Thursday, February 20, 2014

3.55. Nine One One

Patch 3.1 - The Secrets of Ulduar
Official Artwork (Algalon pictured)
Copyright © 2009 Blizzard Entertainment

The Incident


Talk to enough World of Warcraft players and eventually you'll get the story about "that one night". A player remains fastened to their chair while, two rooms away, an unattended skillet of bacon catches fire. The stove ablaze, the player recounts the boss's health trickling down, staying just long enough to secure loot before brandishing a fire extinguisher. Whether dull (drove around stealing my neighbor's wi-fi) or disgusting (puked in a bucket next to my computer through an entire night of attempts on Sapphiron), sooner or later, a raider lives through such an experience...and our guild wasn't exempt. A car crashed through one raider's living room wall, another raider was escorted away from his computer in handcuffs. These bizarre raiding-under-duress stories resonate deep in the hearts of players who've experienced such circumstances themselves. 

In today's blog post, I join those ranks.

---

The weekend before patch 3.3 landed, there was an incident.

I hoped for a laid-back weekend. Guild issues consumed most of my attention in the weeks leading up to the next big content patch. My attempt at appointing a new Alt-25 leader led to an almost immediate shitcanning of the player, damage quickly repaired thanks to the help of Mangetsu (his efforts earned him the Avatar rank in the process). Bheer had dropped a bomb on me, walking away from the 25-Man progression team and his Elite rank, providing neither forewarning nor explanation. And my finely crafted loot rules were about to get their first amendment, something I hoped to save until the end of the expansion. It was a lose-lose scenario: avoiding the loophole would have compounded its effect, but changing rules ad hoc carried the stigma of a dictator arbitrarily "playing" his people to suit his own needs. With these latest upheavals, I gladly welcomed a weekend with no surprises. 

I was about to get one I would not soon forget.

It was Saturday evening when the text message arrived from Blain,

"10-Man Algalon?"

The progression raid had only spent one weekend in the Celestial Planetarium thus far, a star-filled room locked tightly in the recesses of Ulduar. Our attentions had been divided. Focus shifted to the Tournament of Champions once our Ironbound Proto-Drakes were in hand, yet loose ends dangled in Ulduar. Algalon the Observer was a unique hard-mode only boss, and few 25-Man guilds on the server had wrapped him up by this point. We were going to have to bite the bullet soon. Blain's text optioned a chance for me to get more hands-on practice with the Observer, get familiar with his airtight tuning and mechanics. With luck, we could leverage that experience in the 25-Man, communicating his subtleties to the remainder of the team. The night was a blank slate. The kids were busy entertaining themselves in the living room, and my wife was out running errands. I rarely got the chance to raid on nights I hadn't scheduled real life around, and so thumbed a text back to Blain,

"BRT"

Excerpt from "World of Warcraft Comic - Special #1
Beginnings and Ends"
Copyright © WildStorm / Blizzard Entertainment

Celestial Assembly

The invite dialog popped up as Mature materialized on screen; I glanced at the assembled team while popping into Ventrilo. Omaric was present on Ikey-bear; I saw no other tanks...which meant the plan most likely pointed to me for tank No. 2. Healers appeared to be Neps via his paladin Jlo, alongside the 25-Man healing officer (and Eh Team member) Gunsmokeco. As for DPS, familiar faces stood next to Blain. Turtleman was present, as was Crasian, my "departing" death knight who hadn't quite cut the cord. Was he back already? Had he even left? It wasn't clear. Borken the shaman, a long-time veteran of DoD, offered up his power over the elements. Also present was Shiftr, a druid dating back to TBC, he had taken time off and was now back, lapping up our recent successes. Rounding the team out was Razzy, a player often seen chumming it up with Neps in PvP during the off-hours. Raz boasted multiple characters; tonight, he chose the retribution paladin. So, the final role call consisted of:

2 death knights: one blood, one unholy,
2 druids, one feral, one boomkin,
2 shamans, one restoration, one elemental,
2 paladins, one holy, one retribution,
1 fire mage,
and 1 assassination rogue.

