#104: Helping hands

Summon one another as spirits, cross the gaps between the worlds...

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My old Destiny raid team had a simple motto: ‘shoot the men and don’t die’. I was never good enough at either of those things, to be honest, and I’m pretty sure I was letting the side down most Tuesday nights. Sometimes I was just the sixth man, making up the numbers; most of the time they had me along because we’d been playing together for months, I was good fun on comms, and I didn’t turn toxic when things were going badly. A raid team often needs someone like that, even if they do spend all night dying.

I was quite good at Destiny. I really was, actually! But I was never very good at raids. There is just a bit too much to think about: I can shoot the men and not die, sure, but I cannot solve complex spatial puzzles at the same time, or remember which plate I am supposed to be standing on at a particular stage in the fight. I played in a perpetual state of anxiety, afraid — no, convinced — that I was going to die, and we’d have to restart, and everyone would be furious with me but be too nice to say anything about it, which as we all know is far worse than just getting a bollocking. It was painful stuff at times, sure. But I was always grateful for the carry. Raids are great fun, when you win them anyway. With the help of a generous team of far more capable players, I had more than my fair share of victories.

That’s always been a bit of a theme with Destiny. A ‘sherpa’ community sprang up around the game, with forums and websites full of veterans offering to help out the less experienced. I love stuff like that. So much of today’s online multiplayer landscape is competitive; even the games with a co-operative element — squadding up in a battle royale, say — have terrifically high stakes. Every so often, though, a game comes along in which players not only work together, but can actually help each other out. Where you can help less-skilled players surmount challenges that they would be otherwise unable to, and see parts of the game that, if not for you, would remain forever inaccessible. That’s quite sweet, I think; it feels nice, whichever end of the arrangement you’re on. I find it puzzling that it’s still so rare.

I was reminded of all this the other day while playing Elden Ring. (Yes, we’re talking about that again. I realise this is a newsletter about the game industry, but there’s not much happening out there biz-wise and, let’s be honest, none of us are exactly thinking about anything else right now, are we.) I’d spent the weekend inching my way through a late-game area — struggling along, running away from things, dying a lot, the usual. I got to the midboss and he went down first time. Then I found the area’s proper boss; same again. Hey, I thought. I’m pretty good at this! Amazing, even. Perhaps I’ll put my summon sign down outside the boss door, offering my services in co-op. Maybe someone out there is struggling and needs some help. Early in a FromSoft game’s life, the servers are packed. There are quite a lot of strugglers out there, it turns out. I spent a lovely, relaxing, very un-FromSoft hour or so helping fellow wanders smash Margott, The Omen King to smithereens.

For all the interminable discussion around the level of challenge in FromSoftware’s games, I think the transformative power of their co-op element is too often overlooked. (I suspect this stems from the fact that reviewers, who kick off the conversation around these things, are playing before release when the servers are empty and must face bosses on their own — with a light dusting of ‘git gud’ elitism from the less pleasant members of the games’ communities —  but that’s by the by.) Yes, FromSoft games are very difficult indeed. But I cannot think of another developer that bestows upon the player such a powerful escape route from its toughest challenges. A way to simplify a difficult fight, and bring the seemingly impossible within reach. To be able to say to someone: hey, you got five minutes? I need some help with something.

My Destiny team knew everything about me as a player. They knew which class and subclass I was using. They could inspect my build, see my weapons and gear, even scrutinise my tech tree. But when I offer my services in Elden Ring my summoner knows nothing about me. They don’t know my level, how many hours I’ve played or how good I am at the game (phew!), and can only guess at my fighting style from the clothes I am wearing and the weapon in my hand. And they don’t care! There is no LFG snootiness here, no mandatory door policy for entry to this party. My availability is the only criteria that matters. I am a spare and willing pair of hands, and sometimes, in a FromSoft game as in life, that is all you really need. And I am only too happy to help. The stakes for me are terrifically low: a fat glob of Runes to level up with if we win, and nothing lost if we fail. Boss fights in these games are supposed to be hard, but in this way, over time, they become oddly, pleasantly relaxing.

