Thursday, October 1, 2015

4.48. Insufferable Sanctimonious Fanatical Jerk

A player works through the gypsy's questions,
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

Thou Hast Lost an Eighth!

There were at least a dozen pages, all laid out in a multiple-choice style quiz. The last page of questions revealed the total count: 70.

Damn. That must be some quiz.

I paid no attention to the person discussing corporate policies, continuing to examine the quiz and its related paperwork. The back sheet listed a set of titles.

"The Architect"

"The Mediator"

"The Entertainer"

I counted sixteen titles in all. Continuing to ignore the presentation unfolding before the audience, I began penciling in answers.

The questions were bizarre. Answering them without context was difficult. They seemed to drift back and forth from acutely personal, to wildly broad and ambiguous. Unsurprisingly, I found myself seeking to fill in context with what I knew best.

"Common sense is: A) rarely questionable, or B) frequently questionable?

Depends on which of my guild members you're talking about.

"Are you more interested in: A) what is actual, or B) what is possible?"

Well, if it’s bench-filler night, we’re not going to be pushing heroics, are we?

"Writers should: A) 'say what they mean, and mean what they say', or B) express things more by use of analogy."

Parents scold young children for misdeeds, free from the confines of logical self-awareness that the children, by their very youth and innocence, lack the necessary perspective into the very issues on which they're being reprimanded! I penciled in my answer and moved on.

"Is it worse to be A) unjust, or B) merciless?"

Damn. This is some quiz.

I agonized over each answer. Years earlier, similar questions were asked of me. The difference was, back then, they were presented in all the glory of 4-color CGA.

"During a pitched battle, thou dost see a fellow desert his post, endangering many. As he flees, he is set upon by several enemies. Dost thou A) justly let him fight alone; or B) risk sacrificing thine own life to aid him?"

Let him fight alone! He got his own damn self into that mess! What a coward!

"Thee and thy friends have been routed and ordered to retreat. In defiance of thy orders, dost thou A) stop in compassion to aid a wounded companion; or B) sacrifice thyself to slow the pursuing enemy, so others can escape?"

Man, this is tough...I guess I would stop and help the wounded guy.

"After 20 years thou hast found the slayer of thy best friends. The villain proves to be a man who provides the sole support for a young girl. Dost thou A) spare him in compassion for the girl; or B) slay him in the name of justice?"

...uh, I don't...know. I mean...both of these things needs to happen.

...I don't know.

Why were the gypsy's questions so difficult to answer? And why did I care so much about getting the right answer?

A fifteen year old, growing up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, had few opportunities to fight in actual holy wars. There were no clash of iron sword, no lords nor fiefdoms, and certainly, no reason to make judgement calls about who lives or who dies.

The only way I could answer Lord British's carefully crafted questions was by translating them into real life situations. In doing so, I became aware of a troubling reality: not all scenarios have a positive outcome. The gypsy in Ultima IV was my very own Kobayashi Maru.

Sometimes, you have no choice but to decide on what sucks the least. But you have to decide.

You have to.

...I...guess I spare the guy.

"Thy path is clear!"
The 16 personality types in the MBTI
(Source: 16

What'd You Call Me?

I glared at my results in denial.

"ISFJ: The Defender"

Come again?

"The Defender is filled with a deep-seated need to serve others; they 'need to be needed'."

Is this some kind of joke? How do you pull servant out of 'programmer'?

"ISFJs are perfectionists and often under-appreciated. Their reliability is unquestionable, and because of this, they are often taken advantage of. The fruits of their labor are frequently enjoyed by other personality types less inclined to harbor feelings of guilt around getting others to do the real work."

Oh. A programmer that builds software for billion dollar companies. I guess that would be the way.

"ISFJs are notoriously bad at delegating…"

Well, if you want something done right…

"...but rarely seek acknowledgement, as they have a deep-seated belief that it is somehow wrong to want to be rewarded for demonstrating effort."

...or maybe it's because pride isn't a virtue? That walking around, pounding your chest like you're some kind of bad-ass only makes you look foolish and embarrassing and…

...and why I am sitting here, trying to come with excuses why this isn't me?

The more I fought with the analysis, the more it made sense.

"ISFJs are methodical and accurate, and have a good memory, particularly as they relate to situations involving people."

So, it would be pretty easy for me to, say, recall the events of eight years of guild leadership?

"They are pleasant and loyal as a member of a team, but are prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed in roles in leadership."

So it would seem.

"The loyalties they form are personal rather than institutional."

...which makes it difficult to kick people out of a guild without feeling guilty. Or giving people more chances than they deserve.

"ISFJs provide emotional and practical support to what few people they consider their close friends, and the longer the relationship, the more an ISFJ values it."

...which might explain the constant need to dwell on relationships now ended.

"ISFJs aren't terribly good at managing or discussing distress…"

Go fuck yourself.

"...which manifests as unexplained moodiness to those not acquainted with the ISFJ. It is important to remember, when dealing with an ISFJ, that hidden under apparent 'bursts of outrage' is a personality type destined to think of others before themselves, and is very likely bearing the burden of an issue, so that you do not have to."

I sat back in my chair and stared off into the abyss of the auditorium's extremities, oblivious to the shouting costumed musketeers around me, their plastic toy sabres dancing in the air.


To be honest, I expected the geeks populating my guild to be dismissive of a personality test. They'd want to see the numbers, the proof, the analytical data backing up the "assessment". It wouldn't have surprised me to see them theorycraft every vague rationale to the point of elimination. That was, after all, the type of culture I was trying to foster in DoD.

If you don't understand something, don't guess. Do the research.

To be certain I'd get involvement, I promised a little forum Karma to sweeten the deal. They dove right in, awaiting their evaluation (shared in confidence upon completion). I encouraged them to discuss their findings in the forum; many chose to do so. And over the course of the next several weeks, the thread grew hot with activity.

The data continued to pour in. Word trickled down from the heavy forum users to those who preferred the isolation of the game, and with it, came more piqued interest. By the time the quiz's fifteen minutes of fame were up, I had enough entries to field two full 25-man raid teams...and still have several on the bench. And the data itself was rich with trivia:
  • The most common personality in my guild: ESTJ (The Executive, 15.4%), the fifth most common personality type out in the wild.
  • Conversely, the rarest type in real life, INFJ (The Advocate) made up 6.1% of the guild. In fact, 6.1% of the guild (4 players) was split among four types:
  1. INFJ (The Advocate)
  2. INFP (The Mediator)
  3. ENFP (The Campaigner)
  4. ENFJ (The Protagonist)
  • Rarer still, within DoD (and conversely, more prevalent in real life) were ESFP (The Entertainer) and ENTP (The Debater), both at 4.5%
  • The four most common types in DoD were paired mirrors of each other:
  1. ISTJ (The Logistician) and ESTJ (The Executive)
  2. INTJ (The Architect) and ENTJ (The Commander)
  • ISTJ (The Logistician) made up the brunt of DoD’s leadership.
  • ISFP (The Adventurer), ESTP (The Entrepreneur), ISTP (The Virtuoso) and INTP (The Logician) all shared the exclusive 1.5% slice with me -- DoD had only one of each.
That last nugget was of particular interest. Of the sixty-six guildies having completed the quiz, only five entries represented their type in isolation. Yes, I was the only ISFJ in the group, but I wondered how many more were out there. How many just didn't get around to taking the test? And why?

Perhaps they knew the truth -- the truth I wouldn't find out until months passed.

The Myers Briggs was a complete and total sham.

The most accurate horoscope reading for 2015 available

A Constant Four-Point-Two

People much smarter than I figured out long ago that the validity of the MBTI as a means of gauging personality is...problematic, at best. A critical examination begins with its creators, Katharine Briggs, and her daughter, Isabel Myers.

Katharine and Isabel were social scientists much in the way that Brian Fellow, Tracy Morgan's SNL character, was an accredited zoologist that held an advanced degree in environmental studies. That is to say, they were not. The very test taken by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe was created not by the scientific rigor of the academic community, but by "enthusiastic young individuals with a love of sociology."

