Thursday, October 15, 2015

4.49. New Dimensions

The weapon of choice, MSI's
GeForce GTX 560, "Twin Frozr II" (Source: MSI.com)

Death of a Video Card

The only thing I love more than video kicking out...is video kicking out in the middle of a raid. Take solace in the knowledge that my guild was spared from the profanity that followed my graphic card's demise. When that happens, your entire system tends to lock up as a result, and digital f-bombs have nowhere to land.

Once the rage subsided (and I'd texted the raid to let them know that, yes, I was sans computer), the shopping began. I wasn't so much angry that I had to buy a new card. It was the total lack of control around the situation that upset me the most. For years, I preached to my guild the gospel of being prepared for emergencies like these. But what did that mean, in this context? Have an extra $400 video card just lying around in a box? Unless you're a huge computer nerd that sits on boxes of unused hardware (or perhaps a pro gamer)...who does that? Some contingency plans just weren't practical, even for the seasoned gamer.

At least I had leftover hardware that I could fall back on, inherited at the demise of my former job. The tether to the guild lifeline remained intact. Often, when guildies suffered hardware fatalities, they were out for the long haul.

In some cases, I wouldn't hear from them again.

A forced break from the game caused more than one of my guildies to gain some perspective on their game / life balance. In the early days, the loss was temporary. But as of late, breaking from the game did not work out well in DoD's favor. "I'll be good to go next week" was now taking a backseat to the more popular "I've had some time to think...", a sign that I shouldn't expect to see them sign-up anytime soon.

I surfed through the available video cards, until finally landing on the MSI GeForce GTX 560, aka the "Twin Frozr II". It seemed a half-decent step up from where'd I’d been, framerate wise, and ordered the replacement. It was dead out of the box.

Profanity feels good, but isn't a particularly effective way to RMA broken hardware.

Two weeks later, a replaced and functional card was in my machine, and I was back to a full, glorious frame rate…

...along with a bonus feature I hadn't planned on.

---

Maloriak was being...uncooperative.

Expand. Collapse. Move back. Move forward. Do the hokey pokey. Turn yourself around. It felt like I was in a constant state of movement. The multicolored phases, named for the vials Maloriak tossed into his cauldron, were superb in keeping us preoccupied with everything but killing him. Was it too much to ask to just get some concerted, uninterrupted DPS on the boss?

Yes. Yes it was.

Blue treated us to Flash Freeze, repeating the nightmare of Hodir, encasing ranged players in blocks of ice. The raid was forced to free them, while Biting Chill debuffed melee at random, forcing them to flee the group, lest they spread the effects of AoE frost damage. Breaking frozen players out of their icy shell rewarded with a blast of AoE damage to anyone near. More stress on the healers. Maloriak just chuckled.

Red forced us to restrict our positioning to only melee range, in an effort to distribute the damage of his Scorching Blast. Meanwhile, Maloriak belched Consuming Flames onto specific players. Awash in an inferno, these players enjoyed the benefits of increased fire damage, making them a likely candidate for an early death.

Whether Red followed Blue, or vice versa, Green was always next. Debilitating Slime sprayed out from his cauldrons, dousing everyone in the room with a 100% vulnerability to all damage. It was our one catch up on aberrations, burning through whichever of the creatures remained alive.

Did I mention the aberrations?

There were 18 in total, trapped in cages that flanked Maloriak's position in the center. The aberrations begged for a Goldilocks strategy: release them -- not too fast, not too slow -- but at just the right pace. In a perfect world, you'd spread their release across two cycles, which meant 9 per cycle. The aberrations would be off-tanked until moments into the Green phase. Then, we'd group all nine of them up at the entrance to the room, blasting them down with every cleave and AoE available. The cycle would then begin anew.

Maloriak made certain that we'd be as far from a perfect world as possible.

Maloriak puts up a good fight,
Blackwing Descent

Multitasking

The boss's kit required a keen eye and steady, confident timing to endure. Mixed amongst his spell-cast to release aberrations, he would also Remedy himself -- a heal over time, solved with a purge or a dispel. Remedy grew in potency with each tick, so slower reflexes punished us more severely. Maloriak also called down bolts of lightning which leapt across the raid in an Arcane Storm, another ability requiring an interruption.

