Thursday, June 14, 2012

1.14. Streamlining the Approach

Kadrok chalks up another Vaelastrasz kill,
Blackwing Lair

A and B

At the 10 month mark, I'd been present for the first kill of every boss from Lucifron through Battleguard Sartura. As August approached, so too did vacation time. I'd pile the kids into the car and take them far into the Canadian north, up to Grandpa's farm. This would be the third trip; the summer of 2004 was the first, when WoW was still in beta. We made the second trek again in '05 when the most exciting prospect on DoD's plate was a full clear of Upper Blackrock Spire. Now in 2006, DoD was in full effect, making weekly clears of Molten Core and Blackwing Lair, and our reputation had allowed us to grow to the point where we were fielding two complete 40-Man raid teams per week. The logistics behind it were insane, but Ater was always finding new ways to streamline our weekly raids. In order to make it work, he continued to layer on efficiency.

At first, we drew Molten Core out into a single clear in one long evening, split among two separate raid teams -- both of which shared a small core of officers. The first half of the night would be the newer, less geared raiders in the guild, and Ater would run them from Lucifron through Baron Geddon. He would be no less strict with this "B-team"; he pushed those under-geared starters through like a drill sergeant at boot camp. All the while, he dangled the carrot in front of them, "We're swapping the next group in at the two hour mark," he said to them, "so if we don't get through Geddon, you'll lose out on that loot." They did everything in their power to squeeze out those first five bosses in two hours, wearing their crappy gear. As promised, when the two-hour timer was up, he'd announce the swap, which is when I would tag in with another contingent...the core raiders who had cut a path through raid content for the guild. The folks responsible for the first boss kills and painful weekends of wipes while perfecting new strategies -- this group became known as the "A-team".

Once A-team was locked and loaded, the guts of the Core exploded in a fine paste in our wake. We made short work of Shazzrah, Sulfuron, Golemagg, Domo and Rag, and moved quickly up through Blackwing Lair, clearing as much as we could in the remainder of the weekend, nearly always securing a Nefarian kill. In those days, having a boss on farm wasn't always a guaranteed kill. Sometimes RNG just didn't work out. Sometimes Nefarian simply didn't want to play nice. But for the most part, we got work done, and A-team inched closer to the more difficult raid content yet untouched.

As time went on, and A-team spiraled down below the surface of Azeroth, working our way through insects rather than dragonkin, time grew short to clear Molten Core and even Blackwing Lair, so Blain drew a line in the sand and stated that in order to keep progressing deeper, we'd need more time to devote to AQ40. So, A-team no longer swapped in for Molten Core, leaving B-team team to fend for themselves against the ancient Fire Lord. When it came time to have them clear the start of Blackwing Lair, I worried the complexity would brick-wall them, as it had done to us. To soften this blow, I created a series of training videos to help educate them. I produced videos for Razorgore, Vaelastraz, Firemaw, Ebonroc and Flamegor...and even created videos to train them on various trash mobs -- namely, the Death Talon and Lab packs. Soon, B-team was clearing up to Nefarian, and A-team's weekly AQ40 raid either had a "cleanup" prerequisite or not; "cleanup" meaning we were responsible for killing B-team's Nefarian before doing our own work in AQ40.

The raid mocks Kerulak during the second
kill of Fankriss the Unyielding,
The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj

Where's Kerulak?

Ater, along with my Shaman officer Kadrok, were the ones primarily responsible for the success of the B-team clears each week. B-team was vital, as it produced more quality players to be inducted into A-team, but both Ater and Kadrok had another dark secret for running the Core until their eyes bled...both needed components for their legendary weapons. Kadrok sought the Eye of Sulfuras, while Ater had his mind set on Bindings of the Windseeker, dropped by Garr and Baron Geddon. Their luck wasn't as good as some other guilds. Week after week they coordinated and led the B-team through Molten Core in search of the coveted drops -- and each week they would come up snake eyes. Long after the officers and I were done with Molten Core and BWL, fending off wife-aggro or other excuses to not be there for the guild, Ater and Kadrok returned for more insanity, pushing B-team further each time, setting the stage for the A-team in our quest to dig deeper into AQ40. Their farming continued in vain, and eventually, Kadrok threw up his arms in exhaustion and removed himself from the B-team rotation, leaving Ater to fend for himself in the Core.

