Thursday, January 28, 2016

4.58. Part of a Complete Breakfast

Artwork By Wayanoru

By Fiber Be Purged!

"Out of the middle, Black."

"Can't really move if I'm not connected!"

I could hear the tension rising.

"Ok! Ok...everything's...fine. It happens. If we lose you, we lose you."

The raid's positioning for phase two was similar to that of phase one, save for a slight adjustment -- a wide gap in the middle of the platform, free of bodies. We gave Rag a clear view to the entryway, well behind us in the rear of the throne room. We did so with intent.

"We won't lose her," added Fred.

"Molten Seeds! Group!"

Twenty of us spawned glowing orbs of fire at our individual positions. These orange dots painted an outline around the edges of the platform. The tanks shifted along the edge of the platform towards the center-most position, and the rest of the raid raced forward, collapsing on the tanks. A bright yellow shell emerged from a priest, shielding the roster. Heals leapt across the group. Seconds later, the Molten Seeds burst, creating a Molten Inferno, blanketing the entire room with flames.

The key to dealing with the onslaught of Molten Inferno damage was keeping that middle area wide open, pre-seeds. Once we collapsed on the tanks, it became the only safe haven on the platform; it was the furthest point away from the Molten Seeds, presently hemorrhaging lava. The further away from the seeds, the less damage we endured. On this round, we only had to worry about the intense heat from one seed, spawned underneath a very immobile Blackangus.

"Coming back," she said, working her way through the login screen. The progress bar slowly grew across the horizontal footer of the instance art -- WoW's backdrop that divided the open world from personalized dungeon/raid instances. As the Molten Inferno subsided, the tauren regained mobility. Blackangus's life had been spared, thanks to an extra dose of protective measures from a sharp healing officer.

"You got off easy," Jungard said, as the raid spread back out, "next one won't be!"

Phase two had another new mechanic in store for us. A crescent-shaped swath of fire would rise up from the platform and stretch across its entire length. This row of flame came in three positions: inner, middle, and outer. Depending on where you stood for your role, you might have to hightail it out of there, racing forward or backward as needed. Between dodging the emerging fire from the platform, the Lava Waves spawned during each Sulfuras Smash, and ensuring players returned to their spread out locations (keep that middle open!), phase two pushed our multitasking abilities into overdrive.

We danced across the platform, chipping away at the towering inferno's health bar, until it was time for the second round of Molten Inferno. And this time, as Jungard alluded, it wouldn't be as easy. The cooldown on Sulfuras Smash was staggered such that the next one...would coincide with Molten Inferno.

The position we were to collapse to was the very location Ragnaros planned to strike.

Handling a simultaneous occurrence of both Molten Inferno and Sulfuras Smash was so simple, it felt like cheating; we grouped up in our original, central position, but scooted forward until our digital toes dangled over the precipice separating us from a lava bath. If positioned correctly, Sulfuras would smash down into the platform behind us, allowing us to avoid its deadly impact, as our collective AoE healing spammed its way through the inferno.

Of course, a disconnected Boomkin would have likely taken an orange hammer to the face -- the likes of which no healing officer could hope to keep someone alive through.

Submerged, Mature's lifeless body watches as the
 25-Man progression team pulls off a clutch defeat of Ragnaros,

Two Scoops, Executus!

Second verse, same as the first. When his health dipped below 40%, Ragnaros buried Sulfuras in the platform, dove beneath the molten surface, and the Sons of Flame greeted us again. The raid fought to slow, stun, even Death Grip them away from the orange hammer. Averting a messy death was a worthy cause.

Amatsu and Blain raced to pick up the two new spawns: Lava Scions, an elemental that looked to be a cross between earth and fire, and its armor was similarly decorated with the runes of the Spire.

The Sons took priority, given the risk they posed. Amatsu and Blain dragged the Lava Scions just right-of-center, near the inner edge of the platform. Once the last Son fell, DPS immediately shifted to the Scions.

"Mang. Watch your feet."

"AH GOD, I'M ON FIRE!", Mangetsu cried out over Vent in mock terror, scrambling to the back of the platform.

The Lava Scions had hit him with Blazing Heat. The flaming trail left behind by each victim not only inflicted serious damage to the raid, they would heal the Lava Scions if brought too closely. Amatsu and Blain had to continually shift and adjust, moving the elementals away from any fiery footsteps. The tanks didn't have much room to breathe when shifting -- they still had to stay within range of Ragnaros. Stationary bosses in World of Warcraft don't traditionally fare well when a tank isn't near. Or rather, the raid doesn't fare well.

It is at this point, dear reader, where things got...hairy.