We talk a lot about what makes FromSoftware’s games unique. Their corkscrewing, interlocking level design. Their inscrutability, their flexibility, their challenge; most of all, about how all those things combine, and the way they make us feel. But we do not talk often enough about co-op. No other game evokes in me the sensation I get when I help someone beat a FromSoft boss — that sense of vicarious elation when some horrific beast falls away to ash, and your summoner jumps for joy. How long had they been stuck there? Hours? Days? No matter. That was my hand reaching down over the precipice, helping people up to the top of the mountain. Jolly cooperation indeed.


  • There’s trouble at t’mill at The Initiative, the Santa Monica studio set up by Microsoft in 2018 which is currently busy with a Perfect Dark reboot. A sizeable chunk of the development team has quit in the past 12 months, according to VGC, suggesting a far greater role for recently announced development partner Crystal Dynamics than previously thought. At fault is, at least in part, the top-down methodology employed by studio head Darrell Gallagher and since-departed game director Daniel Neuberger, which has slowed development to a crawl. All very familiar to paid subscribers who read Max HP at the weekend.
  • Former Nintendo Of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé is at SXSW, and fired a few shots in a keynote interview filmed by Bloomberg. In his crosshairs were Gamestop, the US retailer on whose board he briefly sat after leaving Nintendo (“I had pretty strong opinions on how the business needed to be pivoted, but I was rebuffed”) and Meta, née Facebook, which he says is “not an innovative company. They have either acquired really interesting things — like Oculus, like Instagram — or they have been a fast follower of other people’s ideas.”
  • Warren Spector is no longer working on System Shock 3. The fate and state of the game, first announced in 2015, has been uncertain since the vaguely worded announcement in 2020 that Tencent would be taking the project forward. Spector tells VentureBeat he hasn’t worked on it since 2019.
  • In the same interview, Spector calls NFTs “ridiculous”, which is nice. I did wonder if we were turning a corner with this stuff — Google Trends are certainly encouraging on the subject — but then a friend alerted me to the existence of the Gartner hype cycle, and I’m no longer so sure. I was quite struck by this GI.biz editorial, which reveals that a number of blockchain gaming companies are now keeping quiet about the blockchain bit in the hope of cheesing their way to some coverage (an approach some studios are also seemingly taking in their recruitment efforts). So, no, it’s not over yet, I’m afraid. If it helps, some wab lost a million dollars after listing a picture of a rock in the wrong cryptocurrency.
  • Speaking of stupid people, behold this redpill weirdo who thought sneaking weirdly sexualised anti-mask rhetoric into his game’s patch notes was a good idea. It’s been review-bombed into oblivion, obviously.
  • Microsoft is urging us to switch our Xboxes to Energy Saver mode, as part of its drive to become carbon negative by 2030. A recent system update means that games and updates can now be downloaded in the mode, which offers a twentyfold reduction in energy consumption compared to Instant On. Seems like a no-brainer, really.
  • Tencent has taken a majority stake in TequilaWorks, the Madrid developer of Rime.
  • Elden Ring has had the most successful European launch of any new IP since Tom Clancy’s The Division in 2016. There’s lovely.
  • Ghostwire Tokyo has six graphics settings, which I have to say feels like three too many.
  • There’s a State Of Play devoted to Hogwarts Legacy on Thursday, which is unfortunate timing given that JK Rowling appears to be At It Again. Does rather lay plain the struggles that Avalanche’s wizarding open-worlder will face whenever it comes out, whatever its eventual quality.
  • Here’s a bunch of mods that turn Sifu into a Matrix game that I simply must play immediately.
  • Likewise, this portable GameCube.

There we go. A huge, hearty, only-slightly-intimidated welcome to the more than 100 new signups lured here by the weekend’s one-two punch of the latest instalment of Max HP and the republishing on Lovely Eurogamer of last week’s piece on the Souls discourse. Hit Points has somehow gained over 250 new readers in the last 11 days.

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My schedule’s a bit complex this week — a Covid-related closure at the younger spawn’s nursery, a teacher-training day at the elder hellbeast’s school — so Hit Points will now leave you alone until Friday. Have a great few days, and I’ll see you then.