Thursday, February 11, 2016

4.59. High Time for Heroics

Mature and Mortalsend prepare to execute Lord Rhyolith,
Firelands

Pokemon Trainers Are Lousy Humanitarians

The next raid weekend of August 5th and 7th gave us an opportunity to bask in the glory of a full Firelands clear. We took our time, relaxed, and raided with the intent on simply gearing. This was an opportunity for some guildies to take a break, if needed. Fred, Turtleman, and even Blain himself took a weekend off. I encouraged it, and appreciated that they were able to wait until getting over the hump before invoking vacation.

Jungard took on raid leadership in Blain's absence, and he, in turn, used the opportunity to boost Bonechatters' real-world experience as melee lead. Training your replacement seems depressing, but it is a necessary evil. You do it when you care about your group, even if it means you won't be a part of the group much longer. For as many virtual flips of the middle finger that guildies gave me over the years, I took comfort that the people I put in charge were the very ones who gave the most of themselves when there was no expectation of personal gain. They wanted DoD to be successful, even if they weren't a part of it.

I took this where I could get it; not all guildies shared the selflessness of Jungard. We didn't all create an account back in Nov. of 2004 and, going in for the first time, ask ourselves how much work can we put into someone else's guild? More likely, we hungered for exploration, killing monsters, doing quests. We found a class that was fun for us to play, and wished to play it the best we possibly could. And in doing so, we'd drape the rewards of our play across that character, adoring them with the weapons and armor acquired from each subsequent victory. Our motivations were entirely selfish, right out of the gate. That wasn't wrong -- that's games. When you fire up a game, you're doing it for you.

World of Warcraft is interesting. It starts like that, just like any other game. As time goes on, a potential alternate future emerges. Your efforts are no longer directed solely inward. What you do in-game has repercussions on the virtual community around you. And while it may be true that you are always following a subtle path of self-satisfaction, in growing your own prestige, others reap the benefits of your success, growing in kind. You login so that others may become powerful. 

This notion flies in the face of gaming in general. The first line of the Pokemon theme song is not "I want someone else to be the very best," and championship tournaments would be a laughing stock if the goal was to help your fellow player get the prize. Yet that is what WoW is. When you run a dungeon, other players reap the rewards. When you hop into a battleground, other players share in your victory. When you work with other players to defeat a boss, everyone benefits from the experience (and a few might even walk away with some loot). For a game built on an industry that is, by its very nature, self-serving, World of Warcraft is an extremely efficient medium to helping others.

Replacing them faster than they could leave was the real challenge.

We'd picked up new recruits: Megadoch the warrior, Gharghael the shaman, and they were eagerly welcomed to the roster. But both were DPS, and healing was the ever growing challenge to fill. The constant presence of Fred's holy paladin was now exclusively resto shaman. And the demand for other healing classes continued to grow. Syphira was one such recruit. Hailing from northern Alberta, she brought priest heals to the table, and had raid experience ready to wield. There was no time to get people up-to-speed. She hit the ground running that lax Aug 5th weekend, and was ready to join progression the week after.

But I needed more than simply "a priest". We needed druids, priests and shamans. I needed a (Vanilla) Dalans, a Breginna, a Kadrok, a Haribo, a Neps. I needed another Kerulak. Not even my own tool, Wowlemmings.com, was able to satisfy this request. Perhaps there was interest inside the roster? 

I put feelers out amongst the core, in the off-chance that any of them were considering a role flip. One such player was Mortalsend. Still new to the guild (relatively speaking) she'd held a dominant role in the roster pouring warlock dps into raids since the start of Cataclysm. But, she confided that she was considering working up a resto druid alt, feeling the tug of the healing meters drawing her in, compelling her to some life saving spells for a change. I encouraged her to pursue it, as I had an equal challenge to have to deal with, and it wasn't to simply stave off attrition.

The Irony of Lexxii

Lexxii had grown to become a real problem. Since her demotion from healing lead, she was more obstinate and argumentative. Nearly every healing assignment Fred handed her was rebutted with disdain and and a disgusted air of superiority. Every assignment was wrong, and none was good enough for her to not comment on.

It had been months since the "outing" -- the moment I chose to swap Lexxii for Fred. I'd taken great pains to ease that transition, being firm yet fair. The politically correct me spun the demotion with just enough clarity to give her something to think about. Perhaps Lexxii needed to hear a harder truth. Perhaps if I'd demoted her by telling her she hadn't fooled anyone, that her "skills" were manufactured, and that the most telling evidence of this was her staunch denial in the face of irrefutable evidence that she was spec'ing however the hell she damn well felt like, her behavior after the fact would have been a more...reserved. Perhaps a bit more controlled, even (dare I suggest it) mature.

I doubted it. For the secret was not that Lexxii had grown to become a real problem -- it was that she always was a problem; a problem protected by a thick gamer shell that had been slowly peeled back over the course of her stay. Whether it was discussing JavaScript library or holy priests specs, it wouldn't matter. Once her mind was made up, it became truth to her. And everyone else was full of shit.

The most recent protective tissue peeled from Lexxii revealed a fantastic new feature. For the first time since her induction into DoD, Lexxii was showing up late to progression with inexcusable reasons she didn't even bother trying to hide.

Late night partying. Drinking. Dates. Movies. Whatever.

I'm fine with guildies changing their priorities. I'm not fine with them leaving me out of the loop. Party animal or not, Lexxii had twenty-four other human beings relying on her. I guess its easy to forget that. After all, it's just a video game.

Lexxii was most certainly on her way out. Yet in an ironic twist, I forced myself to stick to the guild rule of three consistent lates as grounds for expulsion from the roster, even after I broke my own rules in order to accelerate her acceptance -- a choice that ultimately backfired, and one I regret. 

The Lexxii situation was rife with irony, in fact. A long standing guildy that suffered his own expulsion as a result of mistreating her, Bulwinkul, was now a model citizen, and diligently brought his shadow priest Stimpi to progression. He spoke not a word to Lexxii, which was probably for the best. Bul was simply a good guy with a bad temper (I could relate), and he'd cleaned up his act. 

For Lexxii, there was nothing to clean up. This is who she was.

I gave Mortalsend the green light to start gearing her resto druid, as it was very likely she may be called upon to replace a certain holy priest.

"But you're still looking for healers, too?" Mortal asked.

"Whatever I can find."

Mature poses next to newest recruit Gharghael the Shaman,
Firelands

Doggy Daycare

Heroic: Firelands work officially began August 12th, starting with the very first boss, Shannox. In moving from normal to heroic, our attention shifted from dogs as ancillary annoyance, to dogs as the primary focus of the strategy.

Killing Shannox's twin devil dogs was no longer realistic. Rageface's health grew astronomically, and Riplimb gained the ability to self-rez if dispatched. Not only were the mutts perpetual thorns in our side for the duration of the heroic attempts, their attack methods changed. Now, they each gained a stack of Feeding Frenzy each time they sank their teeth into one of our players. Feeding Frenzy increased their damage by 5% per stack, lasting 20 seconds. Any viable strategy had to be constructed in such a way as to assume both dogs were constantly alive, yet still allow us a way to drop those stacks.

Twenty seconds, in raid time, feels like an eternity, so strategizing a way to avoid attacks for that amount of time meant bouncing the dogs from target-to-target -- easy when you are a tank, not so easy when you are a caster, and only have a thin layer of cloth between you and demonic fangs. There was another option, however: turning Shannox's own attacks against his pets.

As in the normal version, Shannox tossed Crystal Prison Traps across the play field. Arming in a mere two seconds, these traps would encase anything that touched them in a block of ice...friend or foe. More than one DoD raider found themselves frozen solid, forcing DSP to peel off and shatter the ice. But if we could somehow lure the dogs into the traps, we could move people away from Riplimb and/or Rageface long enough to allow the stacks of Feeding Frenzy to drop.

