Even in the context that it is so traditionally and cheekily used, the question is still a valid one: does girth really count? Is magnitude what defines our relish of a situation or is it technique and skill? I'm staring at Terry Cavanagh's browser-based Cat Life: ChatChat and it's quite possibly one of the most teeth-achingly adorable things I've ever seen. With graphics rendered by Hayden Scott-Baron, ChatChat wants you to do nothing more than be a cat.
And possibly, if you're ill-fated enough, a dog.
There are no classes, no levels, no professions, no pets, no way to exhultantly inform someone else that your metaphorical genitalia is bigger than theirs. ChatChat is just you (and whomever else is present within your server) attempting to be a pixelated cat. Though ChatChat has, like so many other novelties before it, lost its player population, the game evokes an interesting question: how important is scale?
I came across the game a little late so I can't really say for certain if ChatChat is capable of hosting thousand of players at one go. It might have been. When I dabbled in the game, I was usually in the company of ten or twelve other like-minded felines at best. Nonetheless, many media outlets had labeled it an MMO as opposed to, well, something else. At first, I wanted to refute that association. ChatChat was, and still is, a tiny adventure. It was impossible to see it as massive.
That said, indie gaming has been re-purposing certain categories. In terms of single-player experiences, we've become okay with visuals spun out of Paint Brush and common-property image sets. Homebrew chip-tunes are greeted with almost as much enthusiasm as orchestral soundtracks. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that standards are lower with indie titles. I'm only stating that they're different.
With that in mind, here's my question: does this sense of acceptance carry over to the issue of size? If we're willing to compromise on photorealism, doesn't this mean we should reconsider our stance, perhaps, on whether or not games need to be able to support thousands upon thousands of players simultaneously?
Seriously. Let's sit down and think about this for a second. We've enthused about the idea of a stand-alone version of Day Z in a previous Independency column. There it was stated that Dean Hall, the man behind the now infamous mod, 'considers 100-200 players “easily achievable”, so the main limitation is the size of the map at this point.' Not too many twitched at that figure (or complained overtly about the presence of the mod on this website either).
I've talked to plenty of developers about the prospect of developing an indie MMO. By and large, most of them have shied away from the concept. Many claimed it was too ambitious a project to undertake. Why? Because dealing with that many players felt an impossible challenge for those with a limited budget.
Though I'm not condoning the idea of us using the MMO acronym in conjunction with games that are only capable of housing twenty or so people, it's still something to ponder. If developers weren't pressured to come up with some way to potentially deal with ten thousand people at a time, would we see more indie MMOs? More importantly, would we see more indie MMOs survive the conceptualization process and enter actual production?
Or would it simply dilute the genre further? What do you think? Does size matter? Either way, if you have even more than a passing affection for cats, you should probably give ChatChat a whirl.
Read more of Cassandra's "Independency" columns.