Then ten of us headed to Ulduar while Vent lit up on the topic of strategy. How were the healers going to coordinate a rotation on the Big Bang tank? Should Crasian retain sole responsibility of the living constellations? Would the tanks be moving Algalon near a black hole in prep for Phase Punch? The conversation was almost entirely tactical, peppered with occasional reminders about the fateful one hour limit. Once we loosed our first arrows upon Algalon, the clock began to tick. From that point forward, we would only have sixty minutes to defeat the boss. Sixty minutes of attempts, wipes, running back, cleaning up, and getting mistakes straightened out. Baby steps, the core ideology fueling our progression since Molten Core, was no longer a viable option on tonight's agenda. We would have to move swiftly, adjust on the fly, and play with surgical precision. Repeating mistakes would waste precious minutes, so for the purposes of speed and efficiency, we did away with the politically correct formalities.

Tonight, it was about not fucking up.

As the first seconds ticked off the sixty-minute clock, the team jelled with synergy. Those present from Eh Team already claimed first-hand experience, calling out as many live adjustments as possible. I watched my health spike as the titanic guardian laid me out; Algalon hit like a truck. Every ounce of willpower bubbled to the surface in an attempt to keep me from spazzing out. I reached for Icebound Fortitude as he bashed my skull in, but resisted as Guns and Neps kept me alive. That cooldown needed to be ready for Big Bang while the rest of the team escaped the incoming celestial blast. Any and all mitigation was necessary to withstand its power; without IBF, I'd surely die. We survived the first transition, but a series of mishaps led to a healer death. This prevented Ikey from receiving much needed protection during the second Big Bang, ending the attempt in a wipe. 

With the clock ticking, we rushed back to the Celestial Planetarium, buffed, and prepared for a second pull. This time, it was well into the attempt before things fell apart. Someone stood too close to a Cosmic Smash, its AoE damage lowering their health just enough to be picked off by the implosion of a collapsing star -- further AoE damage which tore a black hole open in the planetarium. We judged the death too early in the attempt to recover from, so decided to call a wipe and raced back for our third attempt. 

Fifteen minutes of sand had already slipped down through the hourglass.

I heard the familiar scrape of the computer room door behind me, its hinges clung for dear life into a frame boasting multiple repair jobs...none of which had been successful. What intruder dared enter the cave during raid time? Hunter, my eleven year old son, stood there. Across the room, his older sister Ariel glanced up from the Alienware laptop I won four years earlier at BlizzCon, images of Invader Zim flashing off the display. Hunter's wide blue eyes prepared to deliver a message he wasn't entirely sure how to deliver.

I lifted my headphones off just as the sounds of Blessing of Might and Arcane Intellect echoed in the distance, and I gave my son a foreboding "Yes?", intent on conveying the severity of time at this very moment. I expected a request of ice cream or a new movie to be queued up.

"Dad, there's someone at the door. He says he's having a heart attack."

My headphones hit the floor.

A Denver Emergency vehicle not unlike the
one that showed up at my door during Algalon

Paramedic Equation

I slammed my hand down on the 'talk' key, fumbling to grab the headphones' mic off the ground.

"Guys, I have an emergency. I think. BRB."

I kicked my chair away and nearly ripped the door from its rotted frame, racing past Hunter to the front door. Swinging it open, a stranger stood there in the cold Colorado night. He looked about six foot two inches tall, late fifties, hair wild like a mad scientist and beard disheveled and unclean. A tattered, filthy dark green jacket struggled to keep his frail body warm, and his jeans were caked with patches of mud. He swayed uneasily as drool dangled from his mouth, and his left hand clutched at his chest. Unintelligible sounds gasped from his mouth; the only ones I could decode bore a vague resemblance to "help".

I guided the old man out of the cold, kicked the door shut, and helped him to the couch several feet inside. He slumped down like the weight of the world had been taken off his shoulders, yet continued to grimace in pain. I spun around to face my kids, now both standing and staring wide-eyed. Pulling out my phone and reaching for the only three numbers anyone dials in a situation like this, I pointed at the cave like Steve Jobs calling out his critics, "Hunter. Go tell them I'm calling an ambulance for someone having a heart attack. Go! Go!" He tore into the computer room with his father's assignment. In moments I was rattling off my address to the 911 operator, explaining the situation. An emergency vehicle was on its way.