Trapping each dog required separate tactics. Blain handled Riplimb, ensuring he trapped his attacker by dragging the creature over Crystal Prisons that were called out throughout the fight. Timing was crucial: Blain had to trap Riplimb before Shannox tossed his spear across the terrain. During this hellish game of fetch, Riplimb was immune to traps during the return trip to its master. So, in preparing for a Launch Spear, Blain would find an ice trap and drag Riplimb into it. Success in this tactic allowed us to double-dip: Blain could drop his stacks of Feeding Frenzy, and Amatsu could similarly drop his Jagged Tear stacks (as Shannox would be unable to Arcing Slash without his spear).

As for trapping Rageface, the rest of the raid inherited dog duty. Untankable, unkillable, constantly moving and sewing pandemonium throughout the raid, he was the biggest threat to the unravelling of the strategy. Face Rage would pin and kill players in moments if DPS did not switch fast enough to break him loose from a target. Rageface could also trigger Shannox's other traps, and an accidentally triggered Immolation Trap granted Rageface the "wary" debuff, preventing him from being trapped in a crystal prison for a short amount of time. 

A raid strategy that carefully alternated between trapping each dog could quickly come apart when you discovered your dog was untrappable.

Suddenly, stacks of Feeding Frenzy metastasized across your roster. Exacerbated by any fire damage incurred from the spiraling death explosion with every Launched Spear, death was quick. A wipe was guaranteed, the most painful kind of wipe. You enjoyed the luxury of watching your raid unravel at the seven minute mark, as one mistake lead to another, eventually collapsing in on itself.

All four hours of August 12th's raid were sunk into learning the Heroic: Shannox encounter. Returning on Sunday, August 14th, We spent two more hours on Shannox, yet a kill remained just out of reach. After the bio break, we dumped the raid lock back to Normal, and cleared Shannox, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Alysrazor, and Baleroc, to keep spirits up, and get a shot at gearing the new warrior.

We'd be back. The salamander's heroic days were numbered.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

State of the Union: Aug 2011

The 25-Man progression team celebrates their clear of
Firelands by returning to clean-up Heroic: Chimaeron,
Blackwing Descent
The following post was made to the "Descendants of Draenor - Announcements" forum on August 12th, 2011.

---

25-Man Progression: Update

I'd like to take a brief moment and acknowledge all the hard work and dedication that has gone into the 25m Progression at the start of 4.2. As you may or may not know, Blain laid out plans for our approach to the 25m Firelands work in his "Upcoming Plans" post. In a nutshell, he expressed concern about self-doubt and complacency that was inadvertently set in motion during WotLK, with players becoming "crybabies" about gear and not believing enough in their own skill and performance to pull off boss kills. The adjusted approach was that we would be pushing progression much harder, in lieu of weekly clears, so that we could get on to the real work: 25m Heroics. 

The result of that behavior shift was a full clear of 25m Firelands broken down by the following weeks:

Week 1: Shannox, Baleroc, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith
Week 2: (Extended) Alysrazor
Week 3: Shannox, Baleroc, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Alysrazor, Majordomo Fandral Staghelm
Week 4: (Extended) Ragnaros (attempts)
Week 5: Ragnaros defeated.

Without going back through the calendar and totaling everything up, I can say with reasonably good accuracy that our clears of 25m Blackwing Descent and 25m Bastion of Twilight took an order of magnitude longer...and an official 25m clear of Throne of the Four Winds didn't even happen until the last week before 4.2 was released!

You should not have to be a statistician to see that this is an improvement of astronomical proportions.

I'm very proud to see that the 25m Progression Team has buckled down, changed their attitudes regarding the "gear-crutch", and focused on what really allows us to be successful--taking personal responsibility for themselves, their play, their skill--and pushing each other to do the same. This has resulted in teamwork that only Fortune 500 companies could dream of having.

...but we're not done yet!

Mature successfully executes all
named targets in a bombing run,
Molten Fields
Now that the officers and I are comfortable that the team is on board and ready to dive into 25m Heroics without the gear excuse at their side, we are pushing our team-polishing direction toward the player him/herself, and more aggressively holding players accountable, not just for their play, but for their attitude and behaviors. I don't like dealing in abstracts; I'm more of a concrete thinker, so if you are the same, here are some real examples of things we're going to be looking at, and taking very seriously moving forward:

- Players with wonderfully positive attitudes and fiercely loyal dedications to the raid and guild...that are not improving their play. Attitude and Skill go hand-in-hand in team-based exercises. We need both at the top of their game, and as much as we love people who love to be here, we cannot handicap progression by poor performers who remain poor performers. Remember, this guild is about empowering you to improve. Do it, and problems are solved. Remain in denial -- and we will be benching you. This holds doubly true for players that disconnect a lot. In many cases you are at the whim of your ISP, but there are many settings on your computer and network can be tweaked, and most players do not realize this. Your DCs handicap progression so if you are DCing, take ownership! Make it a project to do what you can to research / resolve anything about your connection.

- Players who debate officers openly in public (Vent or Raid Chat) about strategy and decision-making. During a raid, it is inappropriate behavior. It slows our attempts and can serve to break your team rapport down--Remember, the officers are in their role for a reason: they have demonstrated sound knowledge regarding strategy and role management--and if you're not comfortable with their decisions, take it to them (or me) after the raid. If you think you can do a better job, maybe you should push for a promotion? Just...not during a raid. Keep in mind that you have 24 other individuals who are most often on the same page as the officers...so by you openly debating them, you only serve to alienate yourself...and that's the start of team breakdown.

Mature and fellow guild members try to
get a patch of nature to sprout,
Molten Fields
- Players who are defiant in taking suggestions / recommendations about adjustments to their specs / gear / UI / play. You are not a WoW God. If you were, you most likely would be in a world-first raiding guild. A perfect example of this is healers who insist on using default raid frames for healing, as opposed to investigating the wide-array of mods available to assist you in your duties. Yes, it is very true that there are extremely good healers who use the default raid frames, and you might even see that a lot in kill videos...

...it's because they are world first guilds. They have mind-numbingly FAST reflexes. Do you? Before you answer...check our WorldOfLogs guild reports. Have you ever died accidentally in the fire? If so, I don't believe you have lightning-fast reflexes. Consider an addon. Work smarter, not harder.

- Players who are not a part of the team. Signing up every week, being rotated in, doing your job and doing it well are all fantastic attributes...but they mean nothing, if you aren't respected by the rest of your team. Respect is earned, not granted via a rank in the guild. Respect comes from being credible. You are credible if you do what you say...and say what you do. It is not enough to say that you are respectful to your fellow guildies...you have to prove it by your actions, and how you communicate with them. Demonstrating laziness, passive-aggressiveness and/or narcissism are all very fast ways of losing respect from your fellow guild. When that happens, the team has fractured and you need to be benched, even if you are a star player.

In summary, the officers and I are going to be actively looking into these issues more aggressively into 25m Heroics. As always, I am constantly recruiting and bringing new faces into the mix who are passionate about WoW and Raiding, and would love a shot at your spot. If you want to keep your spot, we want you to as well! And you can do so...by eliminating the behaviors listed above.

-- Hanzo

Thursday, January 28, 2016

4.58. Part of a Complete Breakfast

"Ragnar'Os"
Artwork By Wayanoru

By Fiber Be Purged!

"Out of the middle, Black."

"Can't really move if I'm not connected!"

I could hear the tension rising.

"Ok! Ok...everything's...fine. It happens. If we lose you, we lose you."

The raid's positioning for phase two was similar to that of phase one, save for a slight adjustment -- a wide gap in the middle of the platform, free of bodies. We gave Rag a clear view to the entryway, well behind us in the rear of the throne room. We did so with intent.

"We won't lose her," added Fred.

"Molten Seeds! Group!"