At the start of phase three, here is a rundown of what was on our plate:
  • Ragnaros is still swinging Sulfuras, at times performing Sulfuras Smash, sending three Lava Waves out toward the raid.
  • Engulfing Flame is still igniting an entire third of the platform in flames -- that large, moon-shaped path of flame reaching to both ends of our available working space.
  • The tanks are still switching off of Ragnaros, with the hope that the Lava Scions are either dead...or close to it. Every extra second they remain alive runs the risk of forcing another player to paint a path of flames across the floor.
With wracked nerves, low mana, and a lot to be watching, the 25-man team had one final mechanic to deal with. It was a sadistic, evil sort of mechanic, one typical of those cruel designers at Blizzard. At the same time, it was a mechanic very worthy of a boss as epic as Ragnaros.

Giant meteors...and when I say "giant", I mean they reached as high as Ragnaros’ upper torso...began to appear around the platform. These meteors immediately latched onto a random player, indicated by a thin, red beam. Once locked onto a target, the meteors began to roll. Gigantic fiery bowling balls rolled across the platform, seeking their pin, a player frantically rushing to the other side of the room in a panic. You did not want a strike, unless you were purposefully looking to be catapulted over the side of the platform and down to a fiery death.

This had to be controlled.

Dragging enormous boulders of fire across the platform in a chaotic mess would only lead to other players being knocked off the platform. But, these meteors were massive; far too much health to destroy in any practical sense. The only way to deal with them was for their target to knock the boulders backwards via empowered attacks -- a special boon granted by the very meteor itself.

If you close your eyes, I'd wager you can picture, with reasonable accuracy, the sheer lunacy of what an attempt that falls apart in phase three looks like. Fire bursting out of the ground, in what appears to be from all sides. An array of elemental magic leaving your finger tips, spiraling towards Ragnaros, while an enormous rolling volcano careens through your field of vision. Players flying through the air at random, as they are struck, many times, causing them to fall to a molten death. Waves of lava bursting out of Sulfuras, a surf of fiery tide that's about to ride you. And as you rush to dodge an incoming meteor someone drags your fateful direction, you're instantly cut off by another player, who is screaming and flailing, leaving a trail of flames that boxes you in.

And are struck.

You hurdle backwards.

Next comes the splash.

Don't struggle. No need to swim up.

You incinerate long before you drown.

DoD defeats Ragnaros, completing Tier 12 in normal mode,

Taste The Flavors of Sulfuron!

Frame rates were killing us in phase three, and Blackangus wasn't the only one suffering. The visual impact of the massive meteors wreaked havoc on multiple machines, causing players to lock-up or disconnect, only to return to a view of their player, submerged and burning to death after being knocked off the platform. We weren't seeing anything official from Blizzard in the form of a "known issue" being fixed. We had to assume it was us, and adapt accordingly.

The 25-Man team ran the gamut of suggestions, working together to come up with ways to improve system performance. Crank visual fidelity down. Disable sound. Drop your screen resolution. If you're in windowed mode, switch to fullscreen. Disable any excess add-ons that you weren't directly relying on. Our veteran raiders weren't just sharing raid strategy, they were sharing technical expertise from years of troubleshooting problems like these.

Our Ragnaros work began on July 22, 2011, carrying on through July 24, and into the next raid weekend of July 29th. Then, at the end the fourth night of work, July 31st, the panic and chaos of Ragnaros finally came to an end.

At least...I think it came to an end. I can't be too sure. I was at the bottom of a sea of lava when it happened. The guild tells me we were successful. I'll take their word for it.


I sat across from my boss, pen in hand, ready to capture any bit of work-related detail I might forget later in the day.

"You're being re-assigned."

I raised an eyebrow.

"The powers that be want you in the new 'Learning and Collaboration' group..."

"...Arch's app?" It was my first thought. I felt compelled to interrupt.

She sighed in disappointment, "We'll need a new person to come in and take it on. Of course, they'll be following your spec to the T."

Well, crap. I really liked Arch. It wasn't often I was able to bond with someone far up the chain of command. But it also wasn't often I was able to find a fellow World of Warcraft player in the workplace.

Solutions, not problems. Keep your eye on the ball.

I sat up straight, "You'll want a transition plan, I'll bet."

"If you know of anyone that'll give the same degree of care to that app as you would, this is your opportunity to hire them. Then, we'll get a project manager to handle resource allocation..."

"...Let me do it."

She seemed surprised, " manage it?"

"I'll find the replacement programmer, hire him, and direct the development."

"Ok, but the other project? You'll manage both developments efforts as well as whatever they give you in L+C?"

"This is important. If the apps just keep changing hands, they're never going to get the attention they deserve." The thought of Arch having to deal with some random development contractor sickened me. I'd seen app neglect in more places than his software. It was time the development side of the fence gained an ally that shared his nerve.