Maloriak cycled through these abilities so frequently that no one player could hit them all. It was very easy to mix them up. What am I interrupting next? Release Aberration? No, Arcane Storm. Dammit, I just interrupted Aberration. Aberrations hit with just enough destructive force to make one too many unwieldy to off-tank. Mistakes were costly.

I was reminded of the Reliquary of Souls, back in Black Temple. One wrong interrupt, and the attempt unravels. Blain kept protective watch over which spell was next, calling them out over vent, alerting each group of handlers -- mains and backups. We pushed for excellence, and had contingencies when mistakes happened. They happen. Plan accordingly.

The classic burn phase came at the 25% health mark. With every cooldown popped, we unleashed our combined force into Maloriak's warped, pathetic frame. But even now, there was encroaching danger in the periphery. Prime Subjects -- two new adds -- had to be picked up and off-tanked. Absolute Zero began spreading, orbs of periodic frost damage which would explode if coming into contact with another player. And Magma Jets continued to flood Maloriak's room, sparking memories of Mimiron's hard mode, as large paths of fire shot out from the boss's position. The scarred, burning trails left by Magma Jets slowly painted us to a fiery corner.

But of course, dear reader, you already know all of this -- because I've already told the tale of Normal Mode. That's right. This...all of this...was Normal mode, and we knocked it out on the first night in Blackwing Descent.

Tonight, however, Maloriak wasn't being as cooperative as he was that first night in Blackwing Descent -- a weekend now infamously associated with off-handed remarks from former guildies claiming we weren't as efficient as we could've been.

Our "efficiency" was about to take a huge hit.

Heroic brought a fourth color to the cycle. Dark was the new color on deck. Like Green (always ending a cycle), Dark began every cycle, and was incredibly effective at getting us off on the wrong foot. Entropy reigned supreme.

Each Dark phase produced five vile swills at our feet. These gray globules would immediately begin spewing Dark Sludge: puddles of black ooze hitting for shadow damage twice a second. Puddles spawned quickly, one every second. Off-tanks kited the sludge away, ensuring the puddles wouldn't spawn in stacks that destroyed the raid with a flurry of hits. Melee and ranged had to burn the sludge down while avoiding the cloudy trail of slime left behind. The old "expand for Blue, collapse for Red" strategy had an entirely new component to it. How fast can your roster re-position after having chased sludge and dodged slime?

Sounds easy. It wasn't.

Falling behind on slimes and dying to various puddles only made the transition to a Blue or a Red phase that much worse. The raid was well behind its quota by each subsequent pass. It all came down to the Green phase, the final chance to catch up by grouping the Aberrations at the rear entrance and AoEing them down. Thanks to various deaths from the thousand-and-one gifts Maloriak had in store for us, Green seemed a better term to describe our skill, rather than the color of the phase.

I watched as each successive attempt ended in misery. Neither fire, nor frost, nor even shadowflame could cut through the pack of aberrations. As the next Dark wave began with Aberrations still alive, there was little reason to continue.

We left the raid weekend of May 13th/15th without a Heroic: Maloriak kill.

The 25-Man progression team defeats Heroic: Maloriak,
Blackwing Descent

All About the AoE

Interest in raid progression surged to such a degree that, for the first time since Cataclysm's launch, I actually had to bench several players, heading into the May 20th/22nd raid weekend. This was a welcome boon, because it meant I was able to hold players accountable. During Wrath, a bench was present week-to-week, but these days, I barely had enough to fill the roster. Once the concept of overflow returned to rotations, I could pick the dedicated, while pushing players that needed practice back to the end of the line.

The raid's energy was focused on how best to maximize their AoE, and a forum discussion kept them busy in their class forums. I sensed the excitement and renewed purpose, and wished there was a way to sweeten the deal. Something fun and different that the roster might perceive as a reward for their dedication.

I hopped out of the "Raid Rotations" forum, then glanced at "Accomplishments" -- the place I posted all our kill shots, the celebration of past victories and a focused channel of guild spirit. Players seemed to get a thrill when they were a part of kill shot, that one moment etched into eternity that proves their commitment. See me on the left? I was there. I helped DoD make this happen.

Then, an idea popped.

I finished up the raid rotation post, and mentioned that whomever was present in the defeat of Heroic: Maloriak would receive a small but "fun" surprise.

---

Hells keeled over dead, going from full health to zero in a fraction of a second. Stacked puddles were unforgiving, even to the mightiest of our roster.