Twenty of us spawned glowing orbs of fire at our individual positions. These orange dots painted an outline around the edges of the platform. The tanks shifted along the edge of the platform towards the center-most position, and the rest of the raid raced forward, collapsing on the tanks. A bright yellow shell emerged from a priest, shielding the roster. Heals leapt across the group. Seconds later, the Molten Seeds burst, creating a Molten Inferno, blanketing the entire room with flames.

The key to dealing with the onslaught of Molten Inferno damage was keeping that middle area wide open, pre-seeds. Once we collapsed on the tanks, it became the only safe haven on the platform; it was the furthest point away from the Molten Seeds, presently hemorrhaging lava. The further away from the seeds, the less damage we endured. On this round, we only had to worry about the intense heat from one seed, spawned underneath a very immobile Blackangus.

"Coming back," she said, working her way through the login screen. The progress bar slowly grew across the horizontal footer of the instance art -- WoW's backdrop that divided the open world from personalized dungeon/raid instances. As the Molten Inferno subsided, the tauren regained mobility. Blackangus's life had been spared, thanks to an extra dose of protective measures from a sharp healing officer.

"You got off easy," Jungard said, as the raid spread back out, "next one won't be!"

Phase two had another new mechanic in store for us. A crescent-shaped swath of fire would rise up from the platform and stretch across its entire length. This row of flame came in three positions: inner, middle, and outer. Depending on where you stood for your role, you might have to hightail it out of there, racing forward or backward as needed. Between dodging the emerging fire from the platform, the Lava Waves spawned during each Sulfuras Smash, and ensuring players returned to their spread out locations (keep that middle open!), phase two pushed our multitasking abilities into overdrive.

We danced across the platform, chipping away at the towering inferno's health bar, until it was time for the second round of Molten Inferno. And this time, as Jungard alluded, it wouldn't be as easy. The cooldown on Sulfuras Smash was staggered such that the next one...would coincide with Molten Inferno.

The position we were to collapse to was the very location Ragnaros planned to strike.

Handling a simultaneous occurrence of both Molten Inferno and Sulfuras Smash was so simple, it felt like cheating; we grouped up in our original, central position, but scooted forward until our digital toes dangled over the precipice separating us from a lava bath. If positioned correctly, Sulfuras would smash down into the platform behind us, allowing us to avoid its deadly impact, as our collective AoE healing spammed its way through the inferno.

Of course, a disconnected Boomkin would have likely taken an orange hammer to the face -- the likes of which no healing officer could hope to keep someone alive through.

Submerged, Mature's lifeless body watches as the
 25-Man progression team pulls off a clutch defeat of Ragnaros,
Firelands

Two Scoops, Executus!

Second verse, same as the first. When his health dipped below 40%, Ragnaros buried Sulfuras in the platform, dove beneath the molten surface, and the Sons of Flame greeted us again. The raid fought to slow, stun, even Death Grip them away from the orange hammer. Averting a messy death was a worthy cause.

Amatsu and Blain raced to pick up the two new spawns: Lava Scions, an elemental that looked to be a cross between earth and fire, and its armor was similarly decorated with the runes of the Spire.

The Sons took priority, given the risk they posed. Amatsu and Blain dragged the Lava Scions just right-of-center, near the inner edge of the platform. Once the last Son fell, DPS immediately shifted to the Scions.

"Mang. Watch your feet."

"AH GOD, I'M ON FIRE!", Mangetsu cried out over Vent in mock terror, scrambling to the back of the platform.

The Lava Scions had hit him with Blazing Heat. The flaming trail left behind by each victim not only inflicted serious damage to the raid, they would heal the Lava Scions if brought too closely. Amatsu and Blain had to continually shift and adjust, moving the elementals away from any fiery footsteps. The tanks didn't have much room to breathe when shifting -- they still had to stay within range of Ragnaros. Stationary bosses in World of Warcraft don't traditionally fare well when a tank isn't near. Or rather, the raid doesn't fare well.

It is at this point, dear reader, where things got...hairy.

At the start of phase three, here is a rundown of what was on our plate:
  • Ragnaros is still swinging Sulfuras, at times performing Sulfuras Smash, sending three Lava Waves out toward the raid.
  • Engulfing Flame is still igniting an entire third of the platform in flames -- that large, moon-shaped path of flame reaching to both ends of our available working space.
  • The tanks are still switching off of Ragnaros, with the hope that the Lava Scions are either dead...or close to it. Every extra second they remain alive runs the risk of forcing another player to paint a path of flames across the floor.
With wracked nerves, low mana, and a lot to be watching, the 25-man team had one final mechanic to deal with. It was a sadistic, evil sort of mechanic, one typical of those cruel designers at Blizzard. At the same time, it was a mechanic very worthy of a boss as epic as Ragnaros.

Giant meteors...and when I say "giant", I mean they reached as high as Ragnaros’ upper torso...began to appear around the platform. These meteors immediately latched onto a random player, indicated by a thin, red beam. Once locked onto a target, the meteors began to roll. Gigantic fiery bowling balls rolled across the platform, seeking their pin, a player frantically rushing to the other side of the room in a panic. You did not want a strike, unless you were purposefully looking to be catapulted over the side of the platform and down to a fiery death.

This had to be controlled.

Dragging enormous boulders of fire across the platform in a chaotic mess would only lead to other players being knocked off the platform. But, these meteors were massive; far too much health to destroy in any practical sense. The only way to deal with them was for their target to knock the boulders backwards via empowered attacks -- a special boon granted by the very meteor itself.

If you close your eyes, I'd wager you can picture, with reasonable accuracy, the sheer lunacy of what an attempt that falls apart in phase three looks like. Fire bursting out of the ground, in what appears to be from all sides. An array of elemental magic leaving your finger tips, spiraling towards Ragnaros, while an enormous rolling volcano careens through your field of vision. Players flying through the air at random, as they are struck, many times, causing them to fall to a molten death. Waves of lava bursting out of Sulfuras, a surf of fiery tide that's about to ride you. And as you rush to dodge an incoming meteor someone drags your fateful direction, you're instantly cut off by another player, who is screaming and flailing, leaving a trail of flames that boxes you in.

And then...you are struck.

You hurdle backwards.

Next comes the splash.

Don't struggle. No need to swim up.

You incinerate long before you drown.

DoD defeats Ragnaros, completing Tier 12 in normal mode,
Firelands

Taste The Flavors of Sulfuron!

Frame rates were killing us in phase three, and Blackangus wasn't the only one suffering. The visual impact of the massive meteors wreaked havoc on multiple machines, causing players to lock-up or disconnect, only to return to a view of their player, submerged and burning to death after being knocked off the platform. We weren't seeing anything official from Blizzard in the form of a "known issue" being fixed. We had to assume it was us, and adapt accordingly.

The 25-Man team ran the gamut of suggestions, working together to come up with ways to improve system performance. Crank visual fidelity down. Disable sound. Drop your screen resolution. If you're in windowed mode, switch to fullscreen. Disable any excess add-ons that you weren't directly relying on. Our veteran raiders weren't just sharing raid strategy, they were sharing technical expertise from years of troubleshooting problems like these.

Our Ragnaros work began on July 22, 2011, carrying on through July 24, and into the next raid weekend of July 29th. Then, at the end the fourth night of work, July 31st, the panic and chaos of Ragnaros finally came to an end.

At least...I think it came to an end. I can't be too sure. I was at the bottom of a sea of lava when it happened. The guild tells me we were successful. I'll take their word for it.

---

I sat across from my boss, pen in hand, ready to capture any bit of work-related detail I might forget later in the day.

"You're being re-assigned."

I raised an eyebrow.

"The powers that be want you in the new 'Learning and Collaboration' group..."

"...Arch's app?" It was my first thought. I felt compelled to interrupt.

She sighed in disappointment, "We'll need a new person to come in and take it on. Of course, they'll be following your spec to the T."

Well, crap. I really liked Arch. It wasn't often I was able to bond with someone far up the chain of command. But it also wasn't often I was able to find a fellow World of Warcraft player in the workplace.

Solutions, not problems. Keep your eye on the ball.