"I'll do weekly stand-ups, keep them on track, and keep you apprised," I pressed my index finger down on her desk, "...this is doable."

She sat back, arms folded, giving me a look as if she was trying to figure out how to clone me.

"Ok," she said, "A full plate it is."

"Don't worry," I replied with a wave of my hand, "I'm an expert at handling a full plate."

Even if means swimming in lava.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

4.57. Mortal Insects

Paragon's 10 vs 25 comparison analysis on Firelands

The Horse's Mouth

An IM window popped up on my desktop. It was from Jungard, "Are we resetting next week?"

"No reason not to. We're mowing through it."

At times, it felt like my perspective was skewed. What was easy and what wasn't? DoD buckled down and ripped Firelands apart, leading us to the final confrontation with Ragnaros on week four. I felt certain we'd have it the next raid weekend. But, where did we fit within the grand scheme of raiders? Had we disciplined ourselves to such a degree that we now approached the hardcore end of the spectrum? Perhaps the content was actually harder than we perceived it to be.

A frame of reference would've have been nice.

"Any objections to taking a core group of folks in tonight to try to wrap it up?"

Jungard wanted to take advantage of one of the 10/25 lock mechanics introduced in Cataclysm. A partially cleared 25-Man lock could be downsized to a 10-Man lock.

"I don't have a problem with it. If Blain and the others are good with it, go ahead. Just...y'know," I cautioned, "try to take people from the 25, eh?"

"Oh, I only plan on taking from the 25."

"Did you see the post that Paragon made?" I shot him the link.

"When'd they make this?"

"Late last night. Break down of the difficulty between 10 and 25."

"I thought there was no difference?"

"Your sarcasm isn't lost on me, Young-gard."

The European-based Paragon was a relatively new world first guild to the raiding scene. They made a name for themselves by being the first guild to down the Lich King in Heroic 25-Man, a major upset to those predicting older, more seasoned guilds like Vodka and Ensidia would maintain the house odds. And Ensidia would have, if it hadn't been for the "clever use of game mechanics".

In Cataclysm, Paragon beat Method to the full clear of Blackwing Descent, Bastion of Twilight, and Throne of the Four Winds. Now, they'd done it again. Paragon was the first guild to complete a full clear of Heroic: Firelands -- in the same amount of time it had taken us to almost clear Normal.

In short, there was no better guild than Paragon to provide an educated, thoughtful analysis on raid difficulty.

"Huh," Jungard commented aloud as he read through Paragon's article, "interesting...they say the first four bosses are pretty much the same. I'd have to agree with that."

"Keep reading."

"Baleroc...first noticeable difference. Oh, wow..." He was getting to the good part, "...huge gap in difficulty between 10 and 25 on Majordomo."

"They claim he's 8-mannable. That’s awful."

Jungard chuckled quietly, "I liked the comment about how the Sons of Flame are 'made of paper' in 10-Man."

"In the end, they basically say the 10-Man tuning has more room for error. You can pay less attention to your roster, make more mistakes, but still have the necessary DPS and Heals to power through."

"That's ironic, considering that's exactly what the 10-Man guilds claim is the reason why their version is more difficult."

Funny how we end up learning the most from people who have nothing to teach.

Artwork by UnidColor

Full Circle

Across the charred, rocky wastes, over the burning bridge, and through the circular carpeted courtyard, the 25-Man progression team made their way up the staircase and into the heart of Sulfuron Spire. Before us lay a narrow corridor, lined with fiery, rune-adorned columns. A sea of lava stretched out on either side of us, onward and down, past the retaining walls that eventually came to an end. A massive throne room was exposed beyond. The 'corridor' was nothing more than another bridge -- one thin platform keeping us from burning alive.

After defeating Lava Wielders that pummeled us with more fiery attacks, we moved out of the corridor and down across yet another bridge. This platform, while still decorated with the familiar fiery runes highlighting the internal decor, was even narrower, more precarious, and lacked a banister. Our safety was of little concern to the lord of this realm.

We inched our way across this bridge, dispatching miniature versions of Magmaw as they emerged from the molten depths on either side. The raiders cut the fireworms down, sending their carcasses flailing and spasming back down into the boiling magma.

Familiar eyes watched us the entire time. That same face, a jack-o-lantern pulled from the inferno of Hell, eyes empty and burning, a gaping jaw pulled wide into a devilish grin. The wall of living flame clutched a familiar weapon in his right hand, idling in a defensive animation, as if waiting to squash invading insects. And, as years before, his torso remained submerged, behind the low, dull rumbling sound of fiery tornadoes, intertwined and amplified by the acoustics of the expansive throne room. Those eyes watched us as we worked our way to him, the fires of a million volcanoes, seeking revenge.

