Thursday, June 28, 2012

1.16. Paying the Entrance Fee

DoD surveys The Twin Emperors,
The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj

Options Dry Up

Attempts on Twin Emperors were not going well at all. One week earlier, the 40-Man raiders had successfully exterminated Princess Huhuran, earning the first set of "real" rewards in the instance. From Skeram up through Fankriss, loot was on-par with that of Blackwing Lair (for the most part). Blizzard tried something new with Ahn'Qiraj: instead of issuing our set pieces directly from the corpse of a boss, we'd collect tokens to be exchanged for the actual gear. These Qiraji Bindings were shared among multiple classes, which added a layer of complexity to our fixed-cost DKP system. It was already an administrative nightmare to catalog every item, estimating its worth to a particular class. Now we had to consider the value of the exchanged item, normalizing the cost between the classes that shared it. Players regularly dismissed their assigned loot, opting to pick-and-choose random off-pieces to maximize their play -- which only made the administration worse. The good news is that we finally had some Tier 2.5 tokens to our name, thanks to the death of Huhu...

...the bad news is they would be the last AQ tokens that Descendants of Draenor would see.

The problem of AQ40 was becoming more painfully clear upon each wipe at the hands of Emperors Vek'lor and Vek'nilash. First and foremost, we'd run out of time on the schedule. B-team became more prolific at leaving us "cleanups" as they failed to empty out Blackwing Lair. Instead of starting AQ40 work fresh, A-team continued to sink precious minutes into Nefarian kills before moving to Silithus. And, A-team themselves had issues with farm bosses. Our first kill of Skeram was months behind us, yet we still struggled with execution, and the same held true for Battleguard Satura. We regularly skipped the bug family to shave time off clears; the change was negligible. Even a mistake or two on Fankriss meant re-doing the gauntlet that proceeded him. Let us not forget about The Princess whom had already proven to us she was going to require multiple attempts per night; the self-proclaimed queen of the 1% wipe. After A-team swallowed all of that, precious few hours remained to work on The Twin Emperors, and we were only now digging into the tough content. For behind The Twin Emperors nestled Ouro and Viscidus (both of whom could be skipped) and the ultimate evil behind all of Ahn'Qiraj: C'thun. We'd heard the horror stories of world-first guilds burning week after week after week on the final boss. Two days a week was no longer enough.

So, there was the problem of time; a lack of a viable schedule. There was the problem of loot, that being nearly every boss we were killing en route to The Twin Emperors producing nothing of upgrade value. There was the looming expansion, still in development by Blizzard but in the forefront of our minds every day. A release date wasn't yet set in stone, but we predicted that it would be soon, and we wanted as much off our plates as we could stand.

And, of course, there was the issue with Naxxramas.

Kerulak and the 40-Man team gets Power Word: Fortitude
in preparation for the nightly work in Naxxramas,
Eastern Plaguelands

2.5 vs. 3.0

An entire raid instance still existed that we hadn't even set foot in. The ultimate raid in Vanilla, a devastatingly oppressive instance that only the dedicated few raiders of World of Warcraft could claim a victory over. We knew by pouring over the Elitist Jerks discussions and examining the loot tables buried within thotbott.com that Naxxramas was, coin-for-coin, worth every bit of energy put into it. Items that dropped off the first bosses alone put our existing gear to shame, and with most players in A-team built on Tier 2, the prospect of leap-frogging out of AQ40's pathetic 2.5 side-grades straight into Tier 3 made our core raiders drool with anticipation.

The only other possibility to increase our progress was to come to an agreement with a competing guild, one less progressed than us. These less progressed guilds whom were able to clear the first half of AQ40 were starting to "give up" their raid locks to more progressed guilds, who would swoop in, inherit the half-cleared instance, and then power through the remaining second half. The price on the "sale" of these locks varied from handfuls of gold, and/or promised loot if it dropped, to "carrying" several of the lesser-progressed-guildies along for the ride. None of these options sat well with me. They all seemed like forms of selling out. Could we actually say we cleared AQ40 if others were doing half the job for us? It didn't matter what I thought, anyway. There were no half-eaten AQ40 raid locks to assume on Deathwing-US. Whatever inter-guild agreements may have been on-the-table got scooped up by other guilds with greater desperation and less conscience.

After The Twin Emperors made it clear we would be spending weeks working on their encounter, and with our options dwindling, the officers and I came to a difficult decision: Our work in Ahn'Qiraj was over. Princess Huhuran would remain the final boss defeated by Descendants of Draenor in AQ40, and all of our efforts would now be turned towards the necropolis that floated above the Eastern Plaguelands.

