Thursday, August 16, 2012

2.3. Gearing Toward Gruul

Ater's weapon of choice,
the Nostromo

In the Shadow of a Giant

I pulled over to the pickup lane at Denver International Airport, and popped the trunk, my palms stuck to the wheel with sweat. Quickly, I wiped my right-hand off on my shirt as I felt the thump of luggage hit the car. The passenger door opened, and he swung in with an outstretched hand. "Welcome to Colorado!", I said with a handshake, his grip like a vice. This was real. He was here. The guy responsible for leading my raids, for introducing me to Blain and becoming a part of the crew that dug into all of Vanilla's content with the dedication and passion I could only dream of possessing. And now, I was driving him back to my place to stay for the next several days, while he interviewed for a web development position at my company. It was happening.

The drive back downtown was as you might expect, a non-stop Q&A session. World of Warcraft. Descendants of Draenor. Vanilla. The Burning Crusade. ColdFusion. Programming. We talked non-stop...well, Ater talked; I shut the hell up and listened, for fear of saying something moronic or childish. Ater was excited about the prospect of joining my company. We were on the verge of taking on some great new projects, but I felt I didn't have the right peers to guide me in new directions, challenge my way of thinking. Teach me. Ater could be that peer. With his insight, I was certain of the value he'd bring to our company, new ways of thinking about development, new techniques to bring in clients. I already knew he'd be good with people.

When we finally arrived at the house, and I went through the introductions to my wife and kids, we proceeded to the computer room. After all, there was still business to attend to. I sat down at my computer and logged into the game. Ater stood to my left, towering over me at a height of nearly six-foot-four. The difference may have been slight, but to me, it felt like a giant had entered the room. A giant in game and in life.  He began to set up his laptop, unraveling his headphone wires. WoW would be a special treat for the next few days -- there was a celebrity in the house. As he started to plug cords and cables in, I glanced over at his rig and noticed a bizarre device: a controller that was half-keypad, half-gamepad, resting where his mouse ought to be.

"What the hell is this?" I asked, picking it up.

"A Nostromo!", Ater replied, "The only way to play this game."

He proceeded to detail out all the crazy assignments he had programmed into the controller. The curtain was pulled away. His extreme level of control as our main tank now made a lot more sense. I had never even heard of a Nostromo before Ater produced one at my house that evening. There was always something he had to teach me. As he jacked in to the network and donned his headset, I kept glancing over, stunned that he was not only in my presence, but was soon to be a part of my regular work day. I felt intimidated, insignificant. For many months, I'd looked to him for guidance of my guild, he was always ready with an answer that seemed so simple, so straightforward...and why hadn't I thought of it? When faced with him, I wasn't even sure what to say or how to act. I was nervous, I was....


My eyes widened. The sound of a terrific fart came from Ater's side of the room.

"Uh oh!" he exclaimed in innocence, "What was that?!?", his gaze never once darting from the laptop's screen.

I laughed. There was no need to be nervous. He was just a guy, like me. I was lucky to have him aboard my guild's crew. I was proud to call him a colleague and a friend.

Unsurprisingly, he knocked the interview out cold.

Kerulak battles Dreadwing in The Singing Ridge,
Blade's Edge Mountains

Potential Raiders

By day, Ater and I sat across from each other, planning out the development of new projects, discussing the latest tech news, and taking lunches to chat about Warcraft, the guild, and leadership. By night, the conversation would continue as we raced to 70, slowly working out of the deep blue swamp called Zangarmarsh, and further into Nagrand and Terrokar Forest. While the guild continued their quest to discover the ancient ruins of Auchindoun, and track the infamous Rexxar to his location deep within Blade's Edge Mountains, I was busy resuming my recruitment duties, finding new players to replace those that had left us, looking at each new day as an opportunity to find a new potential raider for progression. 

New faces began to emerge during this time. One of our first female players, Breginna, joined our roster. She had a knack for a playing a healing Druid, and healers were always in great demand, so I brought her in and pressed her to think about the 25-Man raid. A head-banging Rogue by the named of Chopliver joined our humble crew, and always got a laugh when he spoke in Vent. His style of speech could only be described as a healthy mix of metal-head and California surfer. "Dude" and "Bro" aside, Chopliver was a machine of death at the hands of his Undead Rogue, and I looked forward to putting him in the 25-Man roster. In the caster department, we gained a young Warlock named Eacavissi that did extraordinary damage -- he jokingly denied the existence of aggro. The only way to manage threat on targets, he reasoned, was to simply do more damage. And, I swooped up a new Mage named Goldenrod whom I had seen many times in general chat during Vanilla. A long time player on Deathwing-US, he was looking to step up his game and join a progressive raiding crew.

And, old faces from the 40-Man continued to ding 70, renewing their interest in joining the progression team. Zyr the Priest, infamous for his "cricket" sounds in Vent whenever someone told a bad joke, was soon ready to return to the roster. So, too, did the Shamans Gunsmokeco and Deathonwing, brothers in real-life that had contributed to A-team and B-team as we could fit them in. Another Shaman from Vanilla was Ekasra; he joined DoD too late in the game to become a regular in our 40-Man team. But his youthful energy (and identifiable lisp over Vent) could be counted on for heals at nearly every request in-game, and he made it clear that it was his goal to join us on the 25-Man progression team.

As the roster continued to grow, our attention turned to raid attunement. As it had been with Naxxramas months earlier, our raid team would have to complete a series of quests in order to unlock access to the more difficult raids in TBC. Our sight was set on Gruul's Lair, the first 25-Man raid of the expansion. It didn't require an attunement, but instead, was itself a part of a larger attunement chain.