I sat up straight, "You'll want a transition plan, I'll bet."

"If you know of anyone that'll give the same degree of care to that app as you would, this is your opportunity to hire them. Then, we'll get a project manager to handle resource allocation..."

"...Let me do it."

She seemed surprised, "...you...want...to manage it?"

"I'll find the replacement programmer, hire him, and direct the development."

"Ok, but the other project? You'll manage both developments efforts as well as whatever they give you in L+C?"

"This is important. If the apps just keep changing hands, they're never going to get the attention they deserve." The thought of Arch having to deal with some random development contractor sickened me. I'd seen app neglect in more places than his software. It was time the development side of the fence gained an ally that shared his nerve.

"I'll do weekly stand-ups, keep them on track, and keep you apprised," I pressed my index finger down on her desk, "...this is doable."

She sat back, arms folded, giving me a look as if she was trying to figure out how to clone me.

"Ok," she said, "A full plate it is."

"Don't worry," I replied with a wave of my hand, "I'm an expert at handling a full plate."

Even if means swimming in lava.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

4.57. Mortal Insects

Paragon's 10 vs 25 comparison analysis on Firelands
(Source: paragon.fi)

The Horse's Mouth

An IM window popped up on my desktop. It was from Jungard, "Are we resetting next week?"

"No reason not to. We're mowing through it."

At times, it felt like my perspective was skewed. What was easy and what wasn't? DoD buckled down and ripped Firelands apart, leading us to the final confrontation with Ragnaros on week four. I felt certain we'd have it the next raid weekend. But, where did we fit within the grand scheme of raiders? Had we disciplined ourselves to such a degree that we now approached the hardcore end of the spectrum? Perhaps the content was actually harder than we perceived it to be.

A frame of reference would've have been nice.

"Any objections to taking a core group of folks in tonight to try to wrap it up?"

Jungard wanted to take advantage of one of the 10/25 lock mechanics introduced in Cataclysm. A partially cleared 25-Man lock could be downsized to a 10-Man lock.

"I don't have a problem with it. If Blain and the others are good with it, go ahead. Just...y'know," I cautioned, "try to take people from the 25, eh?"

"Oh, I only plan on taking from the 25."

"Did you see the post that Paragon made?" I shot him the link.

"When'd they make this?"

"Late last night. Break down of the difficulty between 10 and 25."

"I thought there was no difference?"

"Your sarcasm isn't lost on me, Young-gard."

The European-based Paragon was a relatively new world first guild to the raiding scene. They made a name for themselves by being the first guild to down the Lich King in Heroic 25-Man, a major upset to those predicting older, more seasoned guilds like Vodka and Ensidia would maintain the house odds. And Ensidia would have, if it hadn't been for the "clever use of game mechanics".

In Cataclysm, Paragon beat Method to the full clear of Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight, and Throne of the Four Winds. Now, they'd done it again. Paragon was the first guild to complete a full clear of Heroic: Firelands -- in the same amount of time it had taken us to almost clear Normal.

In short, there was no better guild than Paragon to provide an educated, thoughtful analysis on raid difficulty.

"Huh," Jungard commented aloud as he read through Paragon's article, "interesting...they say the first four bosses are pretty much the same. I'd have to agree with that."

"Keep reading."

"Baleroc...first noticeable difference. Oh, wow..." He was getting to the good part, "...huge gap in difficulty between 10 and 25 on Majordomo."

"They claim he's 8-mannable. That’s awful."

Jungard chuckled quietly, "I liked the comment about how the Sons of Flame are 'made of paper' in 10-Man."

"In the end, they basically say the 10-Man tuning has more room for error. You can pay less attention to your roster, make more mistakes, but still have the necessary DPS and Heals to power through."

"That's ironic, considering that's exactly what the 10-Man guilds claim is the reason why their version is more difficult."

Funny how we end up learning the most from people who have nothing to teach.

"Ragnaros"
Artwork by UnidColor

Full Circle

Across the charred, rocky wastes, over the burning bridge, and through the circular carpeted courtyard, the 25-Man progression team made their way up the staircase and into the heart of Sulfuron Spire. Before us lay a narrow corridor, lined with fiery, rune-adorned columns. A sea of lava stretched out on either side of us, onward and down, past the retaining walls that eventually came to an end. A massive throne room was exposed beyond. The 'corridor' was nothing more than another bridge -- one thin platform keeping us from burning alive.

After defeating Lava Wielders that pummeled us with more fiery attacks, we moved out of the corridor and down across yet another bridge. This platform, while still decorated with the familiar fiery runes highlighting the internal decor, was even narrower, more precarious, and lacked a banister. Our safety was of little concern to the lord of this realm.

We inched our way across this bridge, dispatching miniature versions of Magmaw as they emerged from the molten depths on either side. The raiders cut the fireworms down, sending their carcasses flailing and spasming back down into the boiling magma.

Familiar eyes watched us the entire time. That same face, a jack-o-lantern pulled from the inferno of Hell, eyes empty and burning, a gaping jaw pulled wide into a devilish grin. The wall of living flame clutched a familiar weapon in his right hand, idling in a defensive animation, as if waiting to squash invading insects. And, as years before, his torso remained submerged, behind the low, dull rumbling sound of fiery tornadoes, intertwined and amplified by the acoustics of the expansive throne room. Those eyes watched us as we worked our way to him, the fires of a million volcanoes, seeking revenge.

Time (and several expansions of Blizzard expertise) granted Ragnaros greater fidelity. His blackened armor had more depth and majesty; the runes adorning its edges glowed brighter and were more distinguished. And his legendary mace -- perhaps the most recognizable weapon in World of Warcraft to both casuals and hardcores alike -- the titanic spiked hammer, now pulsated with a bright orange plasma which warped and distorted its edges. Sulfuras, the Extinguished Hand, burned with such colossal intensity that it felt as if a permanent imprint would be left in my monitor, like the shadowy screens of arcade machines long past their final play.

The moment was thick with nostalgia, and I paused to reflect. The exact moment DoD transformed from "just a group of WoW players" to an official raiding guild is perhaps a matter of contention. Former members might point to the first day we coordinated 40 players in unison, to begin pulling trash in Molten Core. Others might claim the death of Lucifron as an adequate measure of a guild's evolution. Still others might offer up our first kill of Onyxia, challenging the notion that the dragon's mechanics were far more complex than her strategy read on paper, and anyone claiming she was easy to kill hadn't even set foot in her lair.

For my money, the moment Ragnaros fell was always the defining moment. We overcame the odds of an entire instance, slowly working our way through each boss, while simultaneously grinding out the farming and crafting of fire resistance gear necessary to withstand each molten blow. I don't dismiss Onyxia as one of our first truly great challenges, but it was when Ragnaros fell that all lingering doubt washed away. Onyxia gave us the means to believe in ourselves and that we were capable of being a raiding guild. Ragnaros confirmed it.

I glanced around the room at the twenty-four players standing next to me in throne room, deep in the bowels of Sulfuron Spire, far away from our initial meeting, deep below Blackrock Mountain. I identified only one player from DoD's 40-man lineup from our kill in February of 2006.

It wasn't Turtleman, arguably the one of the longest running members of DoD - he hadn't been present for our first Ragnaros kill.

It wasn't Gunsmokeco or his brother Deathonwings; both had accrued years of tenure in DoD, but neither got to see Ragnaros' defeat by our hand.

You might guess Blain, but he would join us only a few months later, as we struggled to break ground in Blackwing Lair.

It was Klocker. The longest running player in the history of DoD, to that point. We each brought new classes to the table today; he, a paladin, and I, a death knight. But, we would always share a spiritual connection, a bond through our respective original mains - shamans. Side-by-side, our chain heals leapt across a mess of names -- names now nearly forgotten, blurred by time.

[To: Klockerr] Congratulations

[From: Klockerr] For?

