Thursday, January 3, 2013

2.24. Back on Tracks

"Wage Slave"
Artwork by Michael Dashow

A Positive Work Environment

"Use your fucking head. You're a fucking train wreck."

I sat in stunned silence, looking up from my desk. She waited for a response and didn't get one, so proceeded to question my reasoning further.

"Honestly, I might as well just call Google themselves. Because I don't have time to sit around and wait for you to come up with a estimate on how long this work will take. So that you'll just come back to me in, what, five days? And tell me some bullshit number. I need speed."

Anything I said at this point would more than likely make matters worse. Yet I felt the need to speak anyway, a chance to remedy the situation.

"How about...half that time, then?"

She shook her head in disgust and walked away, "Whatever, Shawn. I'll just make up a number, how's that?"

Agency work wasn't exactly all that it was cut out to be. On the plus side, we had the luxury of putting big name clients on our resumes, certain to improve our worth in the field. On the downside, the game came down to money, and the wider the profit margin, the deeper the sales commission filled pockets. Sales wanted things done quickly, cheaply, in as little billable hours as possible. Yet the developers wanted the exact opposite. To take their time, produce some thoughtful, quality work. Two worlds completely at odds, forced to work together on a daily basis, in order to keep a business afloat. I looked back down at my laptop and watched as another guild application arrived in my inbox, and doubted if I had any development worth outside of these walls. If I was able to do anything of any real value outside of a virtual world slaying Internet Dragons. I was a self-taught programmer after all, how realistically viable could I have been? I hadn't even been able to come up with an original idea for a web application in years.

I looked over to the empty chair on the opposite side of the table, where Ater used to sit. Since the merger, he'd been pushed up to a high profile project for a major sub sandwich chain -- a time-tracking app that was sucking up more and more of his time. Most of the work day was spent in the other of our two offices, while he focused on creating cutting edge technology in the UI. He was definitely the right man for the job. But I saw him less as a result, and was left to fend for myself when sales came calling with aggressive schedules and a call for the least amount of hours possible.

I packed up my laptop and headed home for the night, unsure if I'd see Ater in the raid. The bigger concern was setting foot in as a Shadow Priest, my first official class change since Vanilla. I'm certain if I had any opportunity to be a train wreck, tonight would be the night.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Fathom-Lord Karathress,
Serpentshrine Cavern

Fathom-Lord Karathress

DoD had a poor track record with council style bosses.

Fights involving heavy coordination, tons of communication, and which required significant spatial awareness were not our forte. Blain's strategy wasn't anything particularly unorthodox for our attempts, it was a by-the-book strategy. Separate Karathress from his guards and kill them one-by-one. The shaman Tidalvess would die first, due to his spitfire totems causing collateral damage. From there, we'd move to the hunter Sharkkis, which drained our casters of their mana. Once he and his sporebat pets fell, it was time for the final guard, the priest Caribdis, which would heal Karathress, requiring a dedicated interrupt contingent -- a challenge when you are constantly being knocked up into the air.

If all three guards could be executed, the raid would collapse on to Karathress himself, who absorbed the powers of his fallen defenders. It was going to be a long fight. If we had the endurance to survive his guard, and continue to stay alive during the final phase, it would be a done deal.


The strategy required us to split up into individual groups responsible for handling individual mechanics. Adding insult to injury, these groups would then shift responsibilities with the death of each guard in the council. Rogues helping us burn through Tidalvess, for example, would then split apart, a few going to lend their DPS to Skarkkis, while others moved back to the Caribdis to assist with interrupts.

Chopliver was one of these rogues.

Chop had joined us months earlier, and his gnarly attitude with a headbanger-quality voice lent itself well to the undead rogue he had chosen to play. Chop may have come across as a metalhead in Vent, but come raid time, tore shit up. His damage was excessive and he prided himself on moving through targets quickly and with extreme prejudice. Blain picked up on Chop's refined play from the sidelines, long before I reached out to him to resume his role as our raid leader. Now in command, Blain had promoted Chop to raid assistant, and relied on him to mark targets and act as an effective focus target, if players weren't certain which mob we were on.

