Thursday, March 17, 2016

4.64. Play Different

DoD defeats Heroic: Beth'tilac,

Round Pegs

Back into the fray, the progression team diverted immediately to the western side of Firelands, satisfied that they never again had to cast their gaze eastward. Those blackened hills along the west corridor snaked upward into a hike that ended at Beth'tilac's lair. I prayed for a quick death -- either her own or my guild's, rather than suffering the torment of another month long encounter. No player deserved to repeat such indignity.

Other than the requisite "has more health, hits harder" changes we'd come to expect in heroic encounters, Beth'tilac's Cinderweb Drones now randomly fixated on players, forcing healers to treat them as mini-tanks for short bursts. Cinderweb Spinners would flail while dangling from their strands of fiery silk, causing bursts of magma to spiral out and stun random members of the raid. Also worthy of note, Engorged Broodlings scurried towards random players at high speed, detonating with significant AoE damage once reached. 

Beth'tilac was already a DPS check and one of the tighter encounters of Firelands. It was anyone's guess as to say how many attempts these changes would impose on the progression team. It ended up being roughly a dozen pulls. Three hours in, DoD claimed its first defeat of Heroic: Beth'tilac.

"We should've just done Beth'tilac second," said Klocker.

"Somebody please shoot him," I replied.

"Happy to oblige," said Blain, "Klocker, send me your home address."

"It's easy to remember. I actually live at your Mom's house now."


Sunday, we were down a healer. Lexxii's permanent absence stretched the thin membrane of the roster even further. With no replacement, I leaned heavily on the goodwill from others in order to keep the machine humming. The commitment I made to DoD to provide them with a stable raiding guild felt more like a fraud with each passing week. Suppressing this growing guilt was a far more dominant thought in recent months. Whatever it takes to get the job done. Your rules are in place to keep repeat offenders on the straight-and-narrow. You're not undermining your own authority. You're negotiating.

The brothers shaman were out for a camping trip the entire weekend, putting me up against a management wall. Do I continue to grant them the freedom to take time off for a job well done and put progression at risk, or guilt-trip them into staying late like some pointy-haired boss who cared more about the menial work than an individual's mental health?

As it turned out, both Gunsmokeco and Deathonwings returned from camping with only minutes to spare before the start of the raid. After flipping a coin, Guns offered up his heals for the twenty-fifth spot. I showered him with thanks for his generosity, and made no mention of his on-going resistance to install add-ons -- mandates meant for the ignorance of amateurs, rather than to patronize the experts. I didn't even bust his balls about continuing to raid on a MacBook, as he was one of the few Apple nuts among a trove of PC master race folk. It was neither the time nor the place.

We headed straight for Alysrazor. The chaotic four-phase fight bearing traits of both Pilotwings and Star Castle remained almost entirely unchanged in heroic. Phases two, three, and four presented no new obstacles to learn; it merely asked us to take the stone we already had, then squeeze just a bit more blood from it.

DoD defeats Heroic: Alysrazor,

How It Works

Phase one, however, took on a new mechanic. Several gigantic meteors would plummet to the ground, then slowly roll across the cavern floor, not unlike the meteors from the Ragnaros encounter. They had low health and were easily dispatched, but rather than explode and disintegrate when killed, the meteors simply stopped moving, converting to a semi-permanent obstacle that hindered us. Or...from a different perspective...protected us.

The addition of the meteors were a component to Alysrazor's new Firestorm ability: a blast of fiery winds pummeling players with enough force to incinerate them on the spot. The trick, then, was to use the now-dormant meteor as a line-of-sight shield, hiding behind its girth while a sheet of flame painted the entire cavern floor. 

But...from which direction would the winds come? The only way to know how to position oneself was to look at Alysrazor herself, observe her position and angle at the moment preceding Firestorm, then adjust around the meteor appropriately. There was usually less than a second to adjust before a torrent of flame drained your life.

