Exclusive interview: Awake from Nihilum speaks with WoW Insider

Mike Schramm
M. Schramm|06.19.07

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Exclusive interview: Awake from Nihilum speaks with WoW Insider
There might be no guild in all of Azeroth that has attracted attention like Nihilum has. They've charged through the endgame, gaining an unimaginable four world firsts in one day. They've downed Illidan. They've beaten the game.

And even out of the game, they seem to be a lightning rod for controversy. They don't like girls. They supposedly cheated on Vashj, and maybe they buy gold. Players have followed Nihilum's exploits like no other guild-- some hate them and some look up to them, but everyone who follows news from the endgame must know who they are.

Now, in their first exclusive interview after downing Archimonde and finishing off the current content, Awake from Nihilum spoke with us to talk about all of these things and more. What did they and did they not like about the endgame they just beat? What's Nihilum going to do now? And exactly how many of them have girlfriends?

Click the link below to read this exclusive interview, and get a glimpse of what it's like to run with the guild that beat the game. Questions were collected from both WoW Insider staff, and from members of our own casual guild, It came from the Blog. Thanks to Awake from Nihilum for doing this with us, and good luck to him and his guild in future content.

WoW Insider: First of all, congrats on beating Archimonde, and with that, the current endgame. You guys ripped through the endgame there-- did it go too fast?

Awake of Nihilum: Well, a lot of people assume it went too fast, but really, I think it was close to being perfect. I was expecting our progress in Hyjal and the Black Temple to take a little while longer, but with encounters that are well tuned and actually beatable you *will* see them go down sooner rather then later. Blizzard surprised me over and over as we got deeper into Hyjal and the Black Temple; there were zero encounters that we could deem impossible, and that's reason enough to push harder to progress. When you reach encounters that seem impossible you get annoyed and you lose the interest/will to actually go on. The raid overall loses focus, that's a bad thing.

I've also observed a lot of people who state that since we cleared both these high-end instances so fast they must be easy! That's not the case at all. Some encounters are extremely hard, we simply executed them well and perfected our strategies. There is a lot of trials and errors involved when we learn new encounters; I wouldn't call it easy at all, we simply push on hard since we are all very motivated and like-minded. Everything from coming up with a strategy to leading the raids and having enough members online is challenging. The hardest part is to actually execute a strategy and make sure everyone brings their A-game.

Pick your three favorite fights from SSC, Tempest Keep, Black Temple, and Mount Hyjal, and tell us why you liked them.

Archimonde on Mount Hyjal.

This fight is, simply put, amazing. I love all the elements of it with the exception of one random element that can kill you very easily and there is nothing you can do to prevent it. You will see me dying in our Archimonde movie (when it's out). This fight is a lot of fun, just because of how it focuses on everyone's performance. If one person messes up (i.e dies) then the fight instantly gets a lot harder. It's also a race and avoidance fight; you need to avoid the fire on the ground because it's very lethal. However, the fire is very unpredictable-- it's hard to avoid it, it tend to have its own life and chase after you.. oops. Also, there's another awesome element to this fight which is called "Air Burst" (or something similar) which knocks a couple of your raid members up into the air (very very far up) and you get an item from Tyrande Whisperwind that gives you safe fall. The catch is, though, you must use it when you're close to the ground, because it has a very short duration. It's hilarious watching when people fail at timing this and die from the fall damage... hehe. I love using that item and it's one of the major reasons I enjoy the Archimonde fight. Overall, it's a very hard fight that requires everyone to be on their very A-game or it's over very very soon.

Illidan Stormrage in the Black Temple.

This fight has a lot of different stages. It require the raid to pay attention to several things. It's so much fun in phase 2 to see who will end up in the laser that Illidan shoots down from the sky. There's a bug in WoW that, depending on your camera angle, will make it so you can't see this laser.... the result? Dead people. Hah. Overall though, this fight is a lot of fun to heal for me, you have to really be on the ball to survive and keep your guildies up. I'm always on our Warlock that tanks Illidan in the later phases (as seen in our Illidan Stormrage movie) and we use precise placement to survive that phase. This phase also involves killing evil mobs that spawn which move closer to their intended targets; if they aren't killed fast enough (i.e are allowed to reach their intended target) then the person they go for will die.