Time (and several expansions of Blizzard expertise) granted Ragnaros greater fidelity. His blackened armor had more depth and majesty; the runes adorning its edges glowed brighter and were more distinguished. And his legendary mace -- perhaps the most recognizable weapon in World of Warcraft to both casuals and hardcores alike -- the titanic spiked hammer, now pulsated with a bright orange plasma which warped and distorted its edges. Sulfuras, the Extinguished Hand, burned with such colossal intensity that it felt as if a permanent imprint would be left in my monitor, like the shadowy screens of arcade machines long past their final play.

The moment was thick with nostalgia, and I paused to reflect. The exact moment DoD transformed from "just a group of WoW players" to an official raiding guild is perhaps a matter of contention. Former members might point to the first day we coordinated 40 players in unison, to begin pulling trash in Molten Core. Others might claim the death of Lucifron as an adequate measure of a guild's evolution. Still others might offer up our first kill of Onyxia, challenging the notion that the dragon's mechanics were far more complex than her strategy read on paper, and anyone claiming she was easy to kill hadn't even set foot in her lair.

For my money, the moment Ragnaros fell was always the defining moment. We overcame the odds of an entire instance, slowly working our way through each boss, while simultaneously grinding out the farming and crafting of fire resistance gear necessary to withstand each molten blow. I don't dismiss Onyxia as one of our first truly great challenges, but it was when Ragnaros fell that all lingering doubt washed away. Onyxia gave us the means to believe in ourselves and that we were capable of being a raiding guild. Ragnaros confirmed it.

I glanced around the room at the twenty-four players standing next to me in throne room, deep in the bowels of Sulfuron Spire, far away from our initial meeting, deep below Blackrock Mountain. I identified only one player from DoD's 40-man lineup from our kill in February of 2006.

It wasn't Turtleman, arguably the one of the longest running members of DoD - he hadn't been present for our first Ragnaros kill.

It wasn't Gunsmokeco or his brother Deathonwings; both had accrued years of tenure in DoD, but neither got to see Ragnaros' defeat by our hand.

You might guess Blain, but he would join us only a few months later, as we struggled to break ground in Blackwing Lair.

It was Klocker. The longest running player in the history of DoD, to that point. We each brought new classes to the table today; he, a paladin, and I, a death knight. But, we would always share a spiritual connection, a bond through our respective original mains - shamans. Side-by-side, our chain heals leapt across a mess of names -- names now nearly forgotten, blurred by time.

[To: Klockerr] Congratulations

[From: Klockerr] For?

[To: Klockerr] Being the last remaining member of DoD present for both kills of Ragnaros

[From: Klockerr] OMG

The 25-Man progression team prepares
for their first pull of Ragnaros,

Ragnaros II: Ow, That's #%$! Hot

Ragnaros was split into three phases, sandwiched between two transitions, not unlike his Molten Core incarnation. It began as a traditional tank-and-spank. Blain and Amatsu traded off punitive stacks of fire vulnerability which ate away at their resistance. As the roster pummeled the Elemental Lord of Fire, Ragnaros smashed Sulfuras down onto the platform, sending tri-directional waves of lava outward. Anyone caught in the waves would take massive damage and be thrust backwards toward the entryway.

New to his arsenal was the magma trap, tossed out to random players throughout phase one. These traps were visible on the platform; once armed, the 25-man raid was directed to stay clear of these traps...mostly. Left unchecked, the platform would soon grow overwhelmed with traps. So, we had to selectively trigger them, clearing only what was necessary to execute our strategy.

The traps, like Staghelm's phase switch, ultimately rested in our hands. We had to decide what was too much or too little, with thresholds varying widely across the casual-to-hardcore spectrum. Live dangerously: be more aggressive, bring min/maxxed dps and heals, and trust that your roster is extremely self-aware...and you might be able to leave the platform with many traps.


Or, opt for containment: take a more cautious approach, measure DPS, prioritize payer safety by clearing more traps from the platform and leave enough time to heal those who sacrifice themselves in the trap's explosion -- and the run the risk of a wipe as the fight drags on.

Phase one struck a balance that could appeal to both casuals and hardcores, but I suspect the ingenuity of this design went largely underappreciated.

At 70% health, Ragnaros took a final swing of Sulfuras, burying the head of the spiked mace into the platform and disappearing beneath the lava's surface. Across the entirety of the platform, his familiar Sons of Flame spawned, all slowly moving towards the mace. If any of the fire elementals reached Sulfuras, a supernova of flame would expand out from the massive weapon, striking (and in many cases, killing) all members of the raid.

