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Archive for November, 2014

The Molten Core Syndrome

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The other night I went with the guild back to Molten Core so we could all score some sweet mounts and 640 ilevel headgears.  There was a bit of excitement in the air before the raid with the old raiders wondering how it would be to go back after all these years.

For the record I raided MC with varying intensity for over a year back in the day. Every guild that raided back then kept going there again and again as there was always someone who needed something out of there. With over 40 people to gear up including backups, normal guild turnover and getting all those eyes of divinity for the priest Benedictions… even the guilds claiming they were not doing it were still going in there every so often.

For many MC was also the only raid they did for the whole of vanilla WoW. Back then you could divide raiding guilds according to whether or not they could clear Molten Core and then whether or not they could clear Vael the guildbreaker. If your guild could kill Vael then you were considered a true hardcore raiding guild and nothing could stop you. Guilds that had cleared MC but not Vael yet were on probationary status, they would either come through and become a top end guild or fail and the raiders would move to new homes to try again. For the rest of the raiders it was MC until the end of times or until you finally lucked out and found the guild that could clear it.

I’m getting off topic here a bit but I want to drive home is that in Vanilla, for the vast majority of players, being a raider meant doing Molten Core over and over until Burning Crusade came out.

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Learning to love the burn

It’s 2005, you are a raider and doomed to run MC, a raid that took about a week to make according to the recent Looking for Group documentary. Your weekly raid nights, usually three, might consist of casting remove curse over and over, applying sunders or doing the same simple rotation over and over.

You are a hostage to Molten Core and sooner and later you will come to love it, the videogame equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome. You come to crave Majordomo speech, you secretly hope that someone will blow up the raid with the Bomb, bets are made on who will get punted in the lava by a Surger and you down your beer every time a hunter pulls a pack and cause the raid to wipe.

The other night we were reminiscing about these little moments that helped us back then not go completely batshit insane. We were not celebrating Molten Core good design, we were a bunch of old soldiers swapping war stories, remembering that time a mortar shell landed in our foxhole but didn’t go off. We were remembering how our raid leaders would go insane and start discussion with themselves on the guild forums, about how Emo-tank would quit every so often and about that time when we could hear the rogue pork his girlfriend over teamspeak because he had left his mic on.

So to the people who will experience this for the first time and wonder how we can have fun with this piece of bad design, please bear with us for a little while. We know that it’s horrible, that there’s too much trash and that there’s nothing fun about decursing 40 people every 5 minutes.  You are right, it’s utter garbage.

But for all it issues, I will always have fond memories of Molten Core because it brings back the memories of all the awesome people that I’ve met back then, that I suffered with, and that I wish I was still in touch with today.

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WoD first impressions

Countless orcs died to bring you this post today. I am now level 100 and readying up to take on WoD endgame after a frenzied weekend of questing and leveling. So is Warlord of Draenor good? Considering that I’ve spent close to 5 days playing an average of 10 hours a day I’d say yes. The best part is that I did so because I wanted to and not because I felt like I had to. I’m writing this while waiting for documents to arrive and the only thing I’m thinking about is running home to play some more.

So I’m going to upgrade my score of WoD from good to Old-school Blizzard good. It has been a long time since Blizzard glued me to my computer an entire weekend without me even realizing.

There was even serious talk in guild over the weekend as to if this was the best expansion ever and while we’re all reserving final judgement for later when we had a proper taste of endgame so far things are looking favorable.

We’re talking about a guild full of jaded WoW veterans here… You could argue that it’s just the new expansion honeymoon period but not since Burning Crusade have I seen this kind of reaction. Even if WoD only reaches BC level in terms of expansion quality it would be quite an accomplishement.

Because reasons!

I wish I had a well written list of reasons as to why I love this expansion so much but it’s a bit hard to describe. The garrison is a fantastic idea, the quests and lore blew my mind more than once, the music is fantastic (will kill for downloadable soundtrack) and the zones are gorgeous. I don’t want to go into detailed analysis because each of these point merits a post of their own.

But I think the most important point for me is that for the first time in a long while I feel like I’m playing WoW again and not a loot generator game with raids inside of it. The best part is that I cannot say for sure why I feel this way. I have theories of course but no certitude.

And you know what? I think that this is WoD greatest achievement, to make me forget I’m playing a game and make me not see the gears and numbers at work. Last weekend, I was simply exploring Draenor and it was the greatest feeling ever.