I adore enthusiasm. It's what got me interested in programming and learning about the mechanics of people management. But I am not an expert, and I'd want to be sure my readers knew that when examining my writing. Unfortunately, when considering the MBTI, the industry behaves in exactly the opposite manner, often citing the many studies that back the MBTI as a means to prove its academic rigor. But those "studies" are not as academic as one might expect.

At least half of all published material on the MBTI comes from the Center for the Application of Psychological Type which, coincidentally, also provides training for the MBTI. And training does not come cheaply. The advocacy and sales of the MBTI clock in at nearly $20 million annually. A core contingent that both totes a test's scientific accuracy while simultaneously benefiting from its lucrative profits shrouds the MBTI with an ethically gray cloud that grows uncomfortably dark with each new glance.

Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence to the MBTI's inefficacy came in 1948, just five years after the test was first published. A psychologist named Bertram Forer devised a personality test of his own, one that harbored a secret. The first set of students he administered it to were amazed at its ability to accurately identify each of their own traits and behavior. As part of the experiment, Forer asked them to rate that accuracy on a scale of 1-5. The average rating came back consistently at 4.2. That's when Forer revealed the secret...

...the evaluations were pulled at random from the local newspaper's astrology column.

Forer's experiment has been repeated hundreds of times since he "amazed" his initial subjects. The results are nearly always 4.2.

This was the Forer Effect in action: the tendency for us to accept generalized descriptions that could apply to a wide slice of the population, merely because we wish them to be true. To many, who we are and why we behave the way we do is a conundrum that troubles us, it is a puzzle we must solve.

We hear what we want to hear, agree with what looks like it is falling into place, unaware that confirmation bias is a Texas sharpshooter, drawing targets around the bullet holes so that we can agree, nay, insist that the test has hit its mark. It's enough to keep the Horoscope publishing industry alive and well, long after science has proven that (as the meme goes) the alignment of the stars and planets will not affect us in any way shape or form.

I heard what I wanted to hear. Perhaps not at first...but as I read through it, contemplating how much I agonized over those questions...they had to be right. It had to be right.

Maybe part of it was right?

Maybe just a bit of it was?

Or maybe it was just right in the sense that it was right for everybody...and nobody.


Questions remained.

Are there other, more accurate personality tests out there? Ones that have real scientific proof in identifying a person's type? Perhaps. The Big Five may be one such test, featuring traits that are easily both positive (agreeableness) and negative (neuroticism), which may help to keep the Forer Effect at bay during test administration. As the story goes, "more data is needed."

Why a company would ask its employees to take the test? For the exact same reason I wanted DoD to take it: I thought it would give me that insight, show me those patterns, help me connect the dots, so that I could understand my people better. Help me find the leaders and the followers. Just as I wanted to understand myself better, even after my gut instinct ate at me with the very first glance. This isn't you.

There are no shortcuts to understanding people, no slots you can easily place them in. But when companies grow large, they don't want to hear "no easy solutions". They want you to get it done. They want the "people" part of people management a little more efficient, a little more streamlined...

...a little more automated.

Any org (guild or company) that cares about its people should invest in tools with care, rather than grab at whatever is most "brilliantly marketed". The Myers Briggs test is popular and successful because of wishful thinking...and little else. But neither popularity nor success are a measure of accuracy, which is the one thing the MBTI needs, but lacks. Anyone who states otherwise hasn't done the research, and is merely guessing.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

4.47. The Sound and the Fury

DoD stands over a defeated Heroic: Chimaeron,
Blackwing Descent

Through the Fire and Flames

"Mature, again."


I clenched my teeth and steered Mature around the outer perimeter of Atramedes' gong room, the blind dragon taking flight for the second time. A narrow, laser-like beam of flame struck the floor behind me. The sparks followed my path, like a cutting torch, and closed in.

I much preferred Chimaeron, which had us nearly motionless until the end. One raid night earlier, DoD had defeated the hydra in Heroic mode in only two attempts. I’d like to think we were just that good. In reality, Chimaeron was horribly front-loaded with complexity. Mastering the normal mode was 90% of the fight. Atramedes was no different.

The raiders did ask for harder content!

True. But they didn't ask for some of the other allowances that went along with it.

From his vantage point high above the arena, the dragon could easily outpace me, swiveling faster than I could run. I was the loudest. The sloppiest. I ran past a priest, shaman and warlock, all lying face down.

Well, maybe not the sloppiest.

"Can somebody get those three people up?" Blain's voice rose only enough to command attention, keeping his disgust at bay.

Pulsating concentric circles burst out of the floor at random places, forcing me to dodge as I ran. The rest of the raid was no better off. The mix of sound rings and fire bursting from the floor kept this phase a few degrees south of a complete disaster, a digital obstacle course in which multitasking was a non-negotiable prerequisite. I felt like I was trying to outrun electricity.

The raid kept their chatting to a minimum. When select players spoke, they were calm and collected. It was the only way to maintain order amid chaos. Those who did well under pressure could update Blain. Those more prone to flipping out kept their finger off the 'push to talk' key. I was at the head of that list.

"Go ahead and head back now."

Atramedes flapped his great gray asphalt wings, then drew them inwards and he landed, specks of molten red maroon peering out between the cracks of scales across the creature’s body. I raced back to the tip of the key-shaped arena, resuming placement for phase one.

"Move quick, move quick."

Fractions of a second after arriving, the entire raid shifted to the right, a group of sound rings sailing towards our starting position.

"Got a lot of people with high sound right now," Jungard reported.


The dragon pivoted, spinning 180 degrees and targeting a boomkin, engulfing the player in a torrent of flames. Blackangus ran counterclockwise away from the group, only to collapse, moments later.

"So, there's no resses?" she asked.

I moved west with the group, ping-ponging back to our first position, a tactic that was necessary in mitigating sound increases while keeping the raid safe from Atramedes' burst of flames...the very flames which burnt Blackangus to a crisp, moments earlier. In my periphery, Raise Ally wasn't on cooldown.

"I have one, I can try it."

Before the words even left my lips, Blackangus was alive again, repositioning. Thinking on their feet, someone had already put her back into play. Only seconds passed before Vent lit up again with alerts. This time, it was a new mechanic to be wary of.

"Obnoxious Fiend is up."

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic: Atramedes,
Blackwing Descent

Beep Beep!

This additional distraction, new to the Heroic mode, gave the raid one more thing to have to deal with. Melee turned, and cleaved the creature into oblivion, interrupting any chances it had to scream out its location to Atramedes, increasing our sound levels and our susceptibility to attack.

"Again, they are highly stunnable. And they will not raise your sound if stunned," stated Amatsu. His matter-of-fact delivery had the underpinnings of a vet. Black and he had only been in the roster for several months, but like all star players, immediately made us feel like they’d been in DoD for years.

I dodged and weaved through a set of sonic pulses and bursts of flame, relieved that Atramedes had not chosen me a third time. The honor went to Littlebear for this third go at phase two. At least he was equipped with the tools necessary to outrun flame.

"Watch out, comin' through," Blain raised his voice again, "Beep Beep!"

Several players got a chuckle out of this rare comedic moment. We rushed back to the tip of the key. Here we go again. Keep it together.

A giant strip of fire burned directly through our starting spot. Common sense dictated that we could not resume our original position. Common sense…

"Starting...starting on green," I called out, trying to keep the same levelheadedness as Blain and the others, "be prepared to move in case there's a late…"

...a late buff?

I shut up.

It was time. We had to move back to the red X, but our floating marker was still doused in flame, roping it off.

"k, move to blue, move to blue," Blain called out. Blue square, slightly south of our west/east markers, was the emergency spot.

"It's dissipating," added Jungard. I glanced over to see the flames expiring.

"Ok. Move to red."

The roster resumed its position...but there was no dragon.

Amatsu, thinking ahead, pulled the blind dragon forward, giving us a slightly wider berth while navigating the narrow tip-of-the-key, now heavily doused with fire. But the dragon was out of reach. Move forward? Stay in place? This is where encounters...especially heroic ones...fall apart.

"Sonic Breath, Klocker."