It was on an particularly gruesome attempt on Fathom-Lord Karathress that things looked like they could go either way. The start of the fight was always the toughest, just surviving the barrage of damage and many mechanics from all four bosses was a testament to will. As we poured a desperate amount of damage into Tidalvess, closing in his remaining hitpoints after having burnt out another spitfire totem, Chopliver opened his mic and the raid heard him hammering on keyboard as if trying to drill a hole in the middle of it.

"I got this, I got this, I got this..."

A solitary Cataclysmic Bolt leapt from the Fathom-Lord's fingertips and ended Chop's life in a single shot.


The raid had a good laugh at poor Chop's expense, but his death wasn't in vain. A few attempts later and we stood proudly atop the fallen council and their Fathom-Lord. I checked the date: it was August 14th.

Descendants of Draenor defeats Hydross the Unstable,
Serpentshrine Cavern

The Duke of Currents

Three days after defeating Fathom-Lord Karathress, we once again stood at the head of Serpentshrine Cavern, staring watery death straight in the face. Technically, Hydross the Unstable was the first boss in the instance, but no guild (short of a world-first one) in their right mind would've started with him. The Lurker Below was a much easier pill to swallow, as were many others in this underwater pumping station -- the last few weeks had proven it. But before we could stick a fork in Lady Vashj, and Leotheras the Blind, we had to overcome our fears, once and for all, and deal with this brutally unforgiving fight.

We knew the issue all too well. Ater had struggled with it. Volitar had struggled with it. The success of the encounter hinged on a surgical handling of the transition. Each and every time Hydross moved away from...or into...his watery beams, Water Elementals would spawn and his aggro table would wipe completely out. In an environment where people are being healed nearly non-stop, the threat of a healer pulling aggro was very real and happened constantly. Even so much as a totem drop would cause a double set of Elementals to spawn, rendering the attempt futile. I was no longer in the position of dropping totems, but just as he assured me, Ekasra was right there filling Kerulak's spot. Hydross had it in for Ekasra, but his totem aggro would no longer be an issue. Not if I could help it.

Nature damage stacked higher onto Ater to the point that he could barely withstand each of Hydross's hits, and he dragged the colossal Elemental, shifting it back towards the beams. Blain called into vent, "Prepare for transition, no more DoTs", and I followed up, addressing Ekasra directly. "Ekasra, stop heals". Ekasra did as instructed, moving far away from the tanks as they got ready to shift. Hydross sloughed off his greenish tint and became bright blue as the Lady's water-system purified him, and Dalans moved into position, swiping the four miniature elementals that spawned as a result. The transition was clean. Kurst now had control of Hydross, and began taking stacks of Frost damage while Ater recovered.

With a little extra micromanagement in Ekasra's direction, we managed our way through the encounter, whittling the Elemental away a bit at a time, healing through players encased in bubbles. There was no brute force here, all movements, all attacks, every single heal was measured. It was an exercise in discipline to maintain control and not panic for the full 15 minute fight. One wrong move, even near the end, would mean a wipe.

As Hyross' health dropped down into the final few percent, I felt a guild first approaching. We kept calm, cool, collected -- we treated that last 1% of health as if it were still at 99%. In a gush of water, Hydross spun into a vortex and dissipated, his shackles falling to the ground in a splash. The Duke of Currents was down, and we had gone from a completely stagnant guild, progression-wise, to 4/6 and 1/4, completing a total of four new bosses in the span of two weeks. Perhaps a bit of Blain was what pushed us over the edge, perhaps it was Ekasra's newly found confidence and strategy in handling his fellow raid mates. Maybe a little bit of Replenishment was all we needed.

Whatever it was, we were back on the tracks...full steam ahead.

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