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Warlords, garrison and DDoS

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The new WoW expansion is out and…. it’s been messy…

But before going into the server stability and DDoS attack I want to hit on the positives. First of all, Garrisons which have been my main focus so far. To be honest, this was a feature I thought I wouldn’t care about but I’m finding I’m spending a crazy amount of time there, directing my minions and managing my base. This feature is tapping deep into my Starcraft player instincts and I love it.

Even better is the ressource gathering features like the mine which allow someone like me who often has to play short sessions to gather a good amount of materials without having to farm for a long period. I can still farm on top of it of course but for those short sessions, it’s perfect. Just this morning I was able to get about 60 minerals and place in work orders for 60 more under 10 minutes or so. Love it.

Another thing, the music is pretty awesome. I want the soundtrack now.

The DDoS…

So let’s talk about the bad now and why I was trapped in my garrison for the better part of the evening yesterday. To make a long story short, Blizzard was hit by a Distributed Denial of Service attack, a DDoS for us IT nerds. Summed up, a DoS is an effort to crash a service, usualy by flooding the servers with requests. A DDoS is the same but from multiple sources working together, usualy through a mixtures of bots and multiple users. There’s a ton of ways this can be achieved from a technical standpoint but the general idea is to flood so things crash.

These things are evil. I have been on the receiving end of a massive one on one of the projects I was working on and they are a pure nightmare. Having bots try to break down your door every so often is nothing, but a concerted attack from malicious users is a whole other game and it makes me angry to read some of the comments today of people claiming Blizz should have been prepared for this.

You cannot be prepared, it’s impossible. To do a real world analogy, a regular hacking attack is like a thief trying the front door to see if you left it unlocked. If you locked the door chances are he’ll just go try next door. Worst case he really wants to get in and then your alarm system takes over.  Police is called and most of the time the damage is very limited. If you forgot to install a security system or lock the door then yeah… it can do damage.

A DDoS more akin to North Korea driving up to your house with tanks, artillery and a few millions soldiers. No amount of door locking will save you and unless you have your own army to back you up it’s going to hurt. Even if you have an army, there’s still a good chance you’re going to come out bloodied. You do the best you can until the cavalry show up and then you can start rebuilding.

And when I say rebuilding I mean it. When it happened to us, we had to spend weeks afterwards restoring databases, cleaning up servers from malicious software left behind, then restore data again, shore up critical issues made evident by the attacks. Later on you have to invest into rethinking your security, deploy new solutions, etc… It sucks and it costs lost of money. When it happened to us, I spent two weeks pratically living in the office.

So, as much as I’m critical of game bugs and poor design, this is one case where I’ll defend Blizzard. There is no way to have a system a 100% immune to DDoS. It’s just impossible. You can make it more resilient but immune… not possible. So, please, do send cookies and cofee to Blizzard cause they need it right now.

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A WoW journey of 10 years, part 8

Warning! Epic wall of text incoming!

I’m changing the format of these posts a bit today because the next part is going to get a bit personal and will touch on topics that transpired a bit in this blog and that I’ve touched on in other posts about guild life and expectations. To sum up the chain of events leading to this post, since last time, I took a WoW break around Ulduar time where I went and enjoyed hobbits for a while before coming back to WoW a bit before ICC and joining back up with Auraye and friends in a guild I honestly can’t remember the name of so let’s call it Timebomb.

Due to the simple fact that I was one of the most experienced players in the guild and because I genuinely wanted to help, I was made raid leader of Timebomb shortly after I came back. They were missing someone for the position and the guild leader, Auraye didn’t want to handle both guild leading and raid leading at the same time. We had a few good discussions to start things off and our roles were clear. I was to do handle everything raid related and she’d keep on doing the other guild stuff. Officially, we were a serious casual raiding guild which meant that we were supposed to be skilled players but with more limited raiding time.

The reality

Near every single player will tell you they are good if you ask them. The reality though is that not everyone can do Heroic Arthas while its current content. Everyone wants to succeed if you ask them but again the reality is that they might not want to put in the time or effort to get there.  Whether or not putting in all that time into a game is really worth it is a debate for another time but the bottom line is that the boss won’t die unless everyone plays their part at a high enough level.

Timebomb was not a serious casual raiding guild. It was a casual guild who wanted to raid. The average level of the players in it was passable and most of them had little to no raid progression experience. Like many other guilds, the guild was built on a small group of friends who wanted to get some sweet epics and had recruited haphazardly without any real plan. There were a few good players, including the guild leader Auraye but not enough to fill a raid. In fact filling raids was a constant struggle and we ended up inviting pugs more than once.