We moved in two groups, melee up front and ranged/heals in the back, struggling to maintain the left/right ping-pong tactic to deal with sonic pulses. The consequences of our spread became apparent immediately: bursts of flame began sprouting up amongst the group, forcing us to shift back, left, right...just enough to stay out of it...and keep us from damaging the blind dragon.

"Sonic pulse."

"Obnoxious Fiend."


"Rallying Cry."

"Move back some, Amatsu."

"Physica, Sonic Breath."

"Divine Hymn."

"Back to green."

Nobody moved.

"Back to green."

Still nothing.

Third times the charm!

I pressed the talk key, "We're on green NOW, GO GO, GREEN GREEN, GO GO!!"

Players started moving, just as the dragon waddled towards his take-off point.

Do or die. You're out of gongs. Kite until dead, or face the flames.

Atramedes took flight, with the roster spreading out around the circular arena. Ranged damage unleashed every last bit of shadowflame, frost, arcane and fire into the creature. Melee juked each Sonic Pulse and burst of fire they could. Each player targeted by the dragon’s cutting torch had to last as long as possible. Paladins could wring out a few extra seconds by waiting until the last possible moment, then bubbling. Damage continued to pour into the dragon as the fire and flames closed in on us.

Then, the blind dragon fell from the sky and collapsed in his own flame. Heroic: Atramedes was in the bank, upping our progress through Blackwing Descent to 3/6.

I recommend not hanging around here.

All For One

The true genius of a film like "The Ring" comes when you realize you're powerless. Ten minutes into a viewing of it, and seeing that awful image in the closet, my nerves were shot. Every synapse fired until the end of the film. In a completely unexpected random moment, The Ring catches you off guard, shocking you into a defcon 1 fight-or-flight alarm. The Ring gives you no hints. You get no rising music, there are no visual cues that horror is about to be thrust upon you. At a moment in the film where you can let your guard down, The Ring ends the facade of safety with a sledgehammer. You can't even fool yourself. You have no answers. You never will.

From that point on, you never know when it's coming for you next. Will it be this next scene? Or how about this next one? There's no pattern to identify, no raid strategy to study or debuffs to let you know the fire is coming your way next. You just sit and wait in abject terror, unable to psychologically prepare yourself for what's about to come.

The human mind struggles to make sense, find patterns, put pieces of the puzzle together, so it can feel safe. The Ring gives you none of these, which makes for a brilliant and frightening experience.

I wished I was back in the theater, watching The Ring, rather than riding this escalator down towards a company orientation.

"Everything was going to be OK," I lied to myself, knowing there'd be no escape from The Three Musketeers. My palm was greasy with sweat as I gripped the handrail, heading underground to the conference rooms below. Tables of catered breakfast were spread across the lobby leading to the auditorium. Above me, speakers blasted 90s dance music. I wasn't fooled. At some point, people dressed like Athos, Porthos and Aramis would cross my path, and no amount of party blowers or dancing red shirts were going to save me.

I wandered the floor, smiling and nodding to strangers, burying panic. Every step was measured and all senses were on full alert, as I sipped my coffee and scanned the crowd of people. I glanced down to my right, noticing a table covered with HELLO MY NAME IS… lanyards, then...what was that? Was that a feathered cap out of the corner of my eye? I looked back. I was certain I saw it. But, nothing. I wanted to focus in on the danger, isolate it...and prepare myself to move far, far away from it.

But, nothing.

When would the costumes come for me?

Thirty minutes later, I sat in a large auditorium, surrounded by nearly one hundred fellow, freshly hired employees. A casually dressed businessman wandered around a podium while discussing corporate history. At times, he would step to the side, making room for the audience to watch a short vignette on a movie screen draped behind him.

To keep calm, I distracted myself from the projector and flipped through a packet of seemingly important paperwork that was tucked into a folder under my chair. As I scanned through the printed material, one set of papers caught my eye. I pulled them out and read the title, printed in bold-face at the top of the first page:

"The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - Personality Test"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

4.46. When Being Wrong is Right

Hanzo announces guild promotions
on the DoD forums

Ignoring the Evidence

As guild leader, no responsibility caused me to second guess myself more than when changing leadership. I was more frequently successful than not, but damage left in the wake of a wrong decision was a tough mess to clean-up.

I was lucky. DoD's leadership spanned a historic list of gifted players: Graulm, Ater, Blain, Kadrok, Haribo, Klocker, Dalans, Breginna, Eacavissi, Neps, Jungard. I hoped that with each promotion, new leadership would follow in their footsteps. It wasn't always that way. Kurst. Dandrak. Cheeseus. And the most recent addition to the list, Lexxii. They weren't bad people, they just missed a piece of the puzzle necessary to keep DoD afloat. My software developer mind wished there was a way to algorithmically get to that missing piece, identify it, so I could look for it in others. What made some folks wildly successful at the head of a team? Is lacking it what caused the others to falter?

My recent change to leadership carried similar hesitancy. With limited resources, I felt strong-armed into promoting Fred, making allowances where I'd otherwise stand my ground. Jungard lobbied for his friend on more than one occasion, and while I trusted his judgement, Fred's actions behind the wheel measured only moderate success. True leaders had something to teach me. When given the opportunity, Fred stopped short.

By comparison, Goldenrod's promotion to ranged dps officer made sense: he'd demonstrated real change from within. You could see it in the meters, hear it in the calm confidence of his voice. A level of maturity emerged from Goldy that kept him calm under pressure while showing compassion for other players. His perspective had grown. He was no longer focused on the minutia of mages suffering in PvP. He saw the big picture.

A red flag flapped violently above Fred's name when I reached for the promotion button.

You're making a mistake. He doesn't have the tools to lead. He doesn't see the big picture.

Maybe not, but he valued the success of the guild. Fred demonstrated it consistently from week-to-week: raw, unbridled loyalty and a yearning to learn and grow.

Even barely noticeable forward growth is still a baby step in the right direction.


Raiders claimed Wrath of the Lich King's raids were too easy and that a return to World of Warcraft's earlier, more difficult raiding days would herald a new dawn for the game. We got what we asked for. Normal 25s were tuned to such a degree that a collective shudder rippled across the roster when contemplating Heroic counterparts. The team yearned for an opportunity to demonstrate their proficiency, feeding off the adrenaline of a kill in the last moments that could go either way.

Halfus was the wake-up call. The two-headed Ettin gating the dark recesses of Bastion of Twilight whet our appetite for those glory days, reminding us of the tenets that got us here. Steadfast resolve amid chaos and panic. Personal responsibility to survive a barrage of ambient collateral damage. And the expectation that every player min/max every last piece of equipment draped across their character. Spontaneity and impulsiveness had to take a back seat. From my raid team, I demanded strength and preparation. From the lowly Raider to my 2nd-in-command: nobody was above growth. We all had something to learn.
Blain's "Thoughts On
Progression" forum thread

Nearly Perpetual Motion

"That last 20% sucked."

"Your Mom sucked 100% last night, Klocker!"

I steered Mature toward twenty-four ghostly bodies bearing my guild's name as they ran back to Blackwing Descent. Six weeks had passed since our kill of Heroic: Halfus Wrymbreaker. Two days prior, Blain took to the DoD boards to get his own pulse from the guild:

As most of you know, I do not like to remain stagnate for long on any specific content, just to acquire gear for the sake of gear. There are some cases where this is unavoidable but there are also cases where we can plan to continue on past content in order to push ourselves. Changing our focus from normal modes to heroic modes is one of those delicate balancing acts. Eventually, we’ll have to say that normal modes are, for the most part, over with, so we can continue on with heroic content. Now I know some people will ask "Why can't we just do both and learn the heroic modes along the way?" To that specific question, I'll say that we will. Today's question is about the focus of both raid nights.

Blain was known for many things throughout his career in DoD, but seeking feedback from the roster was not one of them. This was Blain in rare form, and a perfect example of leadership going the extra mile in order to further DoD's cause. Even if that meant stepping out of a comfort zone.

Blain's new approach to tackling the dreaded Loot Paradox got the roster talking about what amount of time felt right, farming gear vs. pushing progression. And the roster responded well to it, soliciting responses from both the upper echelon of raiders, as well as from leadership itself. Seeing the guild actively engaged in raiding discourse gave me a feeling of quiet pride. The DoD machine was almost self-sustaining.

