Thursday, November 26, 2015

4.53. Flames Talking to the Wind

A fine alternative to repetitive injuries at work,
Diablo II

Carpal Tunnel Is Not a Disease, It's a Lifestyle

My wrists ached. The last time they felt this way was the week I spent climbing the Diablo II ladder...for the second time. A week of unemployment in early 2003 left me with the same repeated muscle injury. Between job interviews, I clicked and clicked, loot dropping all around me while my barbarian spun through the Plains of Despair. Eventually, I had to start taking breaks, icing the injury, calming the burning sensation between loot runs. A small price to pay for a chance at showing up on the ladder. A chance at recognition. A tiny moment of geek glory.

Today's injury wasn't game related. Arch's app needed help. To ensure thoroughness, I documented every last inch of the software. What powered it, how it behaved. The data model and the types of users that relied on it. Schematics and user flows. Even a bit of fantasy vs. reality found its way into my Word doc: what Arch's app was supposed to do, and what it was actually doing (a common miscommunication in software development). I wasn’t claiming stakeholders were in the dark. I simply wanted everyone on the same page. How could we expect to fix things if we disagreed on what was broken?

The previous developer's idea of documentation was a commentary of insults and complaints, buried within the app's source code. I'd been there, I understood the frustration. But to leave it here for the next developer to find? Professionalism had seen better days. Why not channel the anger into some answers? I did exactly that, and my insatiable need for completeness culminated in a 952 page manual, just tipping over the edge of 74,000 words. Insults were replaced with facts, and instead of complaints, the reader now had solutions.

News spread quickly throughout the office about the Odyssey presented to the stakeholders. Heads would pop out of cubes as I walked by, "Heard about your essay. 1000 pages?", to which I simply replied with a shrug. "Hey. It had to be done." Sometimes hard work is necessary to do things the right way. And as far as I could tell, nobody else was going to do it.

My manager, Allison, seemed to agree.

"I've got another app that needs some love. But I don’t want to jeopardize the detail you're putting in with Arch. It sounds like you two have hit it off."

"Oh, he's great. Arch is fantastic. And I appreciate you recognizing this, I mean...I don't really think his app got the attention it deserved."

"Let me throw this out," she said, "how do you feel about overseeing a couple of contractors? You could interview from a pool we have available, pick the candidates you want, and divide up the work amongst all of you. Break it up however you want. And", she patted the hard copy of my document, "they'd build to your specs, just like what you've done with this little short story here."

Leading a team? I could do that.

"Let's do it."

A little hard work had paid off.

Shannox is the first to fall to the 25-Man Progression Team,

Burning Alive

We were a long, long way from Molten Core.

Beyond the breach lay a charred wasteland, boiling in flame. The terrain broke apart in places, and between these exposed cracks could be seen glimpses of flowing magma. The contrast shifted such that you could feel the embers burning through the computer monitor. And we were not alone in this inferno.

Any visitors foolish enough to challenge Ragnaros' minions in home territory would find themselves swallowing mouthfuls of lava. Salamanders -- humanoid creatures propped up by the coil of a long, snakelike tail -- slithered across blackened rocky flats. Enormous stone creatures trudged slowly across the chasm, while giant two-headed demonic canines roamed in search of interlopers. Further on, the bright red and yellow glow of Fire Elementals could be seen as they made their rounds, scouting, guarding their master’s keep.

In the distance, a great jagged spire shot up into the molten sky. The spire appeared fuelled by fire which coursed throughout a central column that extended to the very top of the tower. Sulfuron Spire’s extremities were dangerously sharp; horns burst right from Hell itself. Our path would eventually take us to this fortress, putting us face to face with an old friend.

After battling Al'Akir in the realm of Skywall and venturing deep to the bowels of the earthen underbelly Deepholm, only this elemental plane remained.


When Blizzard announced that the four elemental planes would be traversable locations, the inner geek in me nearly died. I’d read Shadows & Light cover to cover, one of the pen & paper WoW manuals that was our only source of extensive lore in the early days. I'd known of Al'Akir and of Therazane for years (though astute old-schoolers would’ve known of Therazane from hints dropped throughout Maraudon). And as equally excited as I was to finally battle Ragnaros once more, this time in his own domain, I’d also looked forward to what Nepulon’s Abyssal Maw had in store for us.

It was not meant to be.

Alas, the Abyssal Maw was one of many big promises cut from Cataclysm, joining Path of the Titans on the cutting room floor.

Hopefully, Firelands would make up for the absence of its watery brother.


Our main tanks for opening night were Amatsu and Blain (via Xane). We picked up the aforementioned minions wandering the plane of fire and dispatched them. They began as trash, and ended as ash.

The first boss was Shannox, an enormous Salamander accompanied by two guard dogs, Riplimb and Rageface. The Salamanders of yore -- Lucifron, Gehennas, Shazzrah, Sulfuron Harbinger...even Majordomo Executus -- all seemed like lightweights in comparison. Thick plates of deep charcoal-colored armor draped across his right shoulder. His belt, sash, and thick shoulder armor glowed brightly with lava-empowered runes. Shannox dragged a large pennant behind him, and a patch covered his right eye.

After cleaning the molten fields, Amatsu engaged Shannox, while Blain took Riplimb to the far edge of the group, just within healing range. Untankable, Rageface lept from player to player; at times, the fiery mutt would latch permanently onto a player, forcing us to separate the two with a single blast of 30k damage. We dealt with Rageface, kept Shannox busy, and chipped away at Riplimb. When Riplimb let out a final howl in death, we killed Rageface in kind, enraging Shannox. Lacking his guard dogs as a defense, we murdered the Salamander after three hours of work.