Positioning ourselves around the meteors was chaotic; someone always ended up making a bad call, diving when they should have dodged. But the progression team had dealt with much worse torture for far longer. They stuck it out, until Heroic: Alysrazor finally fell with 30 minutes to spare on the evening of Sunday, October 2nd. DoD had dangled at the bottom of server progression lists at an embarrassing 1/7 for an entire month. Over the course of two raid weekends, we shot up to 4/7. Kicking and screaming, my guild clung to life.

"MVP goes out to Guns for this one, folks," I added in Vent, "thank you for stepping up and filling in at the last moment."

"Just a good thing that I got back from camping in time," he replied.

The outdoors are highly overrated.


Wednesday, October 5th started as an otherwise ordinary day. I went to work and focused most of my time on preparing training materials that I was scheduled to deliver at my company's El Segundo branch. Seven months after being hired as a senior developer to support legacy code, I now found myself in the position of managing two teams of developers on two separate products, while putting an actual process into place for a third.

It never failed to amaze me how a multi-billion dollar organization still managed to retain so many dysfunctional teams. Red tape has a habit of obstructing one's ability to get shit done. Some might argue that excessive rules help keep the herd from wandering off the cliff, but structure is only one prong under the leadership umbrella.

I kept my plans simple to understand, straightforward to execute, and left little room for guesswork. Check these files in. Run this deploy script. Verify these tests. When they fail, it isn't anyone's responsibility but yours to fix. Own it. There was no rocket surgery in my training. It was a programmer's ode of Move Out of the Fucking Fire.

Personal responsibility was a common theme in my process plan, but so too was another equally important concept: the ability to adapt. If process is becoming an anathema to productivity, learn when it is appropriate to detour. If rules feel like they're suffocating you, certain situations call for personal discretion. You might actually have to slip past the guards once or twice, get into that burning building...and come out a hero. That can only happen when you know your stuff inside and out. Be an expert. When the day arrives that you no longer need a healing add-on to provide world-class healing, then...and only then...will you be in a position to make such rule-breaking judgement calls.

My phone buzzed and vibrated across the white desk. Messages arrived from several people at once. The ambient conversation at work also began to pick up around my cube. I glanced at the phone, reading the text message, demanding that I pull up the news immediately. I ventured online, pulled up the news, and stared dumbfounded at the headline.

The awful news that spread across the Internet,
October 5th, 2011

The Man in the Machine

The passing of Steve Jobs sent a cascade of unchecked emotion through me. Sadness. Regret. Frustration. Anger. Technology was my life, and Steve very much shaped a part of the industry that I held dear. And because of how much of a role tech played in my life, you can probably imagine the sorts of beliefs I harbored towards the famously opinionated CEO of Apple.

I was not, what you might call, an Apple "fanboi". I detested the overpriced hardware, seeing it for what it was: a sham, meant to trick the layperson out of additional hard-earned cash for equivalent processing power. I saw his stubborn finger-pointing antics as theatrical, meant to add a dash of controversy to an ostentatious bisque that was Apple PR. And it goes without saying that I saw an always inadequate lineup of games. I didn't dislike Apple because they were disingenuous, but that they were disingenuous and wildly successful.

Steve's attention-to-detail was unparalleled in the industry, he noticed the little things far more acutely than the average person. He understood the complexities in design at a level most others could not. This foresight manifested as technological prophecy: he knew what people wanted before they even knew themselves, a master trick in any magician's repertoire. Those who worked with him spoke of his ever present "reality distortion field" -- an otherworldly power that convinced ordinary people they were capable of extraordinary things. 

Steve's many critics point out that these are the traits of a narcissistic master manipulator; I consider myself amongst that camp. But while that may be true, I could not, however, deny the end result was a message steeped heavily in my own ideology. Do whatever it takes. Make it happen. Jobs may have been outlandish, and an awful people manager, but his approach was practical for a leader who consistently saw a picture far bigger, and with much greater clarity, than the many individuals he chose to realize that vision.

I clocked out of the office a bit later than usual that night. The streets of Denver were emptier, as I drove home in quiet contemplation. I thought of Steve and of Apple, of his vision and insight, of his miraculous turnaround of the company he built. And while I may have detested his hardware or his methods, I was thankful for Steve's inspirational impact on a great many people in this world...a few of which who might never have set foot in DoD otherwise.

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