Thursday, July 5, 2012

1.17. In The Mouth of Madness

The 40-Man raid team defeats the first boss of
the Military Quarter: Instructor Razuvious,
Naxxramas

Sweep the Leg

Naxxramas gave me chills the moment we set foot in the instance, much of which I owe to the soundtrack. Matt Uelmen's orchestration of the floating necropolis was a crescendo of strings layered amid frightening horns, driven by the rising anxiety of a snare-drum death march. In the distance, the angelic choir seemed to morph into empty, hollow souls -- the damned crying out to be saved from the wretched hell of undeath. The hairs on my arms stood up. I would come to find out, years later, the reason Uelmen's soundtrack for Naxxramas had such a profound effect on me was due to the fact that he originally scored this music to drive Diablo III, a game which Blizzard had been working on in secret, only to be re-booted and re-orchestrated as time went on. Luckily for us, Blizzard re-purposed Uelmen's Diablo III score, melding it to the wings of Naxxramas, and it remains one of my most beloved pieces of video game music to this day.

Naxxramas boasted fifteen bosses, divided among the corridors of four wings. In the past, raid instances adhered to a more linear path, but this was no longer a concern; for the first time, we had the freedom to choose which direction we wanted to go. Each wing housed three bosses (save the Construct wing with four). That left two bosses remaining in the upper reaches, so we could take the wings however we chose. Blain chose The Military Quarter to start, with a plan to switch to The Arachnid Quarter following our first boss kill. That first boss was Instructor Razuvious.

Razuvious' job was to train Death Knights. We approached his ring, eying him as he meandered between his four students, each of them practicing on a training dummy. The curve ball that Blizzard threw at us was something completely unexpected: role reversal. Priests would now be called upon to do the tanking. Utilizing their unique ability to Mind Control a target, they would mentally wrestle one of the Instructor's understudies into submission, turning the pupil against its teacher. This option was the only viable one, as only the students were capable of withstanding the devastating blows that the Instructor dished out -- not even Ater or Annihilation could take such a beating. Our tanks would be responsible for holding the students whom weren't mind controlled, and act as a quick emergency between Mind Control transitions if things went awry. At the most, our tanks might survive a swing or two -- there was very little room for error.

We took a solid two weeks of work just to get a handle on clearing trash to Razuvious, and to get the Priests situated with their new role. I was very lucky to have the Priests that I did. Haribo handled his MC tanking like a true professional, keeping communication open and flowing for each transition, partnering up with Volitar to do the same. By September 10th, we were able to claim a kill of Instructor Razuvious, officially putting us on the board for Naxxramas progression for Deathwing-US.

I took a deep breath and whispered Blain, "See? That wasn't tough, eh? We got this."

Six weeks would pass before we killed our next boss.

Wiping to Trash

Failing is a part of learning, but when faced with oppressive odds, it sometimes seems as though you learn nothing. You begin to second guess yourself. Did we make the right decision? At least in AQ40 we were killing bosses. Yet, week after week we returned to Naxxramas, burning hour after hour on trash, clearing to Razuvious, botching a number of attempts -- then finally killing him. From there, we moved to the wing infested by spiders, only to be killed by trash on nearly every pull. There were no more opportunities for "healing buddies", no more chain pulling, no more carrying dead-weight. Every single one of the 40 players in our raid had to play at top of their game...just to survive the swarm. But the trash in the Arachnid Quarter continued to mock us, algorithmically dividing and conquering. Trying to cut a path through the web-work reminded me of how n00b we were on that first pull in Molten Core. Everyone thought they were a bad-ass, fresh off their latest Alliance slaughter at Tarren Mill. We didn't know what to expect, and dropped like flies as a result. We were ill-prepared for the devastating damage that the Molten Giants, Firelords, Core Hounds and Lava Surgers showered down on us.

Molten Core was a joke compared to this.