That same energy on the DoD forums translated to personal investment when it came time to slam our heads against the grueling difficulty of Heroic mode 25-Man raid bosses. Each member sunk their teeth in, knowing full well the harsh reality of repeated wipes -- something those of us from Vanilla knew intimately. We fostered the same emotions of personal investment in the newest players; if they felt they had a hand in deciding their own fate, they were even more likely to align their own goals with that of the guild's. No giving up. No whining. No bitching about missing an upgrade. 

Heroic boss death or bust.


Magmaw had more than enough to keep track of in a Normal kill. The enormous worm stood at the entrance to Blackwing Descent, and was to be tanked by two players -- when one tank was mangled, the other would take over. Magmaw Spit and Magmaw Spew were a constant threat to the lives of the team, keeping the healers fully occupied; Spit was frequent and targeted individuals, while Spew was less so, yet struck everyone in the raid. Pillar of Flame flung players into the air and spawned Lava Parasites that needed to be killed quickly. Ignoring the parasites meant death. The key to Magmaw's defeat was to tie him down during his thrashing with Constricting Chains, allowing players to straddle the worm, and tear into the shell protecting its head while it writhed and bucked.

For Heroic: Magmaw, the extreme became nightmarish, thanks to help from the big boss dragon in a neighboring room.

DoD pulls off a clutch kill, defeating Heroic: Magmaw,
Blackwing Descent

Heroic: Magmaw

Every 30 seconds, Nefarian would raise a blazing animated skeleton in Magmaw's room, spawning from a giant meteor that would stun anyone caught in its impact radius. Animated Skeletons hit hard, easily killing a non-plate wearer in a single hit, and needed to be off-tanked and killed. Killing them required concentrated burst because in their final 20%, the skeletons began an 8 second cast: Armageddon. Failing to commit the animated bones back to the earth resulted in an explosion potent enough to wipe the entire raid. Nefarian also accented the second phase of Magmaw, hurling bolts of Shadowflame Barrage at us, increasing our vulnerability to AoE damage. If we could make it to this point, animated skeletons would no longer plague us.

With all our attention on DPS directed toward Magmaw and Animated Blazing Skeletons, there was little time afforded for Lava Parasites. That meant in Heroic mode, they needed to be handled with a different tactic: kiting. For that assignment, Blain chose DoD's definitive frost death knight, Hellspectral. Utilizing Howling Blast spam, Hells caught each group of spawned parasites in his icy grasp, dragging them far to the outer reaches of the room to be dealt with.

Hells' timing had to be precise, as cross-over between Lava Parasites and Animated Skeletons could mean a rogue skeleton might come his way. To offset this, Littlebear and Jemb were assigned to alternate misdirecting skeletons to the melee group, so the offtank could hold it in place where it was cleaved to pieces. This, too, required timing, as the offtanks could no longer simply trade Magmaw back-and-forth each Mangle. Instead, Blain had one main tank hold Magmaw away from us, the off-tank only taunting prior to Mangle. This freed the off-tank to remain nearly perma-available, standing among melee and ready to pick-up and hold the incoming skeleton.

The last 20% of Heroic: Magmaw was truly the nightmare. Heroic: Magmaw demanded a consolidated final burn, withstanding a massive onslaught of fire and shadowflame. Every last cooldown was burnt, every last trinket was popped. Anything anyone could do to stay alive...they did. One attempt grew to be so frenetic that Sir Klocker side-stepped a Lava Burst, then dodged a Shadowflame...only to walk clear off the broken edges of the floor, plummeting into the lava below.

But as our health bars dipped to 20%, then 10%, then 5%, then 2%, Magmaw slowly picking us off one by one...the worm twitched and buckled in the spasms of death. I looked up from the red madness sloshing across the screen, burning into my eyes, instantly idling at the encounter's end. A few health bars remained. Dewgyd. Neps. Rainaterror. And my own. Four of us had lived. Barely.

After a progression drought of six weeks, Heroic: Magmaw fell on May 6th.


I'd just finished uploading one of the kill screenshots to the "Accomplishments" board, when a whisper came into chat. It was Blackangus.

[From: Blackangus] Just wanted to say thanks again for letting us be a part of DoD. Raiding is actually fun again!

I smiled.

[To: Blackangus] Glad to hear it. We're really lucky to have both you and Amatsu. You two showed up right when we needed you the most.

I glanced down at /trade chat, a nearly endless stream of guild advertisements, forever macro'd to the keyboards of the naive and the damned. I typed a response back to Black.

[To: Blackangus] You never did tell me how you came across DoD. How did you find us, exactly?

[From: Blackangus] Fred recruited us. We joined a Baradin Hold pug with him. He convinced us to check you out. Must have been at least an hour long chat.

Perhaps I'd been wrong about Fred. Perhaps he did have the big picture. For once as a guild leader, I was perfectly happy being wrong. Fred had something to teach me after all.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

4.45. HPWs

Swimming in Death Knights

Heroic progression stagnated after the death of Halfus Wyrmbreaker. Blain's assessment was to narrow our focus onto Heroic: Magmaw at the front of Blackwing Descent. The worm rebuffed us in defiance, its chitinous body squashed the raid as it thrashed about. April turned to May as we burned attempts on Magmaw. To instill the roster with any sense of progression, we started with Bastion of Twilight, mowing across normal bosses for gear and outstanding achievements. On the 1st of May, the 25-Man killed two of Halfus' drakes within 10 seconds of one another, and "The Only Escape" popped up on our screens. They were baby steps. But baby steps were something. Moving forward. Always moving forward.

The tank situation was phenomenally bad. Wrath of the Lich King left us with an influx of death knights, most of whom were spec’d for damage, exacerbated by our server’s PvP designation. Insayno continued to fill as often as possible, and Soot signed up whenever his schedule allowed. A third death knight, Unchained, joined progression in the last week of April; I wasted no time in fast tracking him into the role of tank. But I was about at the end of my rope with death knight tanks. The new blood shield mechanic still wasn’t impressing the healers, and key kit absences were more painful in Heroic: Magmaw than anything we’d dealt with during our nightmarish failures during Normal: Nefarian.

Where were all the druids? The warriors? The paladins?

Recruitment felt like debugging, endlessly scouring lines of code for a smoking gun. Gone were the days of Wrath's abundance of faces. In its heyday, WoW's sub numbers grew to such extremes that we enjoyed a healthy two years in surplus. I worried Cataclysm and its wildly experimental take on accessibility would punish us. I was now starting to feel the shriveled people economy first hand, and the least popular roles were the ones that took the biggest hit. I often wondered if Blizzard felt the trade off was worth it.

I refused to announce recruitment in /general and kept a healthy distance behind the "advertise on the forums" line. Guilds spamming general chat carried a stink of desperation that never washed off. Meanwhile, the forums (particularly Deathwing-US's) dripped with toxicity fueled by the PvP crowd: layer upon layer of unchecked testosterone protecting their soft, chewy, insecure centers. The very mention of raiding drew trolls faster than a Tolkien art contest. I resisted asking for any help on A gun control activist knew better than to spout rhetoric in the middle of an NRA rally. Any inquiry for help would only paint gigantic targets on us.

Always be recruiting.

Easier said than done.

Around the World

With work keeping my focus, and team micromanagement filling my non-raiding hours, there was little time to scour for applicants. More and more, it bled into family time, which I desperately wanted to avoid. The old ways were behind me, and I had no intention of falling back into bad habits. I leaned on old faithful, WoW Lemmings, as a means of finding faces, but there was little ripe for picking. Whenever I sifted through the site, our brethren across the ocean always seemed to have a healthier ratio of recruits.

Too bad we can’t leverage that pool of players, eh?

Oceanic realms were routinely snubbed by the Aussies and New Zealanders, as they were hosted out of a data center in North America; an unfortunate but necessary decision. Thanks to a single Australian ISP diverting its traffic to San Diego before relaying it to the rest of the world, hosting dedicated servers where there be kangaroos wasn't going to provide a better experience -- even choosing a data center in South East Asia, Blizzard claimed, would've been worse. So those players had two choices: Oceanic via North America...or North America.