"And can you give me the name of the person who needs assistance?" she asked me.

I stared at the old man on the couch, still grimacing, unable to articulate.

"I have no idea. He is a complete stranger."

Not two seconds after we were disconnected, I heard the wail of sirens spin up in the distance -- a convenient side effect of living in the downtown area. Red lights pulsed from the street, soon painting my living room through the main window. One by one, medical personnel flowed into into my living room, each with a different mission. One began shining a flashlight into his eye, another held his wrist, listening intently for his pulse. Still the paramedics continued. "Hey how are ya?" "Hey thanks for coming." "Hi come on in." "Hey there, he's right over here." 

What was this, the clown car of ambulances? How many paramedics can they fit in one of those things? The room swarmed with medical staff. One shorter, female paramedic began drilling me for more information. Oh, this homeless dude that's a complete stranger to me? Here's his entire medical history!

"It's like I said on the phone, I have no idea who he is. Just showed up on my doorstep."

Notes were scribbled onto paper attached to boards. Blood pressure cuffs went on, then came off. Black leather emergency kits were unzipped, and produced medical tools of various sizes and shapes. Before long, they had the old man back up on his feet, and were hobbling him off to the ambulance waiting outside. I stood there for a few minutes, stunned, not realizing that the last paramedic was heading out, shaking my hand on the way, thanking me for making the call. 

And just like that, my living room returned to silence.

As I began to mentally process just what in the hell had transpired, a surreal daze set in. Hunter walked up to me.

"Dad, they're still waiting."

Fuck. Algalon. Sixty minute timer.

I ran back into the computer room, grabbed the headphones, shuffled them onto my head, and pressed the 'talk' key.

"OK. I'm back. Sorry about that."

Digital voices on the other end of Ventrilo spoke hesitantly, "So...Hunter said you had to call 911?"

"Yeah. There was a homeless dude having a heart attack on my doorstep."

"Oh my god! Is he gonna be OK?"

"I'm not sure…I mean, I think so. He was able to limp out of here on two feet, with help from the paramedics. That has to be a good sign, right?"

The digital voices all agreed that 'walking' was a positive sign. An uncomfortable silence followed. I looked at the clock under the mini map. Thirty more minutes had clicked off. We were down to our final fifteen minutes of attempts.

"So...should we finish Algalon or…?"

I put their minds at ease.

"Yeah. Let's do that."

We made our third pull on Algalon. My senses seemed heightened, no doubt a result of adrenaline still coursing through my veins. I dodged cosmic smash a little easier, I brought the boss next to black holes a bit quicker. And I think everybody else seemed like they were sitting up a little straighter in their chairs. And in those fifteen minutes that remained of our original hour-long countdown, we defeated Algalon the Observer, the golden achievement bar flashing "Observed (10 Player)" up on the screen.

"So, now we know what it takes to get new bosses killed!" someone said over Vent.

"Please," I replied, "I think I've had about all the heart attacks I can withstand for one guild leadership."

Mature assists a crew in securing their
first 10-Man kill of Algalon the Observer,
Ulduar

6 comments:

ellie said...

Just wanted to say your blog is on my Feedly and it's the first one I read. I get excited when I see a new post!

:)

Alex said...

I like your stories about a specific kill. Can said i get hooked with this blog when read the Razorgade story.

P.D. Who was the man in the end? What happen to him?

Shawn Holmes said...

@Ellie,

That is really cool of you to say, thank you so much for being such a dedicated fan!

@Alex,

Never did find out what happened to the old guy, though I suspect he made it through that particular night.

Elley Blue said...

This is such a gripping post! What a mad evening, thank goodness he was okay and hey awesome you downed Algalon.

P.s. I thought I might add that for the first few trips to your blog I thought it was called 'Eighty Ears in Azeroth.'
I am still disappointed in the lack of ears.

- Elley

Shawn Holmes said...

@Elley,

You're not the first to see 'eighty ears' in the URL! I immediately think of Diablo II ear farming when I see those words.

Cameron Harrison said...

This will forever be one of the most memorable stories of my wow gaming career.

Those homeless men with heart attacks...lol

-Crasian