Thursday, March 7, 2013

2.39. The Different Guild

"Archimonde the Defiler"
Artwork by Jim Nelson

Archimonde Anxiety

I have reason to believe that Xanax was invented as a result of the Archimonde encounter.

Since Blain's return to leading in full force, we saw a tremendous turnaround in raid progression. Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep were systematically blown apart, and the first boss in Mount Hyjal, Rage Winterchill, was one-shot with zero preparation. Bosses that followed -- Anetheron, Kaz'rogal and Azgalor -- were all pushing up daisies. To ensure our continued momentum, Blain switched gears and diverted us to Black Temple. High Warlord Naj'entus was our first victory there, and I earned my five minutes of fame dominating the damage meters during our execution of Supremus. But our rocket thrust was now in jeopardy. Blain was comfortable with the amount of people now in possession of their PvP trinkets, which meant it was time to return to Hyjal Summit, and wrap up the only outstanding obstacle:

Archimonde.

I dreaded the return to Hyjal Summit because after stripping Archimonde of all his bluish tint, his ret-conned Eredar lore, his pixels and sound effects and 3D model animations...I knew exactly what he was: A zero margin-of-error linchpin encounter. Linchpins like this caused anxiety to nearly strangle me, ever since Magtheridon fell to DoD's raiders a year earlier. Our strengths would be diminished, while our weaknesses would float to the top. Team jell was now much lower in importance on the totem pole. In its place stood the "personal accountability" obelisk of doom, wherein each player had to take their survivability into their own hands -- or ensure the death of all of us.

No carrying.

No covering for one another.

No room to excuse lag or timing or your add-ons or your slow-ass computer.

Everybody performs...or everybody dies.

As with linchpins before this, the typical tactics of a guild leader weren't an option. Continued failure couldn't result in kicking these players to the curb, bringing in another round to replace them. We had invested heavily in our 25-Man Progression team by this point, many of whom were well-geared -- starting from scratch because a certain person who "didn't get it" wasn't going to work. I had to be proactively correcting the roster's issues, not be a victim to it. Rather than wait for someone to complain that they used their Tears of the Goddess, but "lag got them", I went to the roster ahead of time, spoke to each player individually, and got a rundown of their Internet provider, general stability, problems they'd experienced with latency in the past. I even went so far as to check which players were using a wireless router, many of whom were none the wiser on its detrimental effects to real-time streaming online games.

In today's age, where Netflix usage is commonplace and every third house has an XBox 360 playing Call of Duty online, this may not seem like such a big deal. In 2008, however, working on Archimonde via a wireless router would sign our death warrant. Packet loss was an inevitability on hardware in those days. Even with players that claimed to have never experienced a router problem in their life, I still politely insisted that they cut over to a hard wire. It would only take one player death for this to end poorly. One lag spike, one moment of wireless latency that would bring it all crashing down. Each vocalist in my choir had to be pitch-perfect. The potential for any one single player to be the cause for a wipe left me perpetually wound up, a constantly bouncing ball of nerves. My mind begged for release but would gain no such relief from prescription meds.

"Legend of Mount Hyjal"
Artwork by Trent Kaniuga

Twilight of the Gods

April 13th, 2008, was an otherwise ordinary Sunday. Discussion on the guild forums circulated around various topics: whether or not win-trading was taking place in arenas, a link to a "Teron Gorefiend" simulator available on the web, and a group of players leaving MySpace for a new site that was gaining popularity identified only as "Facebook". Chief among the posts, however, was a discussion title "Archie", including videos and references to the Elitists Jerks forums. DoD actively engaged in discussion and assessed valid strategies. Of primary importance was the acquisition of PvP trinkets: our backup plan to break Archimonde's fearbomb...if you had the good fortune to be heading uncontrollably towards Doomfire. The healthy debate of strategy, what would work, what we should try, how we should solve problems on-the-fly was impressive.