Some "choice".

You could count DoD's international peeps on one hand. Throughout Vanilla and The Burning Crusade, a warrior named Deathwar checked in. Hailing from Chennai, India, he'd be logging in, just as the majority of us were logging out. Even when restricted to our graveyard shift, Deathwar still felt compelled to hang with a North American guild during extremely inconvenient hours, so DoD was home overseas. Sadly (and unsurprisingly), Deathwar suffered from connection problems as a result of his long-distance log-in, so he was never in a position to contribute to progression.

Blackdodge was our first from the land down under, a mage that poured his heart and soul into PvP, becoming one of the few to earn the coveted rank of High Warlord in Vanilla. Blackdodge spent many a late night (or was that early morning?) alongside players like Annihilation, Creepindeath and Kedavra. He consumed enough Arathi Basin and Warsong Gulch to make a casual never want to log in to World of Warcraft again. But like Deathwar, Blackdodge never really had great opportunities nor interest in participating in progression, so my own exposure to playing with him was limited to chatting in /guild, and the occasional screenshot I’d snap of him for the guild’s homepage.

International players were welcome in DoD, but I never actively sought them out -- it was neither realistic nor fair to ask them to endure awful latency and wildly inappropriate raid times, just for the “luxury” of putting the Descendants of Draenor guild tag under their name. I was always surprised when they sought me out anyway. But to seek me out with intent on joining progression under those extreme conditions?

That was impressive.

Mature and Vexx stand a few feet from one another,
while separated by 8,135 miles in real life,

Accentuated Play

Dewgyd's unmistakably british accent was not what threw me off. The culture of gaming nerds was such that hearing someone rattling off Monty Python quotes in their own unique dialect was a rare perk. The real puzzle was why, exactly, he chose to play on a US server when an English-localized European server provided timezone appropriate raids and latency. Dewgyd claimed he had "weird hours", awake all through the night and into the wee morning, translating to our mid-evening raids. From a scheduling perspective, DoD was a closer fit than anything he could find in Europe.

I looked over his feral druid during the interview process. He was adequately geared, and spoke intelligently about raiding and mechanics. Still, I had to ask.

"What’s your ping like?"

"260-280ms. Y’know. Sometimes it pops up over 300, but you don’t see it often."

An image of Death32c immediately popped into my head. I deathmatched the Quake map so many times, guessing how many opponents I fragged would be pointless. 260-280ms was right about the ping I had to deal with at the time, as packets bound for the University of Colorado at Boulder made their way through my 56k US Robotics modem. Oh, how I longed for a 30ms ping, to be an LPB. A low ping bastard. It wasn't in the cards. My 56k modem designated me an HPW. A high ping whiner. But I still made it work. Violent, bloody death still painted the floors and walls of Death32c in my wake. And players were unpredictable, devious, and cunning. A robotic internet dragon following a script didn’t stand a chance...even with a ping like Dewgyd's.

"Our raids are 7:00pm on Friday and 3:00pm on Sunday, 4 hrs. That's…"

"...2:00am and 10:00pm for me."

Dear God. That would make Friday's raid 2:00am to 6:00am. You’re certain you can make all these raids?

He was certain. The brit joined us in February of 2011, becoming a regular in progression for every week thereafter. I don't recall him missing a single raid, but you're welcome to double check.


The internationalism did not end with Dewy. Vexx was a real catch. Brash and uncouth, she kicked open the doors to DoD and walked directly into progression...and I gladly cleared a path. She was the female alter-ego of Annihilation: Vexx spoke her mind, didn’t care who she offended, and was so enthusiastically committed to playing restoration shaman, she never thought twice about getting up at 6:00am every Sunday to join our 3:00pm raid. The fourteen hour difference between Colorado and her place of residence in Australia, she said, was a small price to pay to be a part of a guild that referred to its digital self as "home".

I nearly regretted pinging Anni the day Vexx donned a DoD tabard. The conversation that followed was mind-numbing to the point of hallucinogenic: a drinking contest of sheer vulgarity, each of them determined to gross each other out. The things I heard discussed that day no human should have to endure. Dalans may have "seen things", but reader, I say to you on this day:

I've heard things.

Vexx was geared and ready for a promotion to Raider by the end of May. Like Dewgyd, the difference in time and latency didn't bother Vexx; she muscled through it without complaint -- immediately logging back in if there was ever a disconnection, which was infrequent. It was her loyalty and dedication to the endgame that I had a deep level of respect for. She could have picked any guild. She could’ve blown off disconnections like so many players blaming lag for their sheer incompetence and inability to admit fault. With the same confidence she used in demonstrating those unconventional norms, she boldly took responsibility for her mistakes...and fixed them.

I wished I could clone her.


April had not been a great month, for reasons I'm sure you are aware of by this point. But amid the drama and tension of that month, a single applicant email arrived in my inbox -- an inquiry from a gal investigating new raid homes for herself and her husband.

I scanned the email quickly, looking for roles and classes. She healed. He tanked. She was a druid. He was a paladin.

I was stunned.

"Blackangus, thanks for reaching out. Let's chat at your next opportunity," I typed back, "Looking forward to seeing if we're a fit for you and Amatsu."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

4.44. The 90-Minute Demotion

Joredin and Mature earn 1000
Conquest Points in 2v2 Arenas,
Ruins of Lordaeron 

Right Spec, Wrong Patch

Another gaming night came and went with few internet dragons slain, thanks in part to a more formidable foe: ongoing micromanagement. I spent the evening checking up on Tacticians, those 10-Man leads running their own mini-guilds within DoD. After getting updates from Borken and Bovie, I wrapped up with Joredin, head of Recovering Raidaholics. Joredin just happened to be my on-again, off-again 2v2 partner. I honestly couldn't tell you how Priest / Death Knight fared competitively circa 4.1, we did it for fun. It was important to keep my relationship strong with all the Tacticians, so I could trust they'd give me the straight story on their own folks. I needed to know if rough times were headed our way.

"I don't have two other healers, but luckily I've been about to pug them each week," Joredin said. "Funny story: we wrapped up Blackwing Descent and were headed to BoT the other night, and I had a DPS switch to heals. We have Halfus down to 50%, healing is super intense. Then I realize our DPS never switched to heals. I was solo healing and dispelling the entire fight. Luckily we didn't wipe, and only had one death."


"Jesus," I said, "was this Disc or Holy?"

"Disc. I don't think I'll ever play Holy."

"Not a fan, eh?"

"I really got into the style of Disc in Wrath, this entirely new way of healing through bubbles. It was fun. Holy really had a tough time keeping up with that. Now in Cata, that gap is even wider. I mean, Holy is even more complex to play than it was in Wrath, and you really have to be at the top of your game to pull it off well. Disc is great because I like the style and it frees me up to keep an eye on all the various things going on in our 10."

"I've got a heated debate going amongst the officers about a particular spec. Like to hear your opinion. It has to do with the change to Chakra."

"Do tell."

"Apparently Chakra was raised to 1 minute in 4.0.6 and most top end priests are no longer spec'd into 1 / 2 State of Mind...they put the point elsewhere. I realize there aren't a lot of options, unless you count Desperate Prayer...if the priest happens to be fond of dying."

"So the debate is where to put the points?"

The debate is about why her attitude sucks.

"I can't say for sure," I told Joredin, "but would appreciate a second set of eyes."

Joredin pulled up the logs of our latest 25-Man progression kills in Blackwing Descent, and started cross-referencing Lexxii's spec with her individual tactics.

"I can't really tell how she is on mana from these logs," he said, "but Renew is one of her top spells. Renew is thirsty. Throughput really comes from Heal, particularly because it relates to Chakra and SoM. But her style really isn't benefiting from these choices. A tiny bit of Circle of Healing, but not even any Holy Word. AoE heals should be a lot higher on this chart."

"One of the arguments she's made is that she is 'always always always' using Sanctuary."

"Again, I don't know her specific role on these bosses, which is highly dependent on how she heals. But to the point, if she claims she's spending all her time in Chakra: Sanctuary, then why even use SoM? It isn't for extending a stance anymore. It's for changing stances more frequently."