[To: Klockerr] Being the last remaining member of DoD present for both kills of Ragnaros

[From: Klockerr] OMG


The 25-Man progression team prepares
for their first pull of Ragnaros,
Firelands

Ragnaros II: Ow, That's #%$! Hot

Ragnaros was split into three phases, sandwiched between two transitions, not unlike his Molten Core incarnation. It began as a traditional tank-and-spank. Blain and Amatsu traded off punitive stacks of fire vulnerability which ate away at their resistance. As the roster pummeled the Elemental Lord of Fire, Ragnaros smashed Sulfuras down onto the platform, sending tri-directional waves of lava outward. Anyone caught in the waves would take massive damage and be thrust backwards toward the entryway.

New to his arsenal was the magma trap, tossed out to random players throughout phase one. These traps were visible on the platform; once armed, the 25-man raid was directed to stay clear of these traps...mostly. Left unchecked, the platform would soon grow overwhelmed with traps. So, we had to selectively trigger them, clearing only what was necessary to execute our strategy.

The traps, like Staghelm's phase switch, ultimately rested in our hands. We had to decide what was too much or too little, with thresholds varying widely across the casual-to-hardcore spectrum. Live dangerously: be more aggressive, bring min/maxxed dps and heals, and trust that your roster is extremely self-aware...and you might be able to leave the platform with many traps.

Might.

Or, opt for containment: take a more cautious approach, measure DPS, prioritize payer safety by clearing more traps from the platform and leave enough time to heal those who sacrifice themselves in the trap's explosion -- and the run the risk of a wipe as the fight drags on.

Phase one struck a balance that could appeal to both casuals and hardcores, but I suspect the ingenuity of this design went largely underappreciated.

At 70% health, Ragnaros took a final swing of Sulfuras, burying the head of the spiked mace into the platform and disappearing beneath the lava's surface. Across the entirety of the platform, his familiar Sons of Flame spawned, all slowly moving towards the mace. If any of the fire elementals reached Sulfuras, a supernova of flame would expand out from the massive weapon, striking (and in many cases, killing) all members of the raid.

Allowing a Son of Flame to break our defense, therefore, was not an option. Every stun, slow and snare we could apply had to be leveraged, and DPS had to be distributed evenly so that no one fire elemental gained an advantage. During set up, Blain and Jungard worked together to examine the raid, splitting groups up accordingly by fanning them out in a crescent shape around Sulfuras' intended point of impact.

"Phase two positions, just like we rehearsed. Keep the middle open."

I glanced up from my position to see a Boomkin, frozen in position, directly in the middle of the platform.

Blackangus' voice was clear in Ventrilo. "Yeah, uh...I think I'm disconnecting."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

4.56. Practice Makes Purrfect

"Managers Fall"
Artwork by 花狐貂

Flipology

[To: Dichotomy] How you holding up?

Our healing officer, Fred, was playing his shaman on this, the third week into Firelands. His shaman was appearing more frequently, thanks to Deathonwings' continually changing schedule. One week he'd be camping, the next, work would step in the way. It didn't seem like Wings fluctuated as much during Wrath, but it was possible that our healthy bench during Wrath kept his absences from the forefront of my memory.

Regardless, Fred rolled with the punches, flipping between shaman and paladin as needed -- which was good, because I suspected a trend. Recruitment wasn't looking promising. We continued for weeks without so much as a single ping for more information about the guild. It wasn't entirely clear to me if and how much this weighed on Fred, so I erred on the side of checking in, whispering him as we ran back for our next attempt. It was a way for me to check in, gauge his frame of mind. Let him know he wasn't alone out there.

[From: Dichotomy] Blain loooooooooooves twelve stacks

[To: Dichotomy] He should marry them

[From: Dichotomy] lol

Fred wasn't the only one flipping classes to meet the needs of the raid. Blain was now on his warrior, Xane, as one of our two main tanks, and Sarge, who'd been supplying us with Retribution melee damage since Icecrown, had now taken a liking to healing, bringing his restoration druid Arbour to more of our progression raids.

Beyond a full class swap, some players continued to respec as needed, sometimes between boss kills. This was now pretty commonplace. Wings set that trend back in Wrath, but today, folks like Vexx and Physica were switching from heals to damage (or vice versa) regularly. Even I was giving serious consideration to pulling Kerulak out of retirement, just to ensure our healing bases were covered.

[To: Dichotomy] 12 stacks is nothing. You got this. Cooldown rotations ftw.

[From: Dichotomy] Wings doesn't seem to think Spirit Totem works like we think it does.

[To: Dichotomy] Wings isn't in charge. You are.

Respeccing was especially relevant now...now that Blain was pushing hard, minus the gear. We were working with new healers, like Charcassone the holy paladin, but at the same time, players were switching between mains and partially geared alts, doubling the amount of effort necessary to stay ahead of the game.

Ironic, considering Blizzard's claim that distinct 10/25 locks in Wrath had us raiding until we were burning out. Instead of running one raid twice, in different sizes, we were now running a raid twice...on different characters.

[From: Dichotomy] Seems like we're making the same mistakes tho.

[To: Dichotomy] You know EJ’s first Onyxia kill? Just another night of practice.

[From: Dichotomy] Yeah?

[To: Dichotomy] True story. They’d been working on it for weeks. Just practicing all the phases. Polishing.

[From: Dichotomy] That’s really all it is.


Amatsu surveys the arena, as the 25-Man prepares to
 begin work on Majordomo Fandral Staghelm,
Firelands

Majodomo Fandral Staghelm


The raid extension from the previous week, very necessary for the Alysrazor practice, was reset in favor of collecting a few upgrades while re-acclimating to our Tier 12 challenges. The roster did not disappoint. The night before, Shannox, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Baleroc and our fiery bird friend all met their match in the allotted four hours. Sunday, this very day, was free and clear for the next challenge.

As the 25-Man progression team watched, a bridge formed across the gaping chasm. First, it glowed white like a hot poker, before slowly cooling, its mass thickening as it settled, turning to solidified rock. Its' surface was covered with blackened, charred tiles -- the same molten chips composing many of our smelted enemies.

As we ran across the bridge, I tilted the camera up to take in the massive flame-like arches. Beyond the bridge lay a royal red carpet, painting the way to a large circular arena. The red carpet carried on past this, up a series of steps, where it then disappeared behind walls. It was near where we lost sight of the continuing carpeted path that we saw a lone Night Elf barring our way.

I use the term "Night Elf" loosely. Very little of his Kaldorei ancestry remained. Purple flesh tones were replaced with crimson. His formerly green hair was now blood red. And eyes that once glowed with a soft moonwell blue were now on fire.

He was of a new class of druids, those whose traitorous intentions caused these deformities, twisting inescapably from the fire enclothing them. These Druids of the Flame needed a leader, and the great firelord needed a new second-in-command. Before us, he stood. The Archdruid of the Flame. Six years after laying waste to Majordomo Executus, Descendants of Draenor was about to take on his successor, Majordomo Fandral Staghelm.

Staghelm's two phases were bound by a gimmick: positioning determined the active phase. Collapse into a tight group, and Fandral shifted into a enormous scorpion that struck with such severity that splitting the damage amongst the raid was a non-negotiable. Spread far apart, however, and Fandral shifted into a fiery feline engulfed in flames. He'd leap across the raid in firekitty form, and both the launch and landing resulted in gifts from the Majordomo. A copy of himself remained at the launch position, a Spirit of the Flame that had to be dispatched. And at the destination, a ring of pulsing flames, forcing all that were near to scatter.

The longer Fandral stayed in each form, the harder and faster he'd hit. So, yes, it was true that we had control over the phases. But to a limit. Eventually, the Archdruid would force our hand. The question was, as it would be for any raid: how much could we withstand?

Blain had set that expectation pretty clear, from the get go.

"Amatsu, go ahead and respec into damage for this."

Blain's directive caught a few of the raid off-guard with this directive -- our newest pally tank, included.

"Ok, um...any particular reason why? Am I..."