Some people say this encounter looks easy... I beg to differ. Like a lot of people say in this world; "easy to be good at, hard to master" (or something similar). I'd like to think the Illidan encounter is just like that. You can be good at it, but it wont be enough -- you need to master it or you will wipe a lot. It's definitely not an easy fight and it's perfectly balanced (if not even a bit too hard, but, nah) with the recent changes to the Black Temple encounters.

I love how involving it gets when Maiev shows up, and the end of this fight is great. It was such a blast to defeat him. It's an epic encounter, hands down.

Kael'thas Sunstrider in Tempest Keep.

This fight also has several phases, it's a very cool fight that involve you to play very well together and you must pay attention for the whole duration of the encounter. Basically, phase 1 involves you killing Kael'thas's advisors. They've all got different abilities that you deal with differently. One has to be tanked by a warlock in fire resist gear, another one you have to avoid since he fixates on random targets, there's one which is a pure tank and spank fight, while another of his advisors is a bit... special. After this phase, Kael'thas will summon his magical weapons, which took a bit to figure out how to deal with, and then it's a dps race-- you must kill the weapons in a specific order and have them down before he does something else... which is to ressurect his advisors *at the same time* (you fought them one by one previously). Anyway, his weapons give different legendary weapons when you kill them; with unique abilities that aid your raid enough to eventually defeat Kael'thas.

After the weapon and the ressurection of his advisors phase, Kael'thas decides to take the matter into his own hands. This is when it get even harder: you have to keep your tank up against 20,000 damage pyroblasts, you must use your weapons' abilities to counter a lot of abilities that you usally wouldnt be able to without them, and you have to avoid (and kill the eggs of) phoenixes, etc. While all this is happening, the legendary weapons have a time limit on them before they vanish, so you must be quick. Anyway, the final phase is after this one... Kael'thas grows in size and his room is transformed, he will now do his regular fire attacks but also gravity flux the raid at random intervals, where you have to avoid a "storm" or you will end up dead pretty damn fast. During this phase there's several things to keep in mind or you will wipe. All in all this fight is tons of fun and I enjoy it. Even moreso because it's comparable to the challenge that Archimonde and the Illidan fights provide: You wont be 100% certain you'll win on your first, second or third try; simply because all these three fights are hard enough that you wont ever truly master them (or at least it will take a long time before you do so).

And in your opinion what are the three worst (worst tuned, most annoying, least worth it) fights in the endgame and why?

The Hyjal encounters (except for Archimonde). Mainly due to the waves of mobs you always have to fight through. They are not overtuned or anything, but it's just tedious and annoying to do it every time. I'm used to grinding since I've played tons of EverQuest 1 and Lineage 2, but... it just doesn't fit in here. I don't really get anything out of it, not even reputation, so somehow it takes away the fun. The 3rd and 4th fights in Hyjal are decent at least, since the variation of those waves are better and more challenging then the previous encounters. To summarize though, right now no encounters (in my opinion and Kungen's) are tuned too hard. They are all balanced for what they give you. In the past it was Al'ar, Morogrim Tidewalker and Lady Vashj. And even further back it was Ouro and C'Thun.

Are you guys satisfied with the endgame that you played through? How would you rate it against the pre-BC endgame?

I love it. It's even more fun then Naxxramas--so I would say Blizzard has done a very nice job. I'm hoping for more high end raid content sooner rather then later though. We're thirsty! Although it's summer right now, so it could wait a few more months. :)

Why do you think Nihilum is so successful in the endgame? Even among the hardcore guilds, you guys seem to do really well-- is there something you're doing that the other guilds aren't?

We don't give up easily. We keep trying where other people give up or deem it too tedious or 'too hard'. We also have a lot of experience from previous MMORPGs, and trust me it does help. A lot. For instance, Kungen and Tharghan and I played in Lineage 2 together-- and that game was all about your friends and your guild. A very PvP and friend focused game with a lot of politics. Kungen and I also played EverQuest (PvE) together for a long time and you learn a lot from that as well. What it takes, what you need and most importantly: not to give up and to keep on trying. I mean, Rome was not built in a day and to be perfectly honest, when things seem impossible or very gray; keep on trying! It can be all from having attendance issues to guild drama to wiping all night long.. but I mean, it happens to everyone. You just need to know how to fix it and how to adapt and how to solve it all. Running a guild isn't easy-- especially not on our level. I'd say it takes more then a fulltime job does. Either way, you need equal-minded guild members. Or things will fall apart rather rapidly. Also, we are efficient--we want to take advantage of the time we have. The end result is more off days and time for real-life, instead of more raiding. People don't believe this, but it's a fact :)

How do you guys possibly figure stuff out? There is no way I would have simply guessed how, say, the Moroes fight went. It seems too complicated to know just by looking at it that the adds can be random and Moroes' gouge can't be removed, and one of the adds dispels, etc. etc. Do you just have someone writing everything down as you fight, or do you just all pay attention and shout out when you see something, or do you just try each fight about 100 times? What's your actual process when you find a new fight?