Lexxii's tactics were for a spec that no longer existed.

Neps overrides Lexxii's request for more healers,

Excuse Navigation

"You know what this is about, right?"

"I'm guessing you want to get rid of me."

"And what makes you think that?"

"Well, it really isn't that much of a secret. I mean, I know that Jungard doesn't like me, Fred is constantly giving me a hard time, and whenever I try to get support, nobody wants to listen to what I have to say, about strategy or assignments, or whatever. I know they are calling me a bitch behind my back. Which I don't care about, that's fine. I mean, whatever, if that's what makes them feel better about it."

"So you don't really feel like you're getting the support you need."

"Not at all, not really, no."

"Can give me a specific example where you weren't supported?"

She sighed into the mic.

"Ok. Well, like, there was that one time, about a month ago, where I was trying to get seven healers for heroic Halfus, and Neps just rolls right over me."

He's 2nd-in-command. It's his job to override bad decisions.

"Blain never really listens to me, either. Whenever I try to push harder, sure enough there's Neps and Klocker and Jungard right there supporting him and shutting me down. I mean it really is insensitive, which is surprising because I've never really been in a guild before where the guild leader is supportive, but the officers behave like that. It's just been a lot of ego and bullshit and children beating their chest."

It's called a 'unified front', Lexxii. You might take a page from their book.

"Blain doesn't approve of redoing strategy mid-raid. That's something he made clear when he took on the role of raid leader. I know you weren't around for the early days, but allowing officers to second-guess and debate him as he prepares for a pull is inappropriate. I don't allow it. Neps and Klocker and Jungard are doing their jobs in support of that policy. Blain's made it pretty clear that if you want to debate the merits of certain tactics, that those debates need to happen post raid."

"Yeah, but he's never available."

He's never available? Or you aren't.

"I've seen you spending a lot less time online in the evenings these days. Is it possible that you are the one that's not readily accessible after raids?"

"I've had a whole bunch of things going on in the evenings that normally weren't taking up a lot of my time, back in Wrath."

"OK, that's fine. We all have real life responsibilities. And I'm pretty sure you know what kind of a ship I run here. That's why we have a static raid schedule – so our players can re-arrange the rest of their stuff safely. They'll know it's Friday night and Sunday day, and that's it. No surprises. But if you're going to be a leader, you're expected to stay on top of specs. If it comes naturally, then there's no issue. But if it doesn't, some extra time and effort might be warranted."

"So it's about the spec."

Aha. So you do know there's an issue.

Lexxii is the sole death as the 25-Man progression
team defeats Heroic: Halfus Wyrmbreaker,
Bastion of Twilight

On Credibility

"So what's the deal with the spec, then?"

"They're giving me a hard time because I'm not spec'd into whatever cookie cutter build is at the top of worldoflogs or wherever they're looking these days."

Get specific, Lexxii. Demonstrate some expertise.

"Can you elaborate?"

"They keep bitching about how I’m spec'd into State of Mind, and they don't understand how I'm using it."

"Enlighten me."

She sighed again, as if being forced to a re-paint a freshly painted house.

"The way Holy works is that the Chakras are all a stance that boost a particular proficiency. Sanctuary is the one I spend all of my time in. State of Mind lets me extend that stance."


"And what problem do they have with it?"

"They're saying that I'm not able to permanently keep the stance up, since the 4.0.3 patch, so why bother even using it. But they don't understand that I’m not trying to keep it permanently up. I'm aware 100% uptime isn't possible. It doesn't matter, the throughput that's generated from being in Sanctuary is better than not being in it. So, yes, I may not be able to keep it up permanently, but the longer, the better."

"You say SoM is more important than something like Surge of Light or Desperate Prayer. Let me give you the benefit of the doubt. If Sanctuary is your go-to Chakra, the one you're most comfortable in, that should mean your healing spells should reflect Sanctuary, right?"

"They should, yeah."

"The last logs I pulled off Atramedes show you leaning heavily on Renew. But Renew doesn't benefit at all from Sanctuary. In fact, would you not agree that it's costly, and therefore, not a great example to push your throughput?"

"Atramedes isn't a very good fight to look at. The entire second phase we're constantly running around, banging gongs, dodging fire. Even phase one has us dodging rings, I barely have any time to pull off Circle of Healing or Holy Word."

"Hold on, now. Stay with me a moment. So your Renew is way up, and spells that are directly benefited by Sanctuary are way down. Can you see why the officers might be concerned that you're spending time in a Chakra that doesn't reflect the way in which you heal? Does that make sense?"

Lexxii repeated her initial claim, a bit louder this time. As if I hadn't heard her.

"Atramdes isn't a good fight to measure this by!"

"So if you know that Atramedes doesn't play well to your spec, why are you using it?"

Another audible sigh.

"Lex, I don't want to sit here and tell you what's right and what's wrong. Only you know what spec works for you. What I want to stress that's far more important than individual talent choices is how you defend those choices. You're trying to convince me that Atramedes is a bad fight to use as a gauge of effectiveness. What you should be convincing me of is why you aren't switching to something else when we get to Atramedes."

More silence.

"It's OK to not know the answer. It's not OK to defend those reasons for answers you make up. You're a good healer. You're competent."


"I fast tracked you to Elite in Wrath because you represented the type of raider I hoped others would emulate. But today, we’re talking exclusively about your role as Healing Officer, a role you and I agreed that would be something we'd try out. And for that, I need more than competence. I need you to understand the nuance of your class so well that you are in a position to defend something perceived as a bad spec choice. Without even giving it a second thought, you should be able to tell me exactly why you stay in your spec for Atramedes, and give me...or anyone in the guild...the kind of answer that stops us dead in our tracks. The kind that makes us go 'Ohhhhhhh. My God. I never considered for this or that. You've given me some significant insight into Holy today.' And if you can't, that's perfectly OK...but you cannot be in a position to lead until you do."

I continued, "You said yourself that you have more on your plate now, after hours, then you expected. Let me lighten the load on your behalf. We'll be professional and discreet about the change -- this isn't going to be an attack or smear on your skills. The guild is very appreciative of you stepping up and handling things at the start of Cata. We'll swap Fred in and give him a shot, and let you take a backseat."

"So am I going to end up losing a bunch of raid spots now?"

"Absolutely not. I still consider you top tier, and I expect to see you at every Fri/Sun raid here on out. From now on, you can focus on doing what you do best..."


"…healing. And this will give you an opportunity to get a bit more flexible with your spec if you need to try things out, without being under the scrutiny of the officership. Make sense?"

I waited for the "Yeah. You're right, Hanzo. I never saw it that way before. Thanks! I appreciate the support."

No such luck.

"...I guess so. Whatever works. I mean, it doesn't matter if I switch up my spec, or stick with a particular spec, I feel like they're going to find a way to tell me why I'm wrong, or why I have to start using a particular spell on a particular encounter, and I really thought I would get more support on my reasons and…'

I shut up and let her talk. And talk. And talk. And talk.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

4.43. Guitar Hero in Hell

Mature clocks in at a full 2k under Hells
as the 25-Man defeats Heroic: Chimaeron,
Blackwing Descent

Right in the Feels

Omaric's exit from DoD opened up a new position for a ranged officer. I'd approached Mangetsu once before, but he politely declined, unsure of his ability to commit to the necessary demands of leadership. While mulling it over one evening, I decided to return to Karazhan to farm for Attumen's mount.

As ghoulish melodies of the harpsichord belted out of my speakers, I was immediately reminded of Goldenrod, the mage who'd been my officer back in The Burning Crusade, and who had recently returned to 25-Man progression. I'd been spending more time with Goldy, both in-game and out, thanks to the convenience of my new job flying me out to California every few months.

Goldy, too, had done well to take heed of his own vulnerabilities. He'd grown from a player willing to cancel his Blizzard account in a fit of rage over a ticket fiasco, to defending himself against cancerous attacks that challenged his ethics (and keeping a cool head throughout the ordeal). During one of my business trips, I extended the position of ranged officer to Goldenrod, and he humbly accepted.

Goldenrod was DoD's last ranged officer.