Meanwhile, Blain had already put our next assignment on the table: farm nature resistance gear in preparation for Princess Huhuran. She was still a boss away, nestled quietly behind Fankriss the Unyielding, but we needed to build a solid nature soak group, so our off hours were spent grinding away reputation with the Cenarion Circle. You could only do this a few ways during Vanilla: run the 20-man raid The Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj, or spend an exorbitant amount of time farming Twilight Cultists in Silithus. This rep grind was only slightly augmented by our work in AQ40, generating a tiny bit of reputation in the process. When not performing these tasks, we were carefully watching every piece of green loot that dropped in our weekly clears -- anything having a remote amount of nature resistance on it was cycled to the guild bank, Oxanna, to be re-distributed to members in A-team for soak purposes.

The farming progressed slowly, and we did some initial work on Fankriss...but our first attempts didn't quite close the deal. Things would fall apart near the end of the encounter. The Spawn of Fankriss had to die in 20 seconds or it would enrage, and the longer you drew the fight out, the greater the chance of a Spawn eating one of your tanks for breakfast. Less tanks meant less Vekniss Hatchling control and...well, you see where I'm going with this. Fankriss was your typical attrition-style boss fight. If your raid can't keep up, eventually, you'll be overwhelmed and die. We were close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades, and I wished the A-team the best of luck as I headed up north for my vacation.

As luck would have it, it was the weekend I took off for summer vacation that would produce our first kill of Fankriss the Unyielding, making it the first boss kill I'd miss since starting our 40-man raid team 10 months earlier. Luckily, the raid team did a good job to both capture a screenshot of that kill, and make me feel guilty for missing it -- for the next several months to come.

Everyone in the raid team is a comedian.

Kerulak adjusts his UI, working
RDX into his list of add-ons,


When I got back from my summer vacation, Ater had another efficiency waiting for me.

"I'd like the raid to try this mod out. It's insane."

Up until this point, we'd been using a multitude of mods: CT_Raid, Decursive, name a few. And they worked reasonably well, augmenting our ability to change our healing targets quickly, cleanse players of debuffs, and see how far off our damage was. All of these mods were freely available to download from a variety of websites, and it was a well-known fact that world-first guilds were using some pretty customized UIs, so I made it a habit of keeping up on add-ons. But I had never heard of RDX before, and Ater made it clear why that was: it was the only mod that required a subscription fee. The developers had put so much time and energy into it, they expected some monetary compensation for their effort.

"You have to pay for the add-on? Wow. It must be pretty damn awesome."

"Oh, you have no idea, check out what it can do. It's bizarre..."

Ater gave me a demonstration. Immediately, I noticed that the healing frames would allow me to see incoming heals on targets. With this information available to me, we could gain an entirely greater level of healing efficiency and mana-conservation. I could also left and right click the frames to instantly decurse my target, obsoleting both CT_Raid and Decursive in a single blow.

"Check this out", Ater said, prompting me to open up a window that displayed a diagram of a room with geometric shapes representing various objects. Without touching a single key, the screen began to draw lines and diagrams by itself -- a ghostly pen laying an entire set of movement strategies out for me while I watched.

"You're drawing this!" I said.

"Yup, you can lay the entire thing out for players. No more confusion. They see exactly what you are talking about. But that isn't the best part, look at this..."

Another window popped up, "Downloading 56b of 4k..." It looked like a typical download progress bar. The numbers spun up to 4k as the bar filled with a new color, then disappeared.

"What was that?"

"I just sent you a new game. No need to go out and install anything."

Jesus, I thought. This mod was insane!

"So, we're going to have everyone run this now?"

"Everyone that needs it," he replied.

"But what about the cost? Some people will probably get upset if we ask them to pay for it."

"Don't worry about that, I've spoken to the guys that make it. The licenses are good."

It was settled, then. The A-team raiders would load up RDX, and we'd need all the help we could get... was Huhu time.

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