This is very hard to answer. But I must say that Moroes is a very simple fight and we did him in greens and tier 3 on basically our first attempt and he died. I suppose some people see things that others don't. Especially if they have had a lot of previous experience in raiding and figuring out encounters. It's a combined guild effort to figure out encounters, it's done by a lot of trial and error. We all try to help and analyze what's going on. It's like doing a puzzle, it takes time and things can always be perfected (most of the time, at least). We can do all from FRAPSing what's going on to screenshotting and posting it in our private IRC channel to further analyze and discuss it... to Kungen not tanking and observing the fight instead, etc.

How much of a role does the PTR play in that? Did you guys practice a lot on the PTR before you came back and beat everything? And how many times did you run with a dev, if at all? Do they run with you and give you tips about how to down things?

The Public Test Realm (PTR) played a very, very small role in our progress. We've never really bothered with it in the past--we spent 1.5 days in the Black Temple (Update: that's about 8 hours /played, not a full 36 hours in game) and 0.5 day in Hyjal on the PTR and that is all. While being in BT on the PTR we were ported around quite a bit so we never had a lot of time to learn most encounters. We also never got to experience Mother Shahraz, Illidarian Council or Illidan Stormrage on the PTR. Trust me, our progress comes from live raids. Not PTR raids. Period.

A lot of people have questions about class roles. We heard a while ago that Death and Taxes uses Paladins to heal and Shadow priests to DPS-- is this still the case? And are there any other non-traditional roles that you guys use?

Shadow Priests have become a standard DPS class after TBC and we aim to bring many of them in each raid, unless the encounter isn't very caster friendly. They do great DPS and as such we love to have them in our raids. Paladins are excellent at buffing the raid and healing, however, Shamans with Chain Heal (it scale INSANELY well--nerf inc?) are amazing for cross raid healing. It's hard as a paladin to keep up with them most of the time.

Quick questions about classes: How many DPS warriors do you all use? Any Moonkin? Any tanking Paladins? Any enhancement Shamans?

We aim for efficiency. So no, we do not use any Moonkins, Protection Paladins, Retribution Paladins or anything that is way below the standard classes that can do a much better job at said task. We do however use bears to offtank and we sometimes bring 1-2 DPS warriors. Not because we need them for the DPS they provide, but for the buffs they give to our DPS. Overall it's more efficient. Guilds that go with Protection Paladins and Moonkins will not do as well as the ones that bring an optimal raid setup. This is a fact.

And another question that a WoW Insider writer had was: do you switch out classes for specific fights, or do you try to bring the same group, working together, through all of the fights? If you switch out, how do you handle loot distribution?

Yes, we do switch out classes for specific fights. Our 'core' usually remains the same, but to improve our efficiency we switch certain classes in certain fights, depending on what classes do better. Loot is hardly an issue, in the end we usually bring (rotate) in people that truly need loot from said encounters regardless. We've had less then optimal raids and still gotten the job done, although it gets a lot harder to defeat the complex encounters unless you bring your 'A-raid'.

A few quick questions from readers about raiding: How many hours a night do you all raid? What percentage of the guild has full-time jobs? What's the average age of the guild? What percentage of you have significant others, and what do they think of your raiding?

This is very dynamic and changes a lot, depending on what we are focusing on, what is available and what is unbeaten so far. Right now we've defeated every single raid encounter in World of Warcraft and as such we are pretty relaxed. We're still focusing on gearing up our guild as a whole though and plan to do so for quite some time--as such, our current raid schedule is from 18.00 (6pm) to 24:00 (midnight). Monday to Friday. Then with Saturday off. We also raid Sundays. Basically, we raid 6 hours per day except for Saturdays right now. The more we master the harder encounters, the faster we'll clear the raid instances; and the end result is more time off. Which is a good thing, especially with the summer. A pretty large percentage of our guild has full-time jobs, if curious you can check out our attendance in percentage here: www.nihilum.eu/dkp to get an overall idea.