Allowing a Son of Flame to break our defense, therefore, was not an option. Every stun, slow and snare we could apply had to be leveraged, and DPS had to be distributed evenly so that no one fire elemental gained an advantage. During set up, Blain and Jungard worked together to examine the raid, splitting groups up accordingly by fanning them out in a crescent shape around Sulfuras' intended point of impact.

"Phase two positions, just like we rehearsed. Keep the middle open."

I glanced up from my position to see a Boomkin, frozen in position, directly in the middle of the platform.

Blackangus' voice was clear in Ventrilo. "Yeah, uh...I think I'm disconnecting."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

4.56. Practice Makes Purrfect

"Managers Fall"
Artwork by 花狐貂


[To: Dichotomy] How you holding up?

Our healing officer, Fred, was playing his shaman on this, the third week into Firelands. His shaman was appearing more frequently, thanks to Deathonwings' continually changing schedule. One week he'd be camping, the next, work would step in the way. It didn't seem like Wings fluctuated as much during Wrath, but it was possible that our healthy bench during Wrath kept his absences from the forefront of my memory.

Regardless, Fred rolled with the punches, flipping between shaman and paladin as needed -- which was good, because I suspected a trend. Recruitment wasn't looking promising. We continued for weeks without so much as a single ping for more information about the guild. It wasn't entirely clear to me if and how much this weighed on Fred, so I erred on the side of checking in, whispering him as we ran back for our next attempt. It was a way for me to check in, gauge his frame of mind. Let him know he wasn't alone out there.

[From: Dichotomy] Blain loooooooooooves twelve stacks

[To: Dichotomy] He should marry them

[From: Dichotomy] lol

Fred wasn't the only one flipping classes to meet the needs of the raid. Blain was now on his warrior, Xane, as one of our two main tanks, and Sarge, who'd been supplying us with Retribution melee damage since Icecrown, had now taken a liking to healing, bringing his restoration druid Arbour to more of our progression raids.

Beyond a full class swap, some players continued to respec as needed, sometimes between boss kills. This was now pretty commonplace. Wings set that trend back in Wrath, but today, folks like Vexx and Physica were switching from heals to damage (or vice versa) regularly. Even I was giving serious consideration to pulling Kerulak out of retirement, just to ensure our healing bases were covered.

[To: Dichotomy] 12 stacks is nothing. You got this. Cooldown rotations ftw.

[From: Dichotomy] Wings doesn't seem to think Spirit Totem works like we think it does.

[To: Dichotomy] Wings isn't in charge. You are.

Respeccing was especially relevant that Blain was pushing hard, minus the gear. We were working with new healers, like Charcassone the holy paladin, but at the same time, players were switching between mains and partially geared alts, doubling the amount of effort necessary to stay ahead of the game.

Ironic, considering Blizzard's claim that distinct 10/25 locks in Wrath had us raiding until we were burning out. Instead of running one raid twice, in different sizes, we were now running a raid twice...on different characters.

[From: Dichotomy] Seems like we're making the same mistakes tho.

[To: Dichotomy] You know EJ’s first Onyxia kill? Just another night of practice.

[From: Dichotomy] Yeah?

[To: Dichotomy] True story. They’d been working on it for weeks. Just practicing all the phases. Polishing.

[From: Dichotomy] That’s really all it is.

Amatsu surveys the arena, as the 25-Man prepares to
 begin work on Majordomo Fandral Staghelm,

Majodomo Fandral Staghelm

The raid extension from the previous week, very necessary for the Alysrazor practice, was reset in favor of collecting a few upgrades while re-acclimating to our Tier 12 challenges. The roster did not disappoint. The night before, Shannox, Beth'tilac, Lord Rhyolith, Baleroc and our fiery bird friend all met their match in the allotted four hours. Sunday, this very day, was free and clear for the next challenge.

As the 25-Man progression team watched, a bridge formed across the gaping chasm. First, it glowed white like a hot poker, before slowly cooling, its mass thickening as it settled, turning to solidified rock. Its' surface was covered with blackened, charred tiles -- the same molten chips composing many of our smelted enemies.

As we ran across the bridge, I tilted the camera up to take in the massive flame-like arches. Beyond the bridge lay a royal red carpet, painting the way to a large circular arena. The red carpet carried on past this, up a series of steps, where it then disappeared behind walls. It was near where we lost sight of the continuing carpeted path that we saw a lone Night Elf barring our way.

I use the term "Night Elf" loosely. Very little of his Kaldorei ancestry remained. Purple flesh tones were replaced with crimson. His formerly green hair was now blood red. And eyes that once glowed with a soft moonwell blue were now on fire.