"...you're good," Blain stopped him from announcing any shortcomings, "we're just going to one-tank this."

[To: Xane] When'd you decide this?

[From: Xane] Just now

The 25-Man progression team poses in front
of the fallen Majordomo Staghelm,
Firelands

The Night Elf Who Mistook Himself For a Troll

The giant charred scorpion smashed into Blain.

"I....uh...yep. Getting hard to keep you up."

"Quiet. We're going for twelve."

Fandral trolled the raid in both phases. Scorpion forced us into a tight position, so to mess with that, he debuffed a handful of us with a living-bomb style curse. But not everyone's timer started at the same countdown. If yours was 20 seconds, congratulations...because it was a very real possibility that mine was 5 seconds.

Look at your debuff. No, seriously...look at it. Now. Look up at it. Register in your mind how much time you have. And leave only when you must.

Every player had their personal responsibility tested. They had to leave the group when only seconds remained. Any sooner would risk joining other players that were leaving at correct intervals. And if too many leave the tight group, spreading too far out across the arena...

...whoops. Firekitty phase.

Fandral trolled us during the firekitty phase, too. Five fiery orbs spawned along the outer edges of the group. These would stack a DoT on the nearest target, meaning certain members would have to rotate through, sharing Fandral's love. But rotating players through orbs also required discipline, because the very nature of tagging in/out of groups ran the risk of grouping back up...

...which would take us right back into Scorpion phase.

Every shift from scorpion to firekitty (or back), Majordomo Staghelm gained more strength via Fury, a stacking 8% additional damage buff. But, leave him in one state, and his energy regeneration increased, a stacking boost called Adrenaline. He'd hit faster, and faster, and faster. Eventually, we'd be overwhelmed.

"That's 10."

"Spirit Link down. Lexxi's got Barrier on the next one."

Fred's spirit totem hit the ground, further spreading the already distributed damage to all within the totem's grasp.

"Barrier ready."

Eleven stacks of Adrenaline was already pushing it. Guides of the day were directing raiders to break off at eight stacks, though ten was a more likely number to shoot for...if you ran a group of finely tuned raiders.

Blain wasn't having any of that amateur hour stuff. He pushed the 25-Man as far as they could go, which meant pushing beyond 10, and beyond even 11 stacks of Adrenaline. And when that wasn't enough...he dropped us to one tank: himself.

The healers had no choice but to rethink their strategy. So, Fred kept them rotating through their biggest cooldowns for the ninth, tenth...and hopefully...eleventh stacks, while we prepared to break and shift at twelve. It was a normal mode, but the healers treated it like a heroic.

"Tighten up a bit and eat these hits, please."

"Get ready for 11th...and...now. 11 stacks."

"Barrier is out."

A great glowing shell of protective holy magic emerged, surrounding the raid.

"Ok, get ready. 12th incoming."

Muscles in my fingers tensed, quivering. Readying for the burst. Blain's health bar flashed like an EKG meter through a patient's cardiac arrest.

"Hold. Hold….aaaaaand…...go. Spread, spread, spread. Watch for orbs."

Our opponent took the form of a Night Elf, mocking the raid as he froze us in position for a brief moment. Then, he morphed into a ball of flaming whiskers and claws. Around the outer edges of the map spawned five miniature meteors, firing molten beams out towards various players. Within seconds, the flaming cat leapt across the entire room, targeting a mage.

"On Goldy. Go!"

The raid's hustle was palpable. We flayed open the carbon copy of Staghelm, then raced back to the source, burning through as much health as possible before the next leap.

"I need a partner over here."

"Who is 'me'? Use your name!"

The DoT stacked on Littlebear. He needed to tag out.

"LB needs a partner. North east."

Speaking in third person, the raid's resident brony spoke up, "Mangetsu to the rescue!"

"Keep it clear, folks. Collapse after seven...coming up."

Fandral leapt faster now, pulsing circles of fire left in his wake.

"That's seven. Move, get in. Get in now."

The raid collapsed into the center of the circular red carpet, a clue left by the designers. We followed their lead, noting the pattern of Fandral's pulsating pools of flame now dotting the carpet's circumference.

"Get in tighter, this one's it."

The 25-Man continued to pour more and more damage into the Archdruid, now back into scorpion form.

"Watch your bombs. Keep cool."

Aktauren raced out of the group. A few moments later, Physica raced out in the opposite direction. Fandral's health bar dwindled down to 3%, then 2%, then 1%....and then, nothing remained.

An enthusiastic cheer filled Vent. Virtual high fives intermixed with insults directed at the defeated Night Elf ended yet another successful night of raiding.

"Thank you for staying a little over tonight." I glanced at the clock. 7:06 pm. Another famous last pull for history books.

"And thank you, Blain, for one man tanking this bitch!"

[To: Xane] Always the show-off

[From: Xane] I prefer 'Tyrant' :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

4.55. Casualsplaining

"Rune Deformation"
Artwork by 10Z (Liu Hao)

Spoiler Alert

I drew another line through a long list of names. Fourteen had been whittled to seven, then to four, and now to one. My questions were formulaic and terse; their answers were unabashedly byzantine. I debated the usefulness of the exercise, but pressed on, dialing the last number on the list, greeting the stranger on the other end of the phone, and walking the script.

"Describe to me a 'Relational Model'."

Each answer came at an uncomfortable cadence. An awkward pause at the start, followed by a reading back of the original question. Then, a nervous yet surprisingly articulate response -- all delivered in a thick East Indian accent, pauses littered throughout.

"So...eh...the thing that you wanted to know about...eh...was the Relational Model. It...eh...is an approach...to managing data using...eh...using a structure and language...consistent...with first-order predicate logic processes...eh...that are repeating items in a self-similar way."

"Perfect, thank you for that. Okay, next question. Can you tell me what a 'memory leak' is?"

"...So...eh...the thing that you asked about was...eh...memory leaks…"

"...right." Move it along. I know my own damn question.

"...which is...eh...is a type of resource leak that occurs...when a computer program incorrectly manages memory allocations...eh...in such a way that memory which...eh...is no longer needed...eh...is not released."

'Computer Program'? Why not just say 'code'?

The charade wore thin. I pulled up Chrome, headed to Wikipedia.org, searched for memory allocation, and pulled the result up. As I looked at the page, I spoke. "Got it. Thanks. And can you tell me what exactly is 'memory allocation'?"

"Eh…."

Kill me.

"...Memory allocation?"

I hate my life.

"Right. Memory allocation. What is it?"

I followed along, reading the Wikipedia page, as man with the thick accent gave me "his" answer.

"...the...eh...memory allocation is the...eh...act of managing computer memory at the system level."

It was word for word. He wasn't even bothering to paraphrase. Just Googling everything I asked him, and reading its response, verbatim.

There was a time when not all answers were Googlable. You had to bounce between a litany of search engines in order to maximize your results. AltaVista, HotBot, Lycos, Yahoo!...hell, even America Online had its own search engine. After feeding your keywords into all of those engines, you still might not find you were looking for.

WoW was like that once, too. Well before MMO-Champion, WoWDB, Wowhead, even Thottbot...the only way to tell if someone had mad skills was if they knew the answers to end game stuff. When the 40-Man Naxxramas went up on the public test realm, world first guilds looking to do meaningful research kept wannabes out of their exploratory pick-up groups by drilling them with skill testing questions.

"You been to Blackwing Lair?"

"...sure, sure I have!"

"What happens at the start of phase two of Nefarian."

"...uhh…"

Yeah...that’s what I thought. 

No amount of Googling was going to save you that day. Even if you were able to hit all the search engines at once...the delay would be enough paint you as a faker.

The world before Wowhead was gone, upended by a suite of websites whose engines ran on data-mined fuel. Every new PTR release exposed every asset and revealed every last secret. No mystery was left in want. In the information age, spoilers were simply a subcategory of answers, and the only effort necessary was reduced to typing keywords and click "search".

