. Now as expected for a cult-classic, geeky-communities were made, fan-sites were created, and thankfully due to WapMap (Claw’s stage-designing tool) more and more levels were built.
Now when the difference comes to cult classics between movies and video games, the latter reaches a point of saturation faster than the former. Simply because good stories and screenplays cannot be replaced, but older graphics and gameplay mechanics could be through new titles, due to the constant evolution of computer technology; something that determines the base of a video game.
That’s why video-games are more liable to be forgotten than movies after a certain period of time, no matter how popular they get.
But what if I told you, that a 23-year-old game called Claw, still has an active community running today?
Forums and Fansites
In 1998, Claw’s official forum was hosted online. It kept running till 2008 and later got replaced by a phpBB page by the game’s publisher. Sadly, Monolith Productions ceased it from functioning, as there wasn’t enough engagement in the forum. By the time they decided to hit the site’s kill-switch, over fifty-thousand posts were housed under it.
“It was both the worst forum on the internet and the best one. If you think that’s impossible, damn straight, I don’t understand it myself. The place was completely unmoderated (what else do I need to say?) and it had the annoying glitch where you could click multiple times on the Post button and have multiple threads get posted. Spammers were quick to abuse this “feature” and some days the forums would be flooded with thousands of posts” said Benjamin Sheffield, a creator of Claw’s current online community in The Claw Museum.
Due to an increase of trolls and a spike in unrelated discussions, few enthusiasts created small websites of their own for posting meaningful threads about the game, as well as their own customized levels for Claw, which were made by using a tool called Wapmap.
Now, this turned out to be a problem for dedicated fans, who often had their noses buried while playing those levels. The forum was used for discussions and sharing links to those sites.
“WAP was an engine created by Brian Goble – the lead dev at Monolith. And it was used for all Monolith’s 2D games. The best part about WAP was that it was super-user friendly… which allowed us to release the level editor for a lot of our 2D games… it’s because of this that I believe games like Claw and Gruntz still have such thriving communities today.
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Pulling the forum’s plug left a lot of people disheartened, including the level-makers. Most of the members engaging in the community, joined it to seek information about the game’s walk-throughs, easter-eggs, treasure-hunts, cheats, and for various other relatable facets.
Though players of custom-designed stages weren’t a lot, the forum was the only destination for downloading them in PCs. It was holistically, a free one-stop-shop for everything about Claw.
Something had to be done for them. The creators of new levels had to put them up somewhere.
Various fans made numerous websites to upload their custom-designed levels. As former members of the forum, many of them collaborated with each other’s sites to collectively increase the size of the community. But it was easier said than done, as each person had his own affairs to take care of. This was when the community saw a period of decline.
Teofil Sidoruk, another creator of the current fan-site said in a chat that at some point in 2001, Finn’s (a popular level-maker in the community) Claw website, which used to be the go-to place for all things Claw stopped being updated and later went offline. There were some others, but they eventually turned out to be very fragmented and short-lived.
“So, in the early 2000s, we went through a period when user-made levels were primarily just discussed on the game’s official forum and exchanged via e-mail” he said.
Then in 2006, three of its core members from Poland, including Sheffield, and the other two being Sidoruk, and Pawel Zuk created a fan-site called “The Claw Recluse” (also known as TCR). They address themselves with their usernames from the game’s former Monolith forum in the site, namely: Grey Cat, Teo phil, and Zuczek.
Sidoruk in the same chat said “Every now and then, someone floated the idea of making one Claw site with as much content as possible, until in March 2005, Grey Cat (Benjamin Sheffield) made that a reality. Initially, it was called ‘A Belated Claw Fansite’.
Concurrently, Zuczek (Pawel Zuk) had been running a Polish Claw fansite since mid-2004. In 2006, he suggested that they join forces with Grey Cat, and adopted his layout and site name. At that point, the Belated Claw Fansite had two language versions, hosted on two completely different servers. In August, Grey Cat designed the new layout, that id still in use today, and re-branded the site to The Claw Recluse. By then, it was already pretty popular and the expansion just followed organically without any planning: we were simply contacted by people who thought it would be great to see TCR in their native language and were willing to translate it.”
The birth of this site not only ensured the revival of Claw’s dwindling fandom, but also enabled the rise of new players.
Since 2006, the members have always been posting regular updates over the creation of new levels, discoveries of secrets, and such. What was meant to be a destination for custom-levels, turned out to be the tent-pole of every Claw fan.
TCR’s theme isn’t really aesthetic in nature, unless you have a preference for pre-internet vibes. But when it comes to content, from information about level designs to sneak-peeks on disabled projects from Monolith after being bought by Warner Brothers, the new forum has it all.
This is basically where you can discover Claw’s Discord channel, where its core-community has a fervor for constant engagement. It has a mix of the older forum’s Wapmap users, and a mix of members from the game’s original development team.
Zachariasz, one of the oldest members from the community said over a chat that though most of the members moved on to the channel, the forum still pleasantly runs under the domain captainclaw.net.
Sidoruk paid for it from his personal funds. Before 2018, the site was run with the server-space provided by Pawel’s ISP, which was created back in 2006.
After being asked on whether the community’s shrinking, he said “new custom levels are still being made, played and talked about no less frequently than in the previous years, if not more. WapMap, the new level editor, is being actively developed again, and with the CrazyHook mod, design possibilities are now endless. Overall, while it’s hard to give any specific numbers, I don’t think it’s dwindling at all.”
Now isn’t that awesome?
A game from ’97 having its community thrive after all these years.
Though esoteric, it has kept the game’s legacy alive, and let us hope that it does so for decades more.