They were aligned. Constant, consistent success.

---

As we huddled near some Night Elf architecture, buffing, flasking, and eating food, Blain gave us the 411.

"We can do this tonight."

Inside my brain, confidence was at war with skepticism. My inner realist kept picking away at me. Archimonde was a brick-wall boss, a linchpin with no room for error, a verifiable guild-killer. Every failure would be the result of a single man or woman fucking up, ruining the chance for the rest of us. Handled incorrectly, this would cause bitterness to impregnate the team. Animosity would incubate, eventually blooming into hatred and disgust. An undeniable stench of meh would fill the room. Left alone, it would infect the team and devour us from the inside out. Signups would fall off. Players would stop talking to one another, replaced by sarcasm and cheap shots.

"Oh, great. Him again. Thanks for ruining our raid night on Archimonde YET AGAIN. I love having my time wasted."

Eventually, the guild would collapse as its insides were eaten out. The risk was very real, the question was, would my guild be ready to rise above that?

In a final act of encouragement, Ater wrapped up the strategy by reiterating the guild motto he coined many moons ago -- one whose meaning was more relevant now than ever, due to Archimonde's Soul Charges:

"If we don't die...we win."

Descendants of Draenor defeats Archimonde,
Hyjal Summit

Famous Last Pull

The first few attempts allowed us to get a feel for timing on fears and Doomfire calls. Most important was the first-hand experience on the air blast, and at what part of the arc was most appropriate to use Tears of the Goddess. Too soon, and the buff would wear out before the player landed. Too late, and they'd become a fine red paste across the green plains at the Hyjal Summit. Misjudging either way produced the same result: falling to one's death, or "cratering". Each death allowed Archimonde to generate a Soul Charge, which he would then burn on us and wipe the raid.

While players adjusted to the timing of air burst and perfected use of their Tears, Blain observed the position of the groups. He spread us into the four prongs of a fork, with the tanks and melee at the base, and continued to refine this placement as the hours ticked away. Ater kept communication flowing back to the raid, alerting us of air bursts, and with each attempt he improved his own positioning, avoiding the air burst himself.

As expected, the mechanics were unforgiving. Doomfire wreaked havoc on us, especially during fear-bombs. Players cratered as they struggled to match their timing with their latency. The chain reaction of player-death-to-raid-wipe was alarming...and blunt. My fear was realized. One simple mistake was all it took. As soon as a player died, Archimonde's Soul Charge took out massive groups of players until it was a wipe. By the fourth and final hour, we completed a total of twenty-two pulls, and not one attempt had whittled the boss's health down below 50%.

"Last pull", Blain announced in Vent.

We arrived at the tail end of the raid. I did not want us to leave with ours tucked between our legs.

---

Ater's infamous countdown in Vent began, thus signaling the start of our twenty-third and final attempt of the night. I moved into position along my fork prong and began to light the giant Eredar up with Vampiric Touch and Shadow Word: Pain. A bluish beam of shadowy energy followed my DoTs, flaying Archimonde's mind. Doomfire etched its way across the plains without remorse, seeking targets to ignite; I side-stepped the fire and continued my shadowy barrage. Images of Battle.net forum posts began to flash in the back of my mind:
"DoD fails at raiding, disbands. LOL"
"Zanjina an embarrassment to Deathwing-US. Worst player on server."
I snapped out of it and refreshed Vampiric Touch to keep the mana flowing back to my group. Ater held Archimonde tightly in position, calculating small, surgical shifts to avoid air bursts. A tremor totem hit the ground, and moments later, Archimonde dropped a fear-bomb. Melee shifted for half-a-second in terror, then instantly returned to their duties...the tremor totem mitigating the bomb. My chat window lit up in bright purple as Melkezadek's' macro spammed me.

[W From] Melkezadek: FEAR WARD Cast: You're next!!!!

I moved towards Cyrant, hit him with a Fear Ward, and and spammed my own macro.