"Let's move, people!" Blain said, rushing us out of the kill screenshot, "Still have one hour of work to get in."

From Shannox's grave, we turned toward the southeastern part of the map, navigating through a bevy of fiery rivers which snaked through the safety of dry (read: not engulfed in flames) land. Eventually, we arrived at the Rhyolith Plateau. The creature that towered above us looked as if Ragnaros’ has transformed a volcano into a living thing. The monster was made entirely of sharpened stone, and his exposed chest bore a glowing, molten center (as did his right arm and hand). Atop the living volcano floated a jawless skull; its eye sockets glowed red from the warmth that appeared visibly from inside.

The raid stood near the creature's feet at 10:45pm, quickly buffing and preparing for a showdown with the side of a mountain. With only 15 minutes left in the raid, we had but one real shot at Lord Rhyolith before the night was done.

And one shot was all it took.

DoD stands in front of Lord Rhyolith's defeated molten body,

Snuffed Out

On night two, we veered far to the west, navigating through an s-shaped path that wove its way through fiery webwork. Long strands of burning hot webbing draped across and above the path, and lined the edges of our walkway. At the end of the twisting path hovered Beth'tilac, a nightmarish creature that would put any arachnophobe into the fetal position.

Beth'tilac forced the raid to split into two groups. Far above the floor, the first group dealt with her by climbing her webbing and stepping carefully, so as not to fall through. Meanwhile, a second part of the raid remained below, dealing with never-ending waves of spider creatures, bent on burning us alive.

After an hour and a half of practice, DoD prevailed, and Beth'tilac became boss #3 to fall to progression.

The last encounter on the docket was Baleroc, a creature resembling a doomguard, engulfed head to toe in flame. Baleroc demanded the very best from our healers. Our tanks would grow in both health and damage taken, forcing the healers to risk their own lives by standing next to crystals that bombarded them with shadow damage, as well as boosting their healing ability. Baleroc required clear and succinct communication in order to ensure healers were healing through greater and greater amounts of damage without putting themselves in jeopardy.

The minutes ticked toward the top of the hour, leaving with us with a final attempt. And in that famous last pull, the pieces of the healing puzzle fell neatly into place, and Baleroc toppled. The first week in Firelands was a roaring success, ending with 4/7.


As I began posting the screenshots of the hard work and dedication from progression, an in-game alert noted someone was whispering me. It was Neps, asking me to hop into the officer channel in Vent. I obliged.

"What's up?"

"Hey, um...I have a bit of a problem I need to talk to you about."

All at once, the red flag alarms fired in unison. I could feel my heart pounding, the fight or flight response winding up for a mad dash to safety. Immediately, I could tell that there was something wrong with Neps' voice. On any other day, Neps' mellow, laid-back voice could be described no other way than "pure chill". Nothing flustered Neps. Even at his most irritated, he remained calm, collected -- he was the mellow to my frantic.

Something was very different this time. It started in Neps' familiar, laid back voice, but quickly tapered off, lowering in volume, wavering in pitch. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess he was choking back tears. Before answering, I shifted my tone to match the severity I wagered was at stake, "Sure, sure, what's on your mind? everything ok?"

" Grandmother passed away."

I took a deep breath, then exhaled.

"Oh my god. Neps, I' sorry. Were you very close?"

His voice continued to crack, "Yeah, yeah we were. She basically took care of me when I was younger. And..." he started taking deep breaths between sentences, struggling to get through it, "...I have to take care of the...arrangements, y'know? So, I'm...not gonna be able to…"

I stopped him from making this any more difficult than it had to be.

"Neps, say no more. Listen. You take all the time you need, alright? Blain and I and the rest of the guys...we'll hold down the fort while you're gone...keep that spot nice and warm for when you're ready to c'mon back. ok? Don't give this another thought."

"Thanks, Hanzo."

"Well, thank you for keeping me in the loop...and...for everything you've done for this guild." I took another deep breath, then exhaled, leaving the mic open so he could hear it, "We’ve got you covered in the meantime, chief. Let me know if you need anything at all, just ping me."

My heart sunk. I'd just lost one of the best. He healed. He led. He stayed loyal. Most of all, he helped. In that moment, I should've been concerned for the hole he'd leave in the guild, the healing we'd never make up, the apprentices that with go without a mentor in his absence. I should've been caught up with all the problems this would cause.

But I couldn't think of the guild at all. 

The only thing I could think about was how awful it was for Neps to have to deal with the passing of his Grandmother. No "problem" of mine in-game would even come close to that. I only wished that I could do more. What little I could do was remind Neps of how important he was to DoD and how much value he'd brought to the guild; to remind him of how important he was to us, and that we would be here for him when he returned.

That weekend was our first in Firelands, and was Neps' last.


Shintar said...

Firelands was where I lost interest in WoW raiding myself (and quit the game a few months later). Curious to see how long DoD's spirits managed to stay high!

Laeus said...


Your cliffhangers are pretty hard-hitting, but what I think kills me more is the "lasts". The last time you saw Ater log into WoW. The last time somebody participated in a kill. And now, Neps' last time in Firelands.

Nick Morrissey said...

At least he came back eventually. Even now, in 2018, I see DoD in the world. I actually ran across Neps doing WQs in Zuldazar the other day.