On February 28th, 2018, the servers to From Software’s Demon’s Souls will be going offline permanently. In a way, this is something like a eulogy for the game that helped change the way video games are talked about today.
I can give a glowing recommendation to play Demon’s Souls if you’ve never experienced it before, but a lot of what I want to get into is how the game is different now than it used to be.
Without online capabilities, the game loses much of the mechanics that players expect a Souls game to be defined by. Drop in and drop out multiplayer will be gone, and with it the ability to guide other players by leaving messages. The experience of playing the game will be fundamentally changed after February 28th, but that could maybe be a good thing.
My generation (and future generations to note) have a complex question to answer about digital property and our own nostalgia. Almost every console has a library to us that is wholly available at the press of a button.
Yet as these consoles become obsolete, we have to reckon with libraries that could become impossible to explore, as servers are taken down that support key titles. Massively Multiplayer Online Games and the internet in general has shaped the way we play and interact with each other in digital spaces. The question I’m speaking of that we’re tasked with answering is how do we archive these Massively Multiplayer Online Experiences.
Should servers somehow stay online indefinitely? Do we need to create institutions to research new ways of archiving increasingly complex software? Or in the case of games like Destiny or Demon’s Souls, when those games are tied to community involvement do we even need some way of archiving communities themselves?
I don’t have the answers to those questions beyond knowing that there are groups and individuals out there right now thinking of the future of these pieces of art and how to keep them around.
Beyond knowing that there are people out there actively trying to settle those questions, I don’t have a lot of answers myself. My suggestion is one that is particular to Demon’s Souls itself though, and maybe one that I have been mulling around for certainly too long.
Demon’s Souls server hierarchy should not be archived, and is an essential part of the Demon’s Souls experience that the world be allowed to die.
THE LAST WORD: DEMON’S SOULS
Blanketed in an endless white fog, the land of Boletaria is where the player finds themselves voyaging to at the very start of Demon’s Souls.
Boletaria is a place of little warmth. With neither the bonfires offering occasional respite to help mark where you have been and have not of later Souls games, or the friendly, eccentric NPC’s that those games often rely on to provide a sense of camaraderie for lonely players.
You are met by few solemn comforts in Demon’s Souls. Outside of co op there are sparse messages left by others, and ever present bloodstains from those who met untimely deaths. Where the messages of later games are relatively robust, messages here are usually only the briefest and as for new players, are usually useless joke messages. White summon signs indicate those looking to assist, and every area is still under constant thread of invasion from others.
From the crumbling architecture to the notable fact that all of the friendly NPC’s tend to be imprisoned when found, a lot of time is spent alone. Getting to know the different paths and shortcuts through areas. Building an intimate knowledge of enemy encounters. The players journey is a relatively solitary one, only broken up by the many times the player must return to the nexus.
There’s this sense of hostility lingering over the game that is almost immeasurable. The areas of Demon’s Souls seem larger and ready to topple over the player at almost any moment, like the last frayed wall between the player and utter obliteration. Before the marketed contrivance of things like the “Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition” there was the simple fact that the world of Boletaria ultimately cared little for the adventurers inhabiting it.
Central to this is the way the story unfolds, with the most important revelation happening right in the middle of the game: The world is in an unavoidable, steady decline that can only be prolonged but never stopped. With none of the grandiosity that later games would afford, Demon’s Souls asks that the player either be complicit in the cycle or abandon it.
Initially when I heard that the servers to Demon’s Souls would be taken offline, I was really upset. As an important part of even the recent history of video games, Demon’s Souls deserved to stick around in the state that players have been familiar with. In thinking that there’s something the game only has by being online, I never realized I was starting to think of the game just as content meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
Yet there are already massive online libraries dedicated to archiving most things Demon’s Souls. From the many different iterations running on wiki software to huge collections of videos dedicated to exploring the game. Most of the work that could be done by archivists is almost already completed.
Just a few years ago the lifetime of the servers had actually already been prolonged once, in a way that mirrors one of the endings available to the player. The opportunity to prolong the life of the game was presented and taken with no questions asked. I myself reasoned back then that Demon’s Souls was important enough as game that it should always be able to be experienced as the developers intended.
Demon’s Souls status as a video game might ultimately mirror that of the world inside. I can’t say if this is ever what the developer intended, but there’s novelty in the idea that one day soon the cycle of the world will ultimately come to a final close. That Boletaria will be as cold, silent and lonely as the game itself becomes. A final quiet note for a game about a dying world on its way out.
Maybe that’s why I eventually started coming around to the idea that the multiplayer functionality isn’t as important to the game as we think – the game will obviously still exist after the servers are taken down.
What form then will the game take? The primary state of the game i.e. one of an unexplored world slowly being unearthed as systems and mechanics are discovered and discussed by players is chiefly tied to the time of the original release.
Like I mention earlier, now Demon’s Souls is mostly joke and/or juvenile sexist messages about the occasional NPC that is a woman. In private discussions about the game, I’ve noticed I have a tendency to tell people that they “had to be there” to experience the game that people are thinking of when they write about it. Through the growth of the community the experience a player might have with the game has already been fundamentally changed.
That idea that we might collectively have to tell people again, that they “had to be there” is of great interest to me. It gives the sense that Demon’s Souls stripped of its online servers would be then a final, and perfect mirror of the world the game is set in. Boletaria is a land where the King has gone mad and legends only exist in whispers found in the history of objects and locations.
Isn’t it also right for that to be the final state of Demon’s Souls itself? A game that no longer has the touch of other players on it – that much of the game exists somewhere locked away, the players have left nothing but a cold silence that makes its way through the catacombs and chambers of each area. I doubt that that was the intention of the developers to be the final state of the game – but it almost feels like it’s worth the well wishing to believe it might have been.
One of the endings to Demon’s Souls has the player taking up a role detailed in the games lore. One that allows the player to stave off the colorless white fog and allow the kingdom of Boletaria to return to peace, if only temporarily.
Archiving the game with the servers intact almost feels just as much like prolonging the inevitable as that ending does, when the real answer looks us right in the face and asks us to allow the world to come to a conclusion the world was going to come to all along.