[W To] Neps: FEAR WARD NOW ON CYRANT...YOU ARE NEXT OMGWTFBBQ!!!!!!

Calm. 

Focus.

The air burst struck me and I was flung in to the air.

Hold.

Hold.

I reached the apex of the arc.

......Now.

I spammed Tears of the Goddess and drifted back down to the grass, rushing back into position. Cyrant dropped his tremor totem, moments before another fear-bomb, safe with my Ward shielding him from the chaos.

"Ater's air bursted."

"The warlock's are cut off from Doomfire."

Blain called out to Eacavissi, warning him of the impending fear bomb. A handful players along the ranged forks began running in random directions as panic and tension continued to smash its fist at the door.

"STRAIGHT. BACK." Blain reminded everyone. Running in a zig-zag pattern would only make Doomfire more vicious as it snaked its way toward targets. Staying in a straight line was the only way to keep it at bay, running along the length of the fire, rather than towards the tip. The fear-bomb hit; melee and tanks remained safe and in control.

"Oh, sweet Tremor." Blain said with relief.

I dropped from Shadowform and began putting whatever minuscule heals I could on the the players eating Doomfire. Houla dropped dangerously low, his health-bar a tiny green sliver on my screen. One more tick of damage would end him...along with this final attempt. I slapped on a renew and continued to look for players that needed help.

Suddenly, Blain called out. The moment of truth had arrived.

"OK, Bloodlust in 3, 2, 1...Go Bloodlust. GO. All out."

"Even healers. DoTs..." called Neps.

"Everybody DPS, there is no healing" added Breginna.

Lightning bolts flashed around the great Eredar, and the sky faded to red as night elf wisps bore down on him. Every raider blew every cooldown they had, all DPS, all working together, all alive....

At last, one single blinding explosion erupted in a shower of arcane energy, and Archimonde's battered armor lay at our feet. I couldn't believe it. Other players in the raid joined me in disbelief.

"...four fucking hours??" asked Dalans, as if to say how is this even possible?

Disbelief hung suspended while reality slowly set in. One of the most difficult bosses in The Burning Crusade, killed in only one night of work. Visions of the weeks we wasted on Gruul and Magtheridon, making the same mistakes over and over, were quickly blurring over. We had become so used to the same failures, the same excuses, that it was hard to digest what an accomplishment this truly was. Our crutch had been the profound claim that we took anyone to raids; that we felt everyone deserved a shot at end-game content. That mission statement wasn't wrong, but simply incomplete. We had failed with an incomplete vision for so long that an accomplishment like this seemed unreal.

But it was very real.

"Setting players' expectations of what our unified goals were" had finally taken hold of this group of players. Keeping people accountable, disallowing them from making excuses for failures, proactively solving problems before they manifested...it was like a different world. A different game.

A different guild.

5 comments:

Crystallize said...

Dat cliffhanger. Love your writing dude, these posts really brings back memories. Even though I play on EU servers and have never even heard of your guild, I still come back here every other week to look for the next part. Keep them coming, and merry Christmas!

Shawn Holmes said...

Thanks for the response, and hail to the EU servers! I appreciate the feedback, and hope you find that our story stays interesting.

Derrill Guilbert said...

...the day when both Ater and Blain were gone.

Dat cliffhanger indeed. I almost started crying. My experience was almost completely dissimilar, in that I've not been the guild leader, but our guild leader left, and my brother the tank/raid leader left, and man that was tough. Even though they were separated by considerable time, it still burns, and feels connected.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Derrill,

Thanks for reading, and sharing. I'll be eager to hear about how you feel the story twists and turns from here on out.

Anonymous said...

I find this kinda weird cos in my memories of TBC, Archimonde was definitely one of the easiest bosses as long as you had good DPS. None of his mechanics really troubled my guild. We found him a complete disappointment after TK and SSC difficulties.