"I've discovered the secret of keeping up with Hells," I said, dodging slime, "he has to die early."

"I still show him fourth," said Amatsu.

Wise-ass.

Slimes were done, just as Red began. We collapsed at the boss's feet. Moments later, a protective golden shell, Power Word: Barrier, shielded us as Maloriak hit Littlebear like a flamethrower.

"Littlebear, get out", said Blain. Lit with Consuming Flames, the hunter side-stepped and continued to unleash a barrage of shots into Maloriak.

"Keep going," Blain commanded. Littlebear turned and sped away.

With Red complete, we spread apart for Blue, our raid meters alerting us if anyone was nearer than 10 yards from each other. "We're quite far, healers. Just FYI."

Blain issued his next order, "Alright, interrupt the next aberration."

The off-tanks reported in.

"Amatsu has four."

"Ak has five."

Aktauren, Jungard's cousin, was off-tanking the second set of aberrations. Normally relegated to DPS, and certainly not one of our primary tanks, Aktauren maintained his post, despite his health meter spiking. Unchained held Maloriak in place.

"Phase change in three."

"Group up."

Everyone in the raid, along with Maloriak himself, were knocked back across the room, near the entrance. Amatsu and Aktauren raced to join the group, their aberration in tow. The floor lit with the colors of each school of magic laying waste to Maloriak and his minions. Howling Blast. Mind Sear. Impact Combustion. Shadowflame. Multishot, Serpent Spread and Explosive Trap. Wild Mushroom and Starfall. Maloriak and his ilk were ablaze with red, blue and purple explosions.

DPS had done its homework. And it showed.

Green ended...and nothing remained. The aberrations were disintegrated. Maloriak returned to his cauldron, and we followed. Still in shock from the ludicrous display of damage, I shared my thoughts in the most succinct way I knew how.

"Fuckin' shit."

We repeated the cycle. Kept cool, kept focused. Sludge put the pressure on healers as we ate through it, desperate to avoid puddles. We wrapped them just in time for Red, followed methodically by Blue. Blain called for a DPS reduction, to whittle away excess aberrations. Then, Green. The knockback. The magical AoE lightshow. Back to the cauldron, and a push into phase two.

Bloodlust out. Pull Maloriak around the outside of the room. Watch for the spread of fire. Get away from those ice orbs. Close those open mics, keep it down in Vent! Eat a healthstone. Burn that Divine Hymn. Keep it going, keep it going. Three dead...Amatsu is down. Prime Subject is loose, stay alive, stay alive...

Maloriak's lifeless body fell to the floor. Temporary titles popped above everyone's name. I zoomed the camera in to get a better look:

Mature, Slayer of Stupid, Incompetent and Disappointing Minions

Nice.

In vent, I heard Bonechatters immediately go off like a broken record:

"Wutsthesurprise, wutsthesurprise, wutsthesurprise..."

I motioned everyone over to Maloriak's corpse, prepping them for the official DoD killshot. But before snapping photos, I alt-tabbed to the desktop and switched on a new feature of the Twin Frozr II; more specifically, a feature present in all of this next generation of nVidia chips. Once I had the right amount of shots taken, I posted them to our "Accomplishments" forum...

...and reminded the guild to have their 3D glasses on before viewing.




4 comments:

Charles said...

This is the most ungrateful thing I've ever asked.... Why only once every two weeks? I check every Thursday and it makes me a bit sad waiting another week. I'll keep coming back. You've got me hooked. Throw up a donation button and I'll pay. I just want to know why you make me wait so long?! :-D

Shawn Holmes said...

@Charles,

Thanks for being such a dedicated reader! I'd prefer once per week, but a lot has happened since the start of the blog, and there are some weeks I can't quite get it all wrapped up in time.

...but I will continue to shoot for each week, as much as I can!

Charles said...

Fair enough. I'll just start back at the beginning on off weeks. Problem solved. :-D

Christopher Duncan said...

You can tell something was up if black was highest dps ^^. Love you girl. I actually remembered this fight and all the attempts leading to it. I remember the 3d picture and all. Was good times. We need to try to setup a DoD reunion or something. Or everyone meet at Blizzcon. I'm sure I speak for Black too. We miss you guys. Mature, always fun reading on past conquers. Keep up the good work man.