Average age of our guild.. Hmm, I'd say 22-24ish. Many of us are together with someone in real-life, and most of them are very understanding with what we do. Hell, many of our girlfriends play the game (or other games) themselves. Obviously we have to be flexible to accommodate what they want too, but that's personal and it comes down to each person on how they solve that. On the level we play, we do not completely engulf ourselves in just this one game. It's not even possible anyway. Sure we spent some time on progressing fast, because it's FUN and we love to do it. But now that things calm down we go back to having more time for real-life and it will continue like that till new raid content is out. It's all a delicate balance which I'm extremely proud to be able to say that we maintain very very well.

One of the things everyone wants to know about is costs-- you guys must wipe quite a bit learning a fight, and we've heard in the past that you use consumables quite a bit. During a night of learning a boss, how much money can one person go through? What kind of gold investment are you all putting, per person, into a night of raiding?

Sure, we used to wipe a lot learning the fights we defeated. But after learning an encounter we master it eventually and it reduces our wiping by a lot. It's not exactly expensive to pay for some repair bills and a couple of consumables -- everyone helps out here, some farm more than others, but they are willing to share with the raid/guild to help out everyone. We also get a lot of different epic drops that we can use to sell/trade and increase our guild bank. Not to mention marks drop from trash mobs that can be turned in for flasks. Overall, with the consumable change, I see more gold coming in then going out -- and this goes for everyone basically. I'd say the most expensive part is to enchant the new items we get, but even there, the guild bank and guildies help out with parts etc to keep the costs to a minimum. It was a lot more costly before the consumable change and we waited with using flasks and such until we felt we had figured out an encounter enough to warrant the use of all consumables in the book. There are no exact numbers that we spend per night, it depends on where we go, number of wipes, etc.

And of course the next question is: Where does that gold come from? Do you guys farm it all yourselves? How? Do people outside the guild give gold to you?

Gold come from numerous sources, farming, running instances, drops from raids that go to the guildbank, guildies helping each other, selling/trading/playing the auction house. etc. Right now (as I said previously) we see gold coming in more then going out overall. And it's increasing by a lot due to us learning encounters and having a lot of spare epic jewels (gems) and plans and Heart of Darkness to sell and trade.

Your FAQ says this clearly, but just for the record, right here: Does anyone in your guild buy gold, against the terms of the ToU?

No, no one in our guild buys gold. If they do, we're not aware of it. But I highly doubt they would do that -- it's a waste of money when gold is so easily obtained in this game. We do not support buying of gold or virtual goods at all whatsoever and never will.

Do you think that it would diminish the reputation of a successful high-end raiding guild if it was discovered that they buy gold?

Most likely yes.

So what is Nihilum going to do next? Will you all continue to run this stuff constantly just for the loot, or do you kind of take a break (or PvP) after you finish a long run of content?

I touched on this subject shortly earlier, we will continue to farm the higher tier instances for quite some time. Master the encounters more to reduce the time it take to clear them and eventually we'll be looking at 2-3 days per week of raiding. With up to 4-5 days off. That's a pretty ideal thing which we'd like to reach as soon as possible. For now we will do SSC/TK/BT/Hyjal for gearing up, but within the foreseeable future we'll switch over to only BT/Hyjal. Then we're ready for the next raid instance that will come out :). As for PvPing, we have some plans regarding this, nothing I can mention right now though, but keep checking our website and you should be able to find out some more soon!

And speaking of that-- what do you think is next for World of Warcraft? What can we expect to see in terms of content in 2.2 and 2.3? And what are your predictions for the next expansion?

Very very hard to answer, since I lack the information on this. With so many playing WoW you will see a lot of people speculate and spread rumors. I'm guessing Zul'Aman (10 man instance) will be the next instance coming out. After that they'll release something like The Maelstrom or perhaps Emerald Dream. Like I said, impossible to guess. But if you check the previous track record, Blizzard gave us Ahn'Qiraj and Naxxramas.. They gave us AQ in January and Naxx in June. So something every fifth month. Since the Black Temple just recently came out, I'm pretty safe to assume that it will take awhile for a new raid instance (i.e 25man or higher) to come out. As for an expansion, it could be anything from Emerald Dream to the Maelstrom to The Frozen Throne (Northrend).

Thanks very much again for doing this, and congratulations on all the success. Anything else you'd like to say to players?

Thank you! Enjoy the summer. Personally, it's extremely hot here in Sweden (or at least, warmer then usual). /hug my AC.
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