Oh, don't forget about the "reading" part. That appeared to be important, too.

The effect produced when two
mirrors face one another

Two Mirrors

I sat up in my office chair, and cleared my throat. It was time to divert from the script.

"Explain to me what recursion is, please."

The tell-tale delay. A faint typing of keys. More effort to maintain the facade.

"So...eh...the thing that you wanted to know about was Recursion...eh...which...eh...is is a method where the solution to..eh...to a problem depends on solutions to smaller instances..."

"...Sorry," I interrupted him, "I'm going to stop you there. Let me clarify: I'd like you to explain it to me in layman's terms."

"Eh...sorry?"

"I'd like you to make your answer more accessible, please."

The pauses appeared to grow in frequency.

"Eh...well...the...eh...type of the...eh...solution...is that of a kind of solution that is...eh...one that is larger...but that...eh...works with...eh...smaller solutions."

"You just stated the same thing a different way. I need you to dumb it down for me. What does a recursive function do that makes it unique from other types of functions?"

I sensed panic on the other end of the conference call.

".......eh, well, it is smaller...er, sorry, it is larger...than others kinds of functions…"

Wrong.

"...and...eh...it is the...eh...type of the function that can then call others that are...eh...they are smaller, no?"

No.

"I'm sorry, was that a question?"

"No...eh...that is my answer, yes."

I'd heard enough. "Ok, thanks very much for your time, today. We'll let you know if we have any further questions."

I took a long sigh and crossed the last name off the list. A recursive function calls itself; two mirrors facing each other, reflections repeating forever into infinity.

---

"There. Link's posted in the forums." Vexx's Australian accent hacked through the Ventrilo conversation with obvious frustration.

An impromptu five minute break followed, allowing folks to review the video. We spared individuals the embarrassment of calling them out. Maybe some were having a bad day. Perhaps some were deficient in the dexterity department. As it is with pluralistic ignorance, their reasons aside, players failing were too self-conscious to admit it publicly. You can diminish the effect by directing everyone to do it...

...but I whispered them individually. If you're not watching the video now, you should be.

By the end of the fourth hour, cracks began to show in the seemingly impenetrable array of Blazing Winds, but not enough to get a solid grip on and wrench open.

"C'mon! One more! One more go! Famous last pull!" The guild spirit was strong with Bonechatters. His youthful enthusiasm was enough to fill an entire roster.

"Nope," replied Blain, "Done for the night. We stop on time, those are the rules."

Boney wouldn't give up, "I heard a rumor rules were meant to be broken!"

I piped up, "Thanks, folks. Good work tonight. See you all back here Sunday."

Call it what you want. Lag. Server instability. Bad players. Bad connections. Sometimes a kill just isn't in the cards. I wasn't feeling it. Neither was Blain. The famous last pull wouldn't be our savior that night.

DoD defeats Alysrazor,
Firelands

Keep It Simple Smartypants

Rosters in heavy flux rarely get the same line-up. For all the benefits DoD boasted throughout WotLK, this was a downside. In the bizarro world of Cataclysm, deficits became benefits. The perfect set-up for learning a new boss, in Blain's eyes, was to bring the same people back. And that's exactly what we had for Sunday, July 10th. Whether we liked it or not.

Everyone present had seen all three phases. There was nothing left to teach, and no surprises to catch us off guard. If DPS had neither seen nor played Pilotwings before, I didn't want to know about it. I wanted to look up and see a squadron of Pilotwings experts on Alysrazor's ass. I wanted tornado dodging like it was second nature. And I wanted an explosion of damage on that bird the likes of which hadn't been seen since our Illidan kill.

Blazing Winds sawed through the raid on every attempt. Nobody was safe. Each of us blew it at least once. But, as it had with so many bosses before, patterns emerged. There were definitely people in the raid who were clumsy, still struggling, still having those same spatial awareness issues that had long been a burden on our roster. It didn't matter the reason. What mattered was the result.

"You can't chase them from behind. They move too fast. You have to actually move in between the rings. From the outer to the inner one."

"That's not true, you can chase them."

"Yeah, but I'm not getting the speed buff.:

"You don't need the speed buff to pull this off. Seriously, is it really this difficult?"

I remembered the 'insanity' bit Blain liked to quote to players: People doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.

Doing things the same.

Things.

Like play...

...or explain.

"It's like this," I spoke into Vent, "The tornados are cars on a freeway. You're a cop. And every tornado is a car you want to chase, but you can't chase them for long. The ones coming towards you...in other lanes...are even bigger catches than the one you're chasing."

"Sounds like a crime wave."

"Shut up a second. Listen. You're chasing a tornado...a car...until another one passes you in the opposite direction. That's when you switch lanes. Crank the wheel, change lanes, chase the car that just passed you. Just like that. Rinse. Repeat."

Slowly, surely, we got back on track. Players formerly failing on the tornado...were less so. We kept at it. Three tornado deaths. Two tornado deaths. One tornado death.

No tornado deaths.

In the third hour on the second night of work, the 25-Man roster cleared the hump, and having only lost a few players across two full tornado phases...it was enough to burn Alysrazor through her 2nd phase three. She fell that night, with an hour to spare.

As I lined up the roster, and snapped a kill pic for the forums, Blain shot me a message.

[From: Xane] Car chases?

[To: Xane] Hey. Whatever it takes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

4.54. The Grand Allusion

The 1980 arcade game Star Castle,
produced by Cinematronics

Screen Burn

November 12, 1982

Water rushed across metal brackets and pullies, ran along spouts and into buckets, through gears and over bells, eventually splashing against four large pendulums, one to each side of the towering clock. Woodgrove Center had opened only a few months earlier, and The Water Clock was both impressive and bizarre. I glanced over the glass enclosure, towards the pool at its base. Beneath the surface, along the tops of the submerged blue tiles, hundreds of pennies came in and out of focus, while the clock churned on -- water filling up buckets, overflowing then dumping into the moat, forever maintaining motion. Plenty of pennies...but no quarters.

The clock kept my attention for all of five seconds.

"Can I?"

Grandma gave me a nod and a smile. I was gone.

Speeding towards the food court, I craved no Orange Julius, hungered for no Taco Time. I ran past the the families in the midst of chowing down, until the hallway narrowed. Faint sound effects could be heard, filtering out from the end of the hall. I slowed, approaching the dark entrance.

They'd really gone overboard with the sci-fi theme at this new arcade. Tubes of running-board lights lined the edges of the floor, illuminating the path to righteousness. Screens flickered and burned a glow out into the darkness. A bright blue light radiating out of the TRON arcade controller caught my eye, but only for a moment. There was more to discover. I'd be back for the lightcycles.

Figures towered over me as the scan continued. Teenagers and adults all melted together into a haze, their backs to me, blocking my view of the screens. I was a short kid, but not too short to step up to an arcade game. I already knew the drill. Get your quarter on the glass to hold your spot. I'm next. What's it to you?

Donkey Kong Jr., Satan's Hollow. Some machines looked familiar, some not so much. In the back, a bizarre cabinet: two steering wheels -- one in the front with a seat, the other in the back, forcing the player to stand. What is that? A two-player fire truck driving game? I glanced at the screen. Black and white. Wow. What genius brought that relic in here?

I turned from the fossil and zeroed in on a cabinet whose screen seemed to pulse with blues, yellows, and oranges. I immediately thought of Asteroids, a game with a distinct look: simple shapes comprised only of lines whose endpoints seemed to glow like the running-board lights of the Arcade itself. But Asteroids was black and white, another relic like Fire Truck. When had they added color to these line-drawn video games?

Once I got a closer look, the trick became clear: there wasn’t really any color at all -- the illusion of color came thanks to blue, yellow and red cellophane-like overlays covering the screen. Nice try.

I leaned in closer to examine the multi-colored overlay, which is when the shields caught me in a hypnotic stare. A spaceship, nestled safely in the center of the screen, was protected by a series of rings, rotating opposite one another. The innermost ring rotated clockwise; its immediate parent ring rotated counter-clockwise, repeating a third and final time.