He was of a new class of druids, those whose traitorous intentions caused these deformities, twisting inescapably from the fire enclothing them. These Druids of the Flame needed a leader, and the great firelord needed a new second-in-command. Before us, he stood. The Archdruid of the Flame. Six years after laying waste to Majordomo Executus, Descendants of Draenor was about to take on his successor, Majordomo Fandral Staghelm.

Staghelm's two phases were bound by a gimmick: positioning determined the active phase. Collapse into a tight group, and Fandral shifted into a enormous scorpion that struck with such severity that splitting the damage amongst the raid was a non-negotiable. Spread far apart, however, and Fandral shifted into a fiery feline engulfed in flames. He'd leap across the raid in firekitty form, and both the launch and landing resulted in gifts from the Majordomo. A copy of himself remained at the launch position, a Spirit of the Flame that had to be dispatched. And at the destination, a ring of pulsing flames, forcing all that were near to scatter.

The longer Fandral stayed in each form, the harder and faster he'd hit. So, yes, it was true that we had control over the phases. But to a limit. Eventually, the Archdruid would force our hand. The question was, as it would be for any raid: how much could we withstand?

Blain had set that expectation pretty clear, from the get go.

"Amatsu, go ahead and respec into damage for this."

Blain's directive caught a few of the raid off-guard with this directive -- our newest pally tank, included.

"Ok, um...any particular reason why? Am I..."

"'re good," Blain stopped him from announcing any shortcomings, "we're just going to one-tank this."

[To: Xane] When'd you decide this?

[From: Xane] Just now

The 25-Man progression team poses in front
of the fallen Majordomo Staghelm,

The Night Elf Who Mistook Himself For a Troll

The giant charred scorpion smashed into Blain.

"I....uh...yep. Getting hard to keep you up."

"Quiet. We're going for twelve."

Fandral trolled the raid in both phases. Scorpion forced us into a tight position, so to mess with that, he debuffed a handful of us with a living-bomb style curse. But not everyone's timer started at the same countdown. If yours was 20 seconds, congratulations...because it was a very real possibility that mine was 5 seconds.

Look at your debuff. No, seriously...look at it. Now. Look up at it. Register in your mind how much time you have. And leave only when you must.

Every player had their personal responsibility tested. They had to leave the group when only seconds remained. Any sooner would risk joining other players that were leaving at correct intervals. And if too many leave the tight group, spreading too far out across the arena...

...whoops. Firekitty phase.

Fandral trolled us during the firekitty phase, too. Five fiery orbs spawned along the outer edges of the group. These would stack a DoT on the nearest target, meaning certain members would have to rotate through, sharing Fandral's love. But rotating players through orbs also required discipline, because the very nature of tagging in/out of groups ran the risk of grouping back up...

...which would take us right back into Scorpion phase.

Every shift from scorpion to firekitty (or back), Majordomo Staghelm gained more strength via Fury, a stacking 8% additional damage buff. But, leave him in one state, and his energy regeneration increased, a stacking boost called Adrenaline. He'd hit faster, and faster, and faster. Eventually, we'd be overwhelmed.

"That's 10."

"Spirit Link down. Lexxi's got Barrier on the next one."

Fred's spirit totem hit the ground, further spreading the already distributed damage to all within the totem's grasp.

"Barrier ready."

Eleven stacks of Adrenaline was already pushing it. Guides of the day were directing raiders to break off at eight stacks, though ten was a more likely number to shoot for...if you ran a group of finely tuned raiders.

Blain wasn't having any of that amateur hour stuff. He pushed the 25-Man as far as they could go, which meant pushing beyond 10, and beyond even 11 stacks of Adrenaline. And when that wasn't enough...he dropped us to one tank: himself.

The healers had no choice but to rethink their strategy. So, Fred kept them rotating through their biggest cooldowns for the ninth, tenth...and hopefully...eleventh stacks, while we prepared to break and shift at twelve. It was a normal mode, but the healers treated it like a heroic.

"Tighten up a bit and eat these hits, please."

"Get ready for 11 stacks."

"Barrier is out."

A great glowing shell of protective holy magic emerged, surrounding the raid.

"Ok, get ready. 12th incoming."

Muscles in my fingers tensed, quivering. Readying for the burst. Blain's health bar flashed like an EKG meter through a patient's cardiac arrest.

"Hold. Hold….aaaaaand…...go. Spread, spread, spread. Watch for orbs."

Our opponent took the form of a Night Elf, mocking the raid as he froze us in position for a brief moment. Then, he morphed into a ball of flaming whiskers and claws. Around the outer edges of the map spawned five miniature meteors, firing molten beams out towards various players. Within seconds, the flaming cat leapt across the entire room, targeting a mage.