Even something as basic as pulling trash was an ordeal. Ater and Kurst slowly inched towards the pathing spiders, trying to get close. Heroic Throw had not yet been invented, pulling options were limited. Annihilation ran a tight ship: the Warriors knew better than to pull with taunt. Taunts produce temporary threat, gone in a matter of seconds, at which point the mobs they controlled leapt to the faces of Mages and Warlocks. The only way to pull from a safe distance was to use a ranged weapon. In Vanilla, the volume of a gun blast produced more AoE aggro than the silent shot of a bow and arrow, so guns were commonly equipped by Warriors. They snuck close, but not too close to aggro neighboring packs. Annihilation and Darange stood at the ready, with Taba close behind, waiting to pull off them as fast as they can, so that multiple blows didn't drop a single tank in under a second. I waited in silence, my finger hovering over healing keys, leaned closer to the monitor, and prepared for the blow. Ater inched forward a bit more, a bit more...

...then, the madness.

Over in an instant, it played out in slow motion. Nothing I seemed to do made any difference. A white rope of spider silk gripped Ater across the room, out of range of heals. I scurry down into the pit to save him, while the chaos in Vent grows loud, voices become indistinguishable. Zyr's hands drew a pattern in the air as he summoned a Greater Heal, and in the blink of an eye, he became a statue. I watched while silken bandages spiraled around his feet, his legs, up his torso and finished at the top of his head. Cocooned. To my left, bolts of green acid spat from the arachnids infected mass quantities of the raid. The bursts of damage continued, and players died faster than the insects were. I'd panic. Do I struggle to keep purging poisons or heal those about to fall over dead? I'd have my answer in moments: neither...because I'm laying face down in the dirt. Again. It is another wipe on trash. We ran back from the graveyard in a ghostly procession, crossing Plaguewood, and found our way back up to the floating necropolis, only to repeat the process ad infinitum.

Maintaining The Facade

By the time we eventually made it to the first boss in the spider wing, the majority of the night was burned away. Repair costs were steep, attention was waning from exhaustion and frustration. The lesser motivated players cancelled more frequently...forcing us to pull from B-team -- which only served to increase the time needed in Naxx. This ate into morale, and we were treated to a rise in grumbling from various A-team members still displeased with our decision to divert from AQ40. 

"We'd so be through Twin Emps by now," I'd catch someone saying. I said nothing in response.

I doubted my own decision making capabilities. Each day I arrived back in the instance to try to chip away at it, I braced for the other shoe to drop: the day that I'd be "found out", that all of this "guild leadership" is a sham and I have no idea what I'm doing, no idea how to lead. I waited for the day that the guild decides to call a meeting and reveal to me that the jig is up, and that they've all figured me out...that the true leaders of the guild are tired of putting up with my shitty, uninformed decisions, ready to return to AQ40 to get real progress done. The turning point of so many guilds. The separation of the casuals and the hardcores. My mind was made-up that this was where we were headed, like so many other guilds that brickwalled on raid bosses. The guild would divide, and the truly talented players would form a new, much stronger, more efficient guild. And the casuals would be left behind to suffer and rot, eventually quitting the game. 

How long before they saw through the facade? I wasn't leading anything. I held the title while others did the work. Each day I returned to Naxxramas to wipe on trash, I braced for the blow.

The blow never came.

5 comments:

Dalans said...

GET THE MOON...NOOOOOO!

Heh.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Dalans,

Burburbur: PICKUP SKULL, PICKUP SKULL

Laeus said...

Just an AMAZING story, kept me up until 4am last night and now I'm continuing over lunch! Hopefully I get some work done today :). One minor mechanics note: Taunt produces real threat; what is temporary is the "lock on" effect. And the threat produced is equal to that of the highest character on the mob's threat list. On a pull, nobody has threat, which means Taunt sets the warrior's threat to 0 and temporarily locks the mob to the tank for 3 seconds.

Russell said...

I only started playing as Naxx dropped; did the first part of a quest relating to it in Stormwind only to find the quest-giver gone when I logged in the next day, so I'm not sure exactly what vanilla raiding was like. One of the things I miss the most about BC raiding, though, is the feeling of helplessness and despair upon entering a new raid instance and pulling the first trash pull or facing the first boss. High King Maulgar was a hell of an intro to 25-man raiding and quickly taught me the value of pre-casting as a healer when the MT died 2 seconds into the fight.

I really enjoy the stories and videos. Thanks!

Jaskra Ryonative said...
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