Auraye was another big part of the equation. Auraye was a good healer who had aspirations of hardmode raiding and sweet epics. In fact, getting the best gear and showing it up was her main motivation. She was also good enough to get said spot in the hardcore guilds but for unknown reasons she had preferred starting her own guild to get her there.  However, she didn’t want to do the actual leading. As far as she was concerned guild leading meant setting up a website, throwing up the occasional “fun” event and approving the decisions of others.

As for my role in this I was the raid leader which meant in Timebomb that I was to handle strategy, loot (pending approval of guild leadership), invites, checking up gear, checking flasks, making sure the guild bank had mats, player performance, dealing with Pugs and even recruitment. Last and most important to Auraye, progression was expected.

Looking back now, it’s pretty apparent that we had a recipe for disaster but back then, we were all a group of friends and I was just helping out as best as I could. Auraye couldn’t do it all by herself and my experience put me in a good position to help out.  Plus, all we had to do was Tournament of crusaders and by then, everyone had it on farm so the skill problems weren’t as apparent.

Under pressure

ICC came along and the going was good at first. We were making slow but steady progress and I was confident the raiders issues I was noticing (flasks,low dps, etc…) would iron themselves out quickly enough.

This right there is one of the hardest calls to make as a raid leader. How do you differentiate between a bad player and someone who’s inexperienced? The bad player you’re limited to what you can do with but the inexperienced… if you give them time they can be awesome players.  In the same vein of thought, bad is a relative term. Someone might be good enough for regular mode but won’t be able to do heroic.  When you’re progressing a player that was okay before might become a hindrance on a latter fight.

Sure, given enough time most players will improve but what is enough time? How long do you hold the group back just so someone can improve. How do you even approach a player about his or her need to improve? What needs to be done? Gear, rotations? Is it a problem with his connection?

So we progressed up to plague wing and Putricide and this is where things started going to hell rapidly. We had some stress getting up to that point but Putricide was our wall. We were going nowhere fast wiping on him and pressure was mounting fast on the guild. Still operating under the assumptions that everyone was a serious raider and wanted to progress I was trying to help out as best as I can but still there was a threshold I was not willing to cross and that was outright saying to someone they needed to be better.

After a while of trying the soft methods and not having many results, Auraye came to me and asked me to fix things. I was the raid leader and as such, I should be able to get things moving again. I agreed with that too and went about finding our issues, logs in hand.  Two issues were identified. First, our attendance issues meant we still could not fill a full raid. Second, it was obvious some players were still underperforming after many weeks of raiding.

So I made two crucial mistakes without realizing. In order to fix the first issue I invited some real friends I knew to be great raiders to come raid with us.  Then, I made it clear that the underperforming players would be cut from progression fights. I remember writing in the forums a very mathematical post about it in the sense of you to do X dps to kill the boss so if you’re lower we’ll replace you for fight Y.

The bad players, who were real-life close friends of Auraye didn’t like it one bit and made the case to Auraye that I was in fact taking over the guild with my friends and cutting the people we didn’t like. While that was not my intention, I admit that the two decisions taken together didn’t look good either.

We raided under the new system for about two weeks. Except that nobody would be replaced in raids since Auraye overruled me on that point so… we had more attendance but still had the bad players.

Or course things didn’t work out and two weeks later…. Boom!

The fallout

I was the one who blew up first. I was under a lot of pressure both in real-life and now in-game trying to make things work out so when Auraye and friend approached me to tell me that they didn’t like the way things were going and that they were thinking of kicking me and my friends out of the guild if we didn’t find a solution I blew up.

Yes the guild had issue, yes the raids sucked and guild atmosphere was in the gutter. But I would not accept blame for it. No effing way that she would let it fall on me. I was driving myself nuts trying to find a solution and now I was being made the problem.

So I said a lot bad words, wrote this post and left saying eff you people. To my delight, my leaving did not fix the guild issues as Auraye was pretending and the guild ended up dying soon after. Auraye later transferred server and did join up with a hardcore guild where she got all the purples she ever wanted.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize how much the experience taught me and was in fact beneficial. I learned a lot about group dynamics and expectations, both said and unsaid. I learned that I’m not alone in a team and that as such, success or failure does not rest only on me. I learned to say no, to set my limits and to walk away when things are not working out.  These skills have served me well in my career and I have to thank a videogame for that.

So in the end, was I to blame for what happened? Yes, in a way I am responsible for what happened. I should have questioned the official guild goals of raiding when I realized the skill level of the guild. I should have not accepted to be in a position where my every decision could be overturned according to the whim of the guild leader. I should have delegated more and not take everything on me.

And at the end, when Auraye would have insisted that we raid and that her friends were good raiders… I should have walked away…

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