The day that Dark Souls III [official site] arrived on Steam, the multiplayer functionality for Dark Souls I mysteriously died. No messages, no invasions, no human helpers, no ghosts, no bloodstains. Your world was no longer a vibrant place, riddled through with the lives (and deaths) of others. People spoke of deliberate closure, to cause a migration to the new game, while others thought servers had been moved from one to the other for less sinister reasons but with the same end-result.
Last night, the servers came back online, leading to much praising of the sun. But what actually caused the lights to go out in Lordran?
Thanks to a behind the scenes peek at the Steam database entry for Dark Souls, we can see the days when the multiplayer toggle was switched on and off. When "usemms" is set to '1', multiplayer appears to work and when it's set to '0' (the points where the entry appears in red to show deletion), multiplayer is down. The mms variable appears to have been added on or around the 8th April, before the release of Dark Souls III, and was activated immediately. It was switched off a couple of days before launch, then reactivated briefly before being disabled again shortly after launch.
That downtime lasted for a full week, which explains how the issue became so well known. A few isolated incidents might be dismissed but a week of empty worlds across the entire PC Dark Souls community was impossible to miss. Publishers Bandai Namco did acknowledge the downtime but haven't yet provided any information as to how or why the multiplayer went missing for so long. We've contacted the company for comment.
Dark Souls multiplayer can be slightly obscure even when it's working. If you load up the game and don't see any messages or bloodstains, chances are you've failed to connect. It's worth quitting out of Steam entirely and restarting in case those database changes haven't come through. I've managed to get online but haven't had a chance to test invasions or cooperative play.
One possibility, if you want to test (or simply play) connectivity with specific people is the Dark Souls Connectivity Mod. I've never used it myself but it sounds like a very useful tool, particularly for second or third playthroughs when the mystery of the multiplayer isn't the main draw, and you might simply want to play with a friend.
Dark Souls has two problems that make it difficult to pair with specific players. The first is that many players often experience not finding any nodes (connections) after logging on. The second is that even if they do start gathering nodes, there's no guarantee that one of them will be their friend and they may have to wait a long time to find them.
DSCM offers remedies for both of these issues. By entering a player's Steam64 ID (the readme includes instructions on how to find it), you can find and pair with a specific player, even if both start with 0 nodes. To help gather random connections, connecting to another player who has successfully built up some nodes should then help kickstart your own node growth.