Sentimentality nearly always gets the best of me. The amount of time I spend dwelling on the past is probably a little extreme. If there was ever any doubt, allow me to point out, dear readers, that you're in the midst of reliving a story which ended four years ago. This kind of sappy melancholy isn't typical amongst gamers who carry themselves as if every day is a clean slate. At times, I get a little disgusted with myself, just on principle. It's a game. Move on with your life.

It's those damn external triggers. For me, nearly all of them are steeped in music. Fire up a song from a particular WoW soundtrack and my mind instantly rewinds to that moment in time. Netherstorm's hollow echoes as lightning cracks across the barren purple landscape, and I'm immediately reminded of Divinepants trying to finagle his way back into the guild. Black Temple's orchestrations will always remind me of Ater's final days in the guild. Even Alliance music does it: Elwynn Forest catapults me right back to Vanilla, right where it all started. It's a fun party trick; try it on me if you see me at the next BlizzCon.

I'm sentimental because I'm an emotional guy...I have a box of broken keyboards to prove it. Coming to terms with that part of me was evolutionary. Learning that my affinity to punch keyboards affected my decision-making changed how I made decisions.  Knowing that, if left unchecked, my emotions could lead me down a dark path, they could be used against me by those seeking their own agendas. It's OK to reminisce fondly about times that have passed, but clinging to old ways on account of tradition is a path with too much zeal for my tastes. Be objective with decisions, look at it from all angles.

And remember that gut instinct is statistically more likely to be right.

...just know that the Halo Effect applies to your perception of more than simply people.

Mature sizes up his dual wield gear next to Hells,
Ebon Hold

End of the Honeymoon

Unholy was pissing me off.

The spec I grew to love in Wrath was history. I tried everything I could to acclimate to the death knight changes, but after five months of swapping to DPS whenever we secured two tanks, my DPS wasn't where it needed to be. There is nothing more pathetic that a player whose only claim to fame is denial. When that player happens to be the guild leader, it's flat out inappropriate.

The Blizzard hype machine was on overdrive when the death knight changes were announced for Cataclysm. I'll admit there was a brief and torrid love affair with Dark Transformation, when my ghoul first grew to twice its size, cleaving its way through a pack of trash. And Blizzard's description of Dark Simulacrum made its spell-copying ability read like unfulfilled necrotic desires were now within reach of Mature's pallid fingertips. Oh, you gonna Mirror Image, mr. mage? Let's see how you handle three death knights.

In reality, Dark Transformation's uptime was awful, and micromanaging the timing to increase it left wide gaps in unspent runes, downgrading both Mature's effectiveness and my enjoyment. It was difficult to get right on a dummy, never mind the chaos of a Heroic: Magmaw attempt. And as for Dark Simulacrum, it ended up a nerfed, barely-realized fantasy. A million spells in World of Warcraft, and death knights ended up being able to copy...about four.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. But it felt like four. And that didn't feel very fun.

I put on my big boy pants and took these cuts in stride. There was still plenty to like (including Necrotic Strike). What I could not turn a blind eye to, however, was the new rotation. Or lack of a rotation, to be specific.

In Wrath, there was an implicit contract with the death knight. If you want to burn all six runes in as fast as your globals would allow, knock yourself out. It could also mean you go for a long period without having any runes to spend. But the disciplined death knight (an oxymoron, I know) would easily get into a rhythm that had runes cooling down at a rate tempered by how quickly their runic power was burned. By having the runes cooldown simultaneously, one could get into a solid rhythm, moving back and forth between runes and runic power, but still be able to burn all six in nearly a heartbeat, if there was cause.

The rotation was easy to master. I could stand with the best melee in the guild -- Blain, Jungard, Hells -- and use a boss like Deathbringer Saurfang to make sure everything was in alignment. Saurfang was our Patchwerk, and while I'm not about to sit here and debate his difficulty (hint: he's not), I made no secret about looking forward to the fight every raid evening. It was the one place guildies couldn't claim problems like "too much moving around" or "lag affected me too much" or one of a million other excuses why their numbers weren't where they should be. Saurfang was the benchmark, and every kill gave me an opportunity to ensure my rotation was exactly where it needed to be.

Perhaps I was in the minority in thinking the death knight rune system was working pretty well out of the gate. Blizzard didn't think so. The claim was that our play style was essentially "rune locked": that we only had enough globals to burn each rune as it cooled down, forcing us into a locked rotation that was too penalizing if we strayed. Some death knights seemed to yearn for a system more random, more up to the player at any given moment. Some call that a more "dynamic" system, a more rewarding play style.

I saw the logic of the "rune lock" argument, and looked forward to what lay ahead.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock

"Driving Instructor" isn't a Career, It's a Sentence

Now in Cataclysm, runes cooled down sequentially, rather than simultaneously. It was easier to stray from the rotation because there really wasn't a rotation -- runes ended up sporadically appearing, one-by-one, in a slow-as-molasses style that wasn't anything even remotely close to a "rhythm". This was the side-effect of the new system. A rune would not cooldown until its equivalent partner cooled down. It was clunky. It felt like Mature was perpetually tapping his foot, looking at his watch, waiting for the right rune to reset.

The odd slowness of the new rune system was immediately felt in early Cataclysm beta. To offset this, Blizzard gave frost death knights Runic Empowerment, a talent that jelled with frost's proc-like style. But for Unholy, we gained a different talent: Runic Corruption...or what I like to call "Guitar Hero in Hell".

Runic Corruption was a talent that had a small chance to proc when we spent Runic Power. When it proc'd, rune regeneration would double for three seconds. This was Blizzard's halfhearted attempt to resolve the sluggishness of the death knight that was introduced with runes cooling down sequentially.

Since my rune addon of choice was DKIRunes, I'd configured my UI to have my runes cooldown in a vertical animation, coming to rest at the screen's dead center. The effect was not unlike the lanes of multicolored buttons that stream towards a musician as they rock out on a plastic guitar in the various Rock Band and Guitar Hero style music rhythm games. With Runic Corruption proc'ing, I expected to get Mature back into his groove, ramp up the speed and eventually hit a new momentum in which I was spending runic power, procing Runic Corruption, lighting up the runway with runes as they poured down my screen in double time, and repeating the process.

In practice, it was a constant state of speeding up and slowing down, which felt like the first day of Driving School. The whiplash of constantly lurching forward, then screeching to a halt. then lurching forward again. You were either doing 60mph...or nothing, but you weren't doing either for very long.

I tried everything I could to get into the groove that Runic Corruption promised, to hit that steady stream of runes flowing down the screen. But the groove never materialized, and week after week of "good intentions" did little in the way of contributing DPS to our heroic attempts. I faced the truth: this wasn't Wrath, and I needed to stop pretending it was.

Cataclysm's Unholy was clunky, awkward, and most of all: not fun. But even more than any of these, Cataclysm's Unholy prevented me from realizing Mature's full potential. As the music of the death knight wing in Naxxramas piped through Ebon Hold, I divorced myself from the notion Unholy would ever be what I remembered it to be, and respecc'd to Frost.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

4.42. Fear of the Unknown


Neglected software teetered precariously like a Jenga tower, each brick an absurd joke played on the company. Dunning-Kruger was alive and well, running amok behind the corporate curtain. There was no excuse. You didn't even have to hit Barnes & Nobles up for a book. The power of Google was at your fingertips. Everybody needs to start somewhere, but the point is to move onward and upward. Each line of code I read caused me to question humanity. Where was the pride? Where was the motivation to improve? To grow? To arrive at a place slightly less shitty than yesterday? It sickened me how some programmers treated their job as menial labor. You're creating something. Put some effort into it.

One of my first repairs required little more than what it took to install a WoW addon. Examining the code around a malfunctioning search field, I noticed its library was severely out of date. The last time a human being had put eyes on it was early 2008. It was like trying to get CT_RAID to work in Cataclysm, then realizing the addon hadn't been updated since The Burning Crusade.

All hail jQuery, a JavaScript library leveraged by web developers around the globe. Competent web developers. jQuery did the heavy lifting. It masked the complexities of browser incompatibilities so that a developer could focus on getting things done. When you hear the expression "Work smarter, not harder", but aren't exactly sure how to do that, jQuery is a fine tool to have in your belt.