Some of the officers didn't take this news well. Kadrok was particularly angry by this decision, and felt his voice hadn't been heard enough. An old school EQ player, he was unsatisfied with an incomplete instance on our track record. Trying to outline the logical reasons why we left AQ40 only reiterated to me that it was a decision not made lightly. But as an honorable officer, Kadrok bit his tongue and stuck to the assignment, continuing to lead and shape the Shamans into a respectable crew of healers. I encouraged him at every opportunity I could, but I could tell he was not pleased with leaving AQ40 behind. I wished there was a way that everyone could be happy. There wasn't. And for those of the raid team who couldn't stand AQ40, celebrating our decision with virtual backflips, Kadrok and like-minded completionists only grew more disgusted at our choice to throw in the towel.

Kerulak takes some flak from a non-raiding player,
Orgrimmar

The Need For a Gate

Before we set foot in Naxxramas, we needed all of our players to gain access, a process known as "attunement". Molten Core and Blackwing Lair both had an attunement that was easily digested: run a long dungeon and collect a quest item at the end. AQ40, meanwhile, had no attunement whatsoever (save the server-wide unlocking of the entire instance). But Naxxramas had a different plan in store for us. Stationed in Light's Hope Chapel stood a series of NPCs revealing the attunement quest to us. There was no challenge, no dungeon to run or quest item to return -- in fact, the attunement was completely free...

...if you were exalted with The Argent Dawn.

Now, if it turned out that you hadn't run 10-Man Stratholme or Scholomance a billion times already, no problem! You could also gain access to the floating necropolis for a small fee of 30 gold if The Argent Dawn saw you were at least Revered. Even those who were only Honored could buy their way in, though the cost was raised to 60 gold for these less dedicated folks.

Let me take a moment to propel you back into a game where having gold was practically unheard of. In those days, there was no such thing as a daily quest -- a quest you could repeat over and over, racking up vast amounts of wealth. In Vanilla, once you walked the entire surface of Azeroth, completing every quest in every zone, quests no longer became your primary source of income. From that point on, money came from either playing the Auction House, or farming high-level mobs until your eyes bled. And when carrion grubs in the Plaguelands dropped 2s each, it was a long, hard road to 30g.

The grinding became so incessantly awful that I often forgot why I was there in the first place, gaining temporary bursts of insanity that caused me to make bets with myself on what I would hit first, the reputation or the gold cost. In a burst of craziness, I'd scribble down some notes on how fast I thought I was earning reputation, then compare it to the insanely low income of mob farming. Gold...it was definitely going to be the Gold that wins out. Ha ha! I told you, game. I told you!! I'm totally going to get the gold before I max my rep. 

Reality would quickly snap back like a bucket of water being dumped on me as I sat at the computer. What the fuck was I doing? Was this why I swore never to touch another MMO again? Why hadn't I listened to myself? Who considers this 'fun'? Didn't I learn my lesson in EverQuest?

"If they know what's good for them, they'll ditch any and all concepts of attunement in the expansion", I typed into guild chat.

"They do it to gate the raid," Kadrok replied, "Not everyone belongs in there."

"Nor should they be! But for God's sake, can't the player's skill...or lack thereof....be the gate itself? There has to be a better solution than this."

"They should just do it off of your gear", typed Gutrippa, adding to the conversation.

"Yeah, exactly! This makes perfect sense. Examine a person's gear. If you don't have the gear, don't let people in the instance!"

Blain typed his two cents into guild chat, "Gear doesn't make a bad player good tho."

In that brief moment of lucidity, the Naxxramas attunement made sense. For all the technology that WoW was bringing to the table, a good ol' fashioned grind was the most practical way to keep non-raiders at bay. A casual would look at a grind like that and give it the middle finger. There'd be no complaints of 'the instance is too hard', or 'we can't figure out these bosses', because players who used those excuses as a crutch wouldn't even get a taste test. The rest of us might bitch to ourselves quietly...but then knock it out. Besides, players that didn't raid had other opportunities to take their jealous rage out on us, spitting on us in public at the sight of our gear. A /spit is much easier than, say, getting off your ass and making it happen. They were unwilling to pay their entrance fee like the rest of us. Those players would always exist, but the logistics behind these gates diminished their opportunity to bitch. Of what little animosity that remained towards our progress and success, we ate.

---

I won my own bet: the 30 gold pieces accumulated first. To this day, Kerulak is still not exalted with The Argent Dawn.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was the hunter lead in a 2-day-a-week raid guild on Kil'Jaeden. We had BWL on farm mode, but AQ40's Twin Emps broke us. We probably were stuck there for about 2 months, until our main tank left the guild in frustration. After that the guild raiding progression fell apart rapidly.