"On Goldy. Go!"

The raid's hustle was palpable. We flayed open the carbon copy of Staghelm, then raced back to the source, burning through as much health as possible before the next leap.

"I need a partner over here."

"Who is 'me'? Use your name!"

The DoT stacked on Littlebear. He needed to tag out.

"LB needs a partner. North east."

Speaking in third person, the raid's resident brony spoke up, "Mangetsu to the rescue!"

"Keep it clear, folks. Collapse after seven...coming up."

Fandral leapt faster now, pulsing circles of fire left in his wake.

"That's seven. Move, get in. Get in now."

The raid collapsed into the center of the circular red carpet, a clue left by the designers. We followed their lead, noting the pattern of Fandral's pulsating pools of flame now dotting the carpet's circumference.

"Get in tighter, this one's it."

The 25-Man continued to pour more and more damage into the Archdruid, now back into scorpion form.

"Watch your bombs. Keep cool."

Aktauren raced out of the group. A few moments later, Physica raced out in the opposite direction. Fandral's health bar dwindled down to 3%, then 2%, then 1%....and then, nothing remained.

An enthusiastic cheer filled Vent. Virtual high fives intermixed with insults directed at the defeated Night Elf ended yet another successful night of raiding.

"Thank you for staying a little over tonight." I glanced at the clock. 7:06 pm. Another famous last pull for history books.

"And thank you, Blain, for one man tanking this bitch!"

[To: Xane] Always the show-off

[From: Xane] I prefer 'Tyrant' :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

4.55. Casualsplaining

"Rune Deformation"
Artwork by 10Z (Liu Hao)

Spoiler Alert

I drew another line through a long list of names. Fourteen had been whittled to seven, then to four, and now to one. My questions were formulaic and terse; their answers were unabashedly byzantine. I debated the usefulness of the exercise, but pressed on, dialing the last number on the list, greeting the stranger on the other end of the phone, and walking the script.

"Describe to me a 'Relational Model'."

Each answer came at an uncomfortable cadence. An awkward pause at the start, followed by a reading back of the original question. Then, a nervous yet surprisingly articulate response -- all delivered in a thick East Indian accent, pauses littered throughout.

" thing that you wanted to know the Relational Model. an managing data a structure and language...consistent...with first-order predicate logic are repeating items in a self-similar way."

"Perfect, thank you for that. Okay, next question. Can you tell me what a 'memory leak' is?"

" thing that you asked about leaks…"

"...right." Move it along. I know my own damn question.

"...which a type of resource leak that occurs...when a computer program incorrectly manages memory such a way that memory no longer not released."

'Computer Program'? Why not just say 'code'?

The charade wore thin. I pulled up Chrome, headed to, searched for memory allocation, and pulled the result up. As I looked at the page, I spoke. "Got it. Thanks. And can you tell me what exactly is 'memory allocation'?"


Kill me.

"...Memory allocation?"

I hate my life.

"Right. Memory allocation. What is it?"

I followed along, reading the Wikipedia page, as man with the thick accent gave me "his" answer.

" allocation is of managing computer memory at the system level."

It was word for word. He wasn't even bothering to paraphrase. Just Googling everything I asked him, and reading its response, verbatim.

There was a time when not all answers were Googlable. You had to bounce between a litany of search engines in order to maximize your results. AltaVista, HotBot, Lycos, Yahoo!...hell, even America Online had its own search engine. After feeding your keywords into all of those engines, you still might not find you were looking for.

WoW was like that once, too. Well before MMO-Champion, WoWDB, Wowhead, even Thottbot...the only way to tell if someone had mad skills was if they knew the answers to end game stuff. When the 40-Man Naxxramas went up on the public test realm, world first guilds looking to do meaningful research kept wannabes out of their exploratory pick-up groups by drilling them with skill testing questions.

"You been to Blackwing Lair?"

"...sure, sure I have!"

"What happens at the start of phase two of Nefarian."


Yeah...that’s what I thought. 

No amount of Googling was going to save you that day. Even if you were able to hit all the search engines at once...the delay would be enough paint you as a faker.

The world before Wowhead was gone, upended by a suite of websites whose engines ran on data-mined fuel. Every new PTR release exposed every asset and revealed every last secret. No mystery was left in want. In the information age, spoilers were simply a subcategory of answers, and the only effort necessary was reduced to typing keywords and click "search".

Oh, don't forget about the "reading" part. That appeared to be important, too.

The effect produced when two
mirrors face one another

Two Mirrors

I sat up in my office chair, and cleared my throat. It was time to divert from the script.

"Explain to me what recursion is, please."

The tell-tale delay. A faint typing of keys. More effort to maintain the facade.