How much larger, you ask?

Stupidly large.

The Raid Attunement path for
The Burning Crusade (2nd rev.)

Attunement Absurdity

When I first pulled up the attunement diagram that someone had contributed to the Elitist Jerks forum, I thought it was some sort of joke. The flow chart read like a Zork dungeon map. A maze of arrows connected from one requirement to the next, flowing back and forth across both normal and heroic dungeon clears, never shy to toss in a reputation grind for flavoring. The first tier of content in TBC, Tier 4, was spread among two 25-Man raids (Gruul's Lair & Magtheridon's Lair) and -- in a bizarre move I do not understand to this day -- one 10-Man raid (Karazhan). However, once through Tier 4, in order to begin work on Tier 5 in Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep: The Eye, we had our work set out for us:

  1. Start the Karazhan Quest Line
  2. Start the Arcatraz Quest Line
  3. Clear the Mechanar (Normal)
  4. Clear the Botanica (Normal)
  5. Obtain a key to the Arcatraz (Normal)
  6. Clear the Arcatraz (Normal)
  7. Clear the Steamvault (Normal)
  8. Clear the Shadow Labyrinth (Normal)
  9. Start the Caverns of Time Quest Line
  10. Clear the Caverns of Time: Escape from Durnholde (Normal)
  11. Clear the Caverns of Time: Black Morass (Normal)
  12. Obtain the Karazhan Key
  13. Grind to Revered with the Sha'tar,
  14. Obtain a key to the Arcatraz (Heroic)
  15. Clear the Arcatraz (Heroic)
  16. Grind to Revered with the Cenarion Expedition
  17. Obtain a key to the Steamvault and Slave Pens (Heroic)
  18. Enter the Slave Pens (Heroic) and obtain the quest for the key to Gruul's Lair
  19. Clear Karazhan (10-Man Clear)
  20. Clear Gruul's Lair (25-Man Clear)
  21. Complete the key quest, thus obtaining the key to Serpentshrine Cavern (Attunement 1 Complete)
  22. Start the Shattered Halls (Heroic) key quest.
  23. Grind to Revered with Honor Hold
  24. Obtain a key to Shattered Halls (Heroic)
  25. Start the Tempest Keep: The Eye Quest Line
  26. Clear the Shattered Halls (Heroic)
  27. Grind to Revered with Lower City
  28. Obtain a key to Shadow Labyrinth (Heroic)
  29. Clear the Shadow Labyrinth (Heroic)
  30. Clear the Slave Pens (Heroic)
  31. Clear the Steamvault (Heroic)
  32. Complete the key quest, thus obtaining the key to Tempest Keep: The Eye (Attunement 2 Complete)
What was the purpose behind this complexity? I understood the basic need for gating content, a conversation I had with Kadrok not too long ago. Gates acted as a preventative measure to squelch an unhealthy volume of complaints from the masses -- the casuals that would cry "too hard" and "nerf raids!!", forever diminishing any real challenge to the seasoned raider. But to this excess? What were they attempting to vet? Our raid competency...or our ability to deal with incessant bullshit?

When I looked back at this diagram and saw four grinds in place of one, the Naxxramas attunement seemed tame in comparison. The sheer volume of attunement requirements in The Burning Crusade seemed excessive to such a degree, I couldn't help but wonder how much it would impact our casual/hardcore raiding roster the further we dug into the content. If I lost a Main Tank in the middle of Tempest Keep, it would mean starting the process over again from scratch. Certainly not something that could be completed in time for the weekend raid.

We chipped away at this Shawshank attunement with our rock hammer toons. Weeks passed before Ater was able to start fielding a Karazhan group. Once word began to spread among the guild, that spark of of raiding excitement returned. Players started to reach out, get their foot in the door, do whatever they could to start polishing up their gear. And while I was caught up in the excitement along with the rest of the guild, I failed to take notice of a simple oversight regarding communication and setting expectations.

That first week of Karazhan proved to me that after two years...I was still hyper-focused on myself, and not on the needs of my guild. My continued immaturity in leadership would cost me my first loss to a competing hardcore guild, and leave the faucet open to leak further.


Anonymous said...

Love the Zork reference. Played on the Commodore back in the 80's.

Anonymous said...

IIRC not everyone needed a key to the heroic instances, just one person of the group running it. I think anyone could actually run by and open the doors, allowing others to go through. I know I didn't have the Shattered Halls heroic key for a while and was doing TK and SSC.

Shawn Holmes said...


Correct...*if* the gates were on the outside of the instance.

Raids were a bit different.

Anonymous said...

And here I thought I repressed this part of BC. Such frustration.

Russell said...

Maybe it would have been better if Kara was 25-man, or at least 15-man or something, though it did provide a gateway for smaller guilds to begin raiding. The problem that it created is that sure, you could build a raid around doing 10-mans and do Kara regularly... but the step up to 25-man was brutal. Even merging two Kara raids wouldn't really do it. They tossed 10-man groups a bone with ZA, but for me it only served as a distraction to getting enough people together to do the real content in BC.

On Twisting Nether, a social problem existed that likely existed on other servers, as well, where people simply didn't want to leave their little guilds in order to join a larger raiding guild. This problem kept a lot of us in Kara for way longer than we ever should have been there until we realized that guilds didn't really matter. We formed a raiding alliance that had pretty much everything a raiding guild did except for the guild tag. We pulled Illidari Council once before 3.0 hit. I loved every minute of it, but it makes me sad to realize that we could've gone further had we realized sooner that (at the time) guilds themselves didn't offer any mechanical benefits. As far as people not wanting to be in the same guild as the people they raided with goes... don't ask me because I don't know. =/