I wish we had instead switched to Naxx as your guild did, but we were sure that we wouldn't manage the gear check for the early encounters, and we didn't want to let go of AQ40.

After that experience I got more into pvp, but never did even a 10-man in BC or WotLK...the sheer frustration and guild disintegration just soured me on raiding again.

Twin middle fingers and a /spit to Twin Emps from me.

Zanshin

JHart said...

I'm not surprised AQ broke some raiding guilds, there were some very tough encounters there and the travel got super tedious. I believe on Gilneas we had the first C'thun kill (tons of people killed him their first raid after his nerf), and it was pretty fantastic feeling, but it was mostly because by that point a lot of us never wanted to see it again. Naxx felt friendlier at first, but Patchwerk was a pretty brutal gear-check and other encounters could have tripped people up for long chunks of time too, if there had been more time before the expansion, I'm sure more people would have started on Naxx then gone back to wrap up AQ when they hit a wall in Naxx.

Mark Wilkins said...

Naxx was in fact the "ultimate" raid in Vanilla. AQ40 was the "penultimate." (sorry to be that guy.)

Having participated in leadership in a couple of guilds from Vanilla through Cataclysm, I love reading your stories because they echo so much of what we went through. Thanks for sharing your stories!!

Shawn Holmes said...

@Zanshin,

That easily could have been us. Some of our oldest-school vets still feel the pain of throwing in the towel on AQ40 and switching to Naxxramas. Kadrok still thinks we should have stuck it through. My condolences on your two months of hell.

Shawn Holmes said...

@JHart

The "running back" was nightmarish. Even with mounts. AQ40's sprawling real-estate was great in theory, awful in practice. Interesting that you felt Naxxramas was friendlier. Did you go our similar zig-zag route of Instructor, then spider wing, and so on? If not, what was your path through?

Shawn Holmes said...

@Mark,

Fixed! (Had a couple of those slip through during initial write). Thought I'd caught them all.

Will be issuing beatings to Dalans as a result.

JHart said...

After Princess, Twin Emps, Ouro, and C'thun, the much shorter commute and the relatively easy Spider wing was a welcome change, I don't recall how many weeks we spent on each of those last AQ bosses, but it felt like ages and being able to down a slew of new bosses in Naxx without spending weeks on each one felt great.

I wasn't leading so didn't pay as much attention to where we were going, and the re-introduction of Naxx in WotLK makes some memories blur together, but pretty confident we did Spider wing first before Instructor, then did some bouncing around between the other wings. I know Patchwerk held us up for a long while. I remember Thaddius just wrecked my framerate and I struggled to keep up on the charge calls.

Jaskra Ryonative said...

Twin Emps helped to break my initial raiding guild, Drengskapr (Alliance), Shadowsong-US. We were stuck on that fight for months. We never made it past Twin Emps and and I think our GM's disloyalty finally is what made us break. He decided to go to a C'thun kill without us. In doing so, he locked us out of AQ40 for our final raid before BC launched. Somehow we also got locked out of BWL, and instead of going to farm Ony/MC for a last fun run we wiped on trash in Naxx that the raid was completely unprepared for all night. It was even more demoralizing than the repeated failures on Twin Emps had been. It was crushing and to this day the event still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I remember the exhaustion of it. All that we had accomplished...clearing everything including ZG up till that point had been overshadowed by these critical errors in leadership and lack of tweaking regarding playstyle. Our guild split in two, the half that left going on to form the raiding guild, grok right before the expansion, myself included because the people I primarily played with were part of the exit group. I don't think I've ever made a harder decision in regards to WoW. We all left behind people we had forged bonds with in the hope we could make a better community, one we could trust. Your story rings so close to home in some regards, especially since I was a healer as well...a Resto Druid. It also breathes light into areas I now realize the guild and myself could have bettered ourselves, and in doing so perhaps we wouldn't have split.

I'm pretty sure I never made it to Exalted with Argent Dawn either...rep grinds were truly masochistic back in the day.

Looking forward to reading more. Thank you.

Greg Mastin said...

We managed to kill Twin Emps...and in the process it mentally broke our raid team. After our kill we pulled the trash to C'thun, and it just wiped us out. I don't know if the trash was that hard or if we were just mentally exhausted, but that was it. It was almost like we knew subconsciously that we weren't going any further before TBC came out. It was our high water mark as a guild. We had some Naxx kills but never got too deep before the Xpac. We did okay in TBC, but we couldn't get past Lady Vashj. We ended up merging with another guild and progressed farther, but we lost our identity in the process. Things never were the same. I need a beer.