" thing that you wanted to know about was is a method where the solution a problem depends on solutions to smaller instances..."

"...Sorry," I interrupted him, "I'm going to stop you there. Let me clarify: I'd like you to explain it to me in layman's terms."


"I'd like you to make your answer more accessible, please."

The pauses appeared to grow in frequency.

" of that of a kind of solution that that is larger...but solutions."

"You just stated the same thing a different way. I need you to dumb it down for me. What does a recursive function do that makes it unique from other types of functions?"

I sensed panic on the other end of the conference call.

", well, it is, sorry, it is larger...than others kinds of functions…"


" is of the function that can then call others that are smaller, no?"


"I'm sorry, was that a question?"

" is my answer, yes."

I'd heard enough. "Ok, thanks very much for your time, today. We'll let you know if we have any further questions."

I took a long sigh and crossed the last name off the list. A recursive function calls itself; two mirrors facing each other, reflections repeating forever into infinity.


"There. Link's posted in the forums." Vexx's Australian accent hacked through the Ventrilo conversation with obvious frustration.

An impromptu five minute break followed, allowing folks to review the video. We spared individuals the embarrassment of calling them out. Maybe some were having a bad day. Perhaps some were deficient in the dexterity department. As it is with pluralistic ignorance, their reasons aside, players failing were too self-conscious to admit it publicly. You can diminish the effect by directing everyone to do it...

...but I whispered them individually. If you're not watching the video now, you should be.

By the end of the fourth hour, cracks began to show in the seemingly impenetrable array of Blazing Winds, but not enough to get a solid grip on and wrench open.

"C'mon! One more! One more go! Famous last pull!" The guild spirit was strong with Bonechatters. His youthful enthusiasm was enough to fill an entire roster.

"Nope," replied Blain, "Done for the night. We stop on time, those are the rules."

Boney wouldn't give up, "I heard a rumor rules were meant to be broken!"

I piped up, "Thanks, folks. Good work tonight. See you all back here Sunday."

Call it what you want. Lag. Server instability. Bad players. Bad connections. Sometimes a kill just isn't in the cards. I wasn't feeling it. Neither was Blain. The famous last pull wouldn't be our savior that night.

DoD defeats Alysrazor,

Keep It Simple Smartypants

Rosters in heavy flux rarely get the same line-up. For all the benefits DoD boasted throughout WotLK, this was a downside. In the bizarro world of Cataclysm, deficits became benefits. The perfect set-up for learning a new boss, in Blain's eyes, was to bring the same people back. And that's exactly what we had for Sunday, July 10th. Whether we liked it or not.

Everyone present had seen all three phases. There was nothing left to teach, and no surprises to catch us off guard. If DPS had neither seen nor played Pilotwings before, I didn't want to know about it. I wanted to look up and see a squadron of Pilotwings experts on Alysrazor's ass. I wanted tornado dodging like it was second nature. And I wanted an explosion of damage on that bird the likes of which hadn't been seen since our Illidan kill.

Blazing Winds sawed through the raid on every attempt. Nobody was safe. Each of us blew it at least once. But, as it had with so many bosses before, patterns emerged. There were definitely people in the raid who were clumsy, still struggling, still having those same spatial awareness issues that had long been a burden on our roster. It didn't matter the reason. What mattered was the result.

"You can't chase them from behind. They move too fast. You have to actually move in between the rings. From the outer to the inner one."

"That's not true, you can chase them."

"Yeah, but I'm not getting the speed buff.:

"You don't need the speed buff to pull this off. Seriously, is it really this difficult?"

I remembered the 'insanity' bit Blain liked to quote to players: People doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.

Doing things the same.


Like play...

...or explain.

"It's like this," I spoke into Vent, "The tornados are cars on a freeway. You're a cop. And every tornado is a car you want to chase, but you can't chase them for long. The ones coming towards other lanes...are even bigger catches than the one you're chasing."

"Sounds like a crime wave."

"Shut up a second. Listen. You're chasing a tornado...a car...until another one passes you in the opposite direction. That's when you switch lanes. Crank the wheel, change lanes, chase the car that just passed you. Just like that. Rinse. Repeat."

Slowly, surely, we got back on track. Players formerly failing on the tornado...were less so. We kept at it. Three tornado deaths. Two tornado deaths. One tornado death.

No tornado deaths.

In the third hour on the second night of work, the 25-Man roster cleared the hump, and having only lost a few players across two full tornado was enough to burn Alysrazor through her 2nd phase three. She fell that night, with an hour to spare.

As I lined up the roster, and snapped a kill pic for the forums, Blain shot me a message.

[From: Xane] Car chases?

[To: Xane] Hey. Whatever it takes.