My eight year old eyes stared blankly at the three rings, spinning in opposite directions, permanently burning their mesmerizing pattern into my brain, and into the very phosphors of the screen itself.

The 1991 video game Pilotwings,
produced by Nintendo

Flight School

September 6, 1991

VHS tapes wallpapered the inside of the rental store. "Hot" titles were a nightmare to get your hands on. No matter how many copies the store’s owners planned to stock, it was never enough. I tapped my foot, wondering how much more time the clerk was going to spend, and eyed the wall’s latest title gap.

Edward Scissorhands had already been out on video a few months. Seen it. Home Alone was just the month prior. Meh. This month's hottest release: Dances With Wolves. An entire row of tapes, missing in action, snatched up by the Moms of the town, desperate for the chance at escaping to some fantasy with their boy-toy Kevin Costner.

I couldn't care less about movies at this particular moment.

The clerk emerged from the back room, carrying a silver briefcase-like container. "You got it?" I asked, tapping my fingers on the counter like an addict entering the first stages of withdrawal.

"Yep. Brand new, never been rented." The clerk was nonchalant and it drove me mad. Even a shill would be better than this apathy. C'mon, man. Do you realize what you hold in your hands?

The clerk swung the silver case up and onto the counter, flipped open the buckles, then gently raised the lid. Inside sat a small white box. Gray lines accented its cubist design. Near the front, two large purple buttons sat parallel to each other; one was marked "Power"”, the other, "Reset". Inset between the two purple buttons was a dark gray eject button, for popping the cartridge out of its slot. I inhaled deeply. It smelled of plastic, fresh from the mold.

"This is probably the only Super Nintendo in this entire town!"

"Probably," the clerk nodded, unimpressed, "you'll be the first to rent it."

You couldn't care less, could you? It's all just "kids stuff" to you.

"So whaddya got for me?" I rubbed my hands together.

"Well, we only just got the two games to start. Super Mario..."

"...World, yeah, yeah, I know," I grew impatient, "it comes with the system. What else?"

"Uhhh….hmmm, it looks like...."

Please be F-Zero. Please be F-Zero.

The clerk pulled up the cartridge from behind the counter, showing off the label. The title was written in shiny purple cursive, floating amid billowy clouds. In the foreground, a ring of green dots could be seen. I glared at the option with disappointment and disgust.

"......Pilotwings???"

You have got to be kidding me.

"Yeah, you fly through courses."

"I've seen the reviews in EGM. They're marked with these dots, and you fly through rings. It's like an airborne slalom."

I hated skiing. I hated sports.

"Yep, that's right. Boy, the kids were up all night playing this one. Beat it and everything."

Your kids are like, what...8 and 9?

"I thought you said I was the first renter."

"Oh, you are...you are. But, we took it home the night it arrived to let the kids have a go."

Son of a...

I shook my head, staring at the cartridge I wouldn't otherwise go near. But I wasn't about to let a couple of toddlers show me up.

"Fine. I'll rent both."

The clerk smiled as I shelled out twenty bucks for the system, six bucks for the two games...and another twenty for a damage deposit, in the off chance it might return to the rental store smashed into little fragments of cream and purple colored plastic shards.

Now, why on Earth do you suppose they would think that might happen?

"Alysrazor",
Artwork by Cargorabbit

A Moltres of Our Own

July 8, 2011

[From: Vexx] I'm losing it!!


I smiled as I typed my reply.

[To: Vexx] lol. This is only the first night!


[From: Vexx] Don’t understand why people are having such a tough time with tornadoes. It’s so easy!!!


[To: Vexx] This is nothing. We used to spend weeks on a boss.


[From: Vexx] This feels like weeks.


We'd been at it for two-and-a-half hours. Hours earlier, Blain clarified expectations with his own state of the union post:
A quick poll of our raid will quickly show that a good number of our current raiders would rather try to gear up and slowly overpower content through the acquisition of new gear from "farm" bosses rather than a yearning to be on the forefront of the content in older gear. With that understanding of our raid members I began to resent some people for their raiding philosophy and that resentment has been hovering over me through the last raid content. Personally I was disappointed in our progression team in BWD and BoT. I know we struggled with a solid, consistent group of folks but I still felt we should have had at least 2 additional heroics down prior to 4.2. As a leader I chose to take the more popular route of attacking the bosses we had on "farm" and leave the other stuff for when we had additional time. This choice was based off of a prior post that I made concerning raid direction, feedback for players, etc and I personally believe I failed you all by going along with the masses and giving up on harder heroics just because of the complaining naysayers.
The part that caught me off guard was Blain accepting responsibility for the lack of progression in the previous tier. Blaming himself for not keeping to his original plan of pushing raiders as he had in the days of yore wasn't a way I would typically characterize Blain. Yet in this unorthodox move, Blain cleared the raiding palette. Mistakes were made. We account for them. We move forward. No more excuses.

It worked. When Blain extended the raid lock that evening so that we could push past the four bosses we flattened the week previous, not a hint of snark could be detected. Nobody on the progression team pushed back or complained of "missing out on loot upgrades". They took the extended raid lock, and rushed headlong into our next challenge, determined to spend the entire evening working on Alysrazor.

We needed it.

World of Warcraft's version of Moltres was broken up into three phases. Phase one divided the group into two ground teams, working on opposite sides of a ring. Each tank stood next to a fiery egg, which exploded into a Voracious Hatchling -- a skeletal bird engulfed in flame. These birds imprinted onto their nearest target, so anyone (particularly those not paying attention) could quickly find themselves tanking. Voracious Hatchlings would occasionally fly into a rage (as hungry newborns often do), and sating their hunger was fulfilled by dragging the baby birds to their nearest lava worm. The hatchlings' rage subsided, and the flow of lava spewing from the worm was stanched in the process.

Back-up continued to arrive throughout phase one, in the form of Druids of the Talon. I broke off with melee to deal with these, as they had a tendency to wind up a Pyroblast and (if not interrupted) begin chain casting them with ever increasing power. Hells and I worked as a team on one side, with Jungard and Bonechatters on the other, taking turns interrupting as we burst them down.

High above us, Alysrazor circled the arena, and a third air team followed closely behind, "swimming" through the air. Thanks to Alysrazor's molting, players could touch burning feathers and (with three stacks) take flight, DPSing the bird while airborne. In order to maintain flight, players had to fly through burning rings that appeared through the air, as if navigating a course.

One might go so far as to describe it as an airborne slalom.

The 25-Man spent the first couple of hours getting accustomed to phase one. Gotchas kept slipping through. A druid of the talon might get off the occasional Pyroblast, and for some targets, it meant instant death. The voracious hatchlings had to be killed...but not too quickly. Killing them early would force Alysrazor to lay more eggs, in turn, forcing us to drag hatchlings with us into phase two, which was suicide.

In phase two, the attention of every individual player had to be turned to one thing, and one thing only: avoiding tornadoes. Alysrazor summoned Blazing Winds, a series of fiery tornadoes that moved quickly across the landscape, picking up anyone caught in their path. They moved too quickly to run away from. We could not cheat by pressing ourselves up against the edges of the map and avoiding them altogether. There wasn't a clear way to help each other; sharper players couldn't really help out players that weren't "getting it". Every single player had to avoid the tornadoes...or die.

Alysrazor's Blazing Winds moved in a very predictable, easy-to-understand pattern. The outermost tornadoes moved clockwise. The next set of tornadoes, falling into a narrower circle, moved the opposite direction, counter-clockwise. The third set, narrower still, moved in the same direction as the outermost set...again, clockwise, and this repeated one more time, for a total of four rings. Four concentric circles of fiery tornadoes, rotating across the playing field. Find the gap between the tornadoes in each ring, and move between them. That's all there was to it.

It was not a new pattern, but the team was falling victim to its mesmerizing grasp.