It took five minutes to download the latest version, drop it in place, and change a few calls around the search field. Just a little effort. That's all. Was that so hard?

A normal person might sit back and bask in the glory of their cleverness, but I couldn't leave it alone. When someone's boneheaded move nearly kills you on the freeway, a rage begins to seep through every muscle that grips the steering wheel. Suddenly, you are compelled to pass the offender. You have to see their face, to see what kind of imbecile they would have to be. You have to give them "the look". I hate you.

I had to see the face of the person who left this code in a state of disarray.

This person, who we'll call The Brosef, was no longer around. It required little detective work to figure out who he was; his pathetic few code comments were initialized, leaving a breadcrumb fail trail. Cross-referencing with a few folks around the office confirmed The Brosef's identity, and within minutes, googling led me to LinkedIn. Seeing his face didn't help, and seeing his activity on the social network only made things worse.

There he was, actively participating in answering programming questions from the community. Only they weren't "answers", so much as they were complete and utter bullshit. Unlike Stack Overflow, where your accuracy is vetted by anonymous peers, LinkedIn provides no such mechanism. You can be as right or as wrong as you wish, and nobody knows the wiser. The people that "vet" you on LinkedIn are the professionals that know you personally, that have worked with you, the sorts of folk whose names appear under the "References" section of your resume. Having a network of professional references is an excellent way to help nail that interview shut, but it's not how you gauge authenticity of someone's skills. When it comes time to answer a skill-testing question, are you going to have your ex-boss come in and take the test for you?

I scanned The Brosef's posts until I couldn't take it anymore. Either wrong or contradictory, his answers infuriated me, until all I could do was just stare at his profile photo in abject disgust. Staring back, with his too cool-for-school sunglasses and smirk of proud accomplishment, his photo seemed to say, "Yo. Looking for a new programmer? Hey...your search is over."

Just like your career.

Talking Tech

Soot stormed down a hallway that had been carved out of the ocean floor, charging the Faceless Watcher, his death and decay rippling and boiling in a familiar circular pattern under their feet. I kept my distance, lighting the mobs up from afar with Syrophenikan's Multi-shot.

"So, Soot...I hear you're like my alter ego, but in the .NET world."

"Yeah, that's right. What's yours again? ColdFusion, right?"


"Heh," he paused between pulls, "Yep, web dev is my game. For quite a few years now. Well, these days it's really more about architecture and specs than actually coding."

"I see," purposefully changing my tone to exaggerated disgust, "so you've become one of those people."

Soot laughed, "Management is not all that bad. I mean, think about what you do now, you're coding off of a blueprint that you write…"

"...that you never end up writing," I said. The wicked problem. Software development demands well-defined rules before you sit down to type the first line of code. Yet, few developers actually end up writing specs. They're boring. They're inaccurate. Nobody reads them. It makes people in suits feel good because they like to see a plan; ask any programmer how much they love to bend over backwards for incomprehensible corporate demands. Nerds just want to be left alone to code.

Of course, these are all excuses for the real answer: many programmers don't know how to write specs.

"The old joke, yeah," Soot agreed, "Well, when you have a staff of offshore developers, you have to write the blueprint. It's a non-negotiable. And I'll agree it may not be as exciting as writing the actual code, but you're still in charge of how it all comes together. You're still designing. You're calling the shots. But without all the stress of late night and weekend bug fixes."

I'll admit, it had a certain appeal to it. Briefly.

"I dunno, chief. I don't think I could trust other developers to do it correctly." I spasmed, flashing back to the audacity earlier in the work day, "It feels like senior level folks are consistently doing junior level shit. Take today, for example. Some rook left a jQuery library outdated for years on this one search field. Seriously! How hard is it to fold library updates into your build process?"

"Ah, I love jQuery," Soot said, "makes things so much easier."

Just then, Lexxii's voice piped up in Vent.

"I dont' use jQuery at work. I really don't like it at all."

I'd completely forgotten that Lexxii was also a web developer. I hadn't really discussed work topics with her in the past, so this was a first.

"Why?" I asked, taken aback, "jQuery is industry-known and tested. At the very least, you gain maintainability through it. Other devs know it, they can come in and pick up where you left off."

Soot politely played devil's advocate, "There are some other solid libraries out there. What's your preference?"

"None. I don't use any libraries. I write all my script from the ground up."


"Hold up. You don't use any library? You write everything from scratch?"

"Yup. All the time."

Soot and I stayed quiet a moment, waiting to see how Lexxii would justify so much extra work. What insight would we glean from her revelation that the developers of 7 million other websites hadn't collectively figured out?

"When I write it by hand, it's way faster."

"...what is? You mean the code executes faster in the browser?"

"No, I mean I write it faster. Faster and easier to write."

Soot said nothing. I stared at the screen a moment in stunned silence.

You know, you could probably build a house faster, too, if you didn't use any concrete, insulation, nails, roofing materials, tile, cabling or plumbing...and just leaned a bunch of boards against one another. Like a rook.

Off and into the dark recesses of my mind stretched an unending series of red flags into forever, flapping violently, harbingers of the forthcoming disaster.

The Grand Ol' Sharpshooters of Texas

You choose people to take care of matters you're unable to. I knew my strengths weren't in raid leading, which is why I put Blain in charge of PvE strategy. I couldn't be in all places at all times, which is why I had role officers. My perfect choice for each promotion was someone whose knowledge surpasses mine in the given area; I don't want to tell them what to do, I want them to tell me what we should do.

In that decision making comes a risk: you don't know what you don't know. You could be putting someone in charge that seems like they're an expert. Beware the illusion of manufactured proficiency, residue from the Halo Effect. Your expert may seem like the sharpest of shooters, when in fact, it is you simply painting a target around the most convenient bullet holes.

DoD rode a successful wave of recruitment during ICC, snapping up names like Lexxii and Bullshark, players that topped meters on day one...and stayed there. Fast-tracking them to Elite served two purposes: it acknowledged their exceptional play and sent a message to core: this is the kind of competitive play you need to aspire to. But the Halo Effect clasped its golden grip around me, manipulating my emotions and decision-making. It led me to believe things that weren't proven, that perhaps a player like Lexxii was a profoundly awesome player and healer, and that her successes weren't simply the result of riding the coat tails of her former guild. That she was an expert player because of her skills, not despite them.

The evidence of a freshly painted target dripped its red-and-white evidence over every early decision I made regarding Lexxii. I picked her for healing officer not because I was convinced of her ability, but was unconvinced of Fred's. Fred struggled with healing and survivability; to Lexxii, it came instinctively. Yet, I was having a difficult time pinpointing in my mind an exact instance where Fred had died in an amateurish move. By contrast, Lexxii had been dying a lot in these first few months of Cataclysm raiding.

And how closely had I ever examined those meters? Lexxii preferred Holy, choosing Disc only at particular moments near the end of Heroic 25-Man ICC. I hadn't boned up on specs, since ironically, this was what I put her in charge of. But in my brief research of 4.1 Priest theorycrafting, Disc was dominating. That wasn't to say holy priests were bad, but in order to pull holy off, you had to be good. No coat tail riding allowed.

Some saw through the facade early on. But as luck would have it, the types of people complaining the most about Lexxii were the sort of people whose opinions deserved to be ignored. If naysayers wanted to choose the cynical route, they were free to. In my mind, Lexxii earned the chance to prove them wrong, to prove she was competent.

Competency, however, is not enough of a qualifying factor for leadership. It's barely enough to put you in the running.


Neps filled in the blanks, pointing out how effectively I'd painted the target around Lexxii.

"We've chatted a few times. It's not great," he said, referring to her spec. Neps always tried to be polite when discussing the captain of a failboat. I listened as Neps picked apart her spec, talent by talent.

"And you've recommended these changes to her?"

"Yep. She doesn't seem that interested in changing."

"She give you a legitimate reason why not?"

"She gave reasons. I don't know that I'd call them 'legitimate'."

I took a deep breath, that one you take when you come to the realization you've made a bad judgement call, "What's your take?"

Neps thought a moment, then spoke, "I don't think she's comfortable trying anything new."