Post-Blizz-Con Wrap-Up, Part 1

I had a great time at BlizzCon, and met a lot of great people.  It’s really fun to meet someone in person that you’ve only ever interacted with online, either via Twitter, in blog comments, or in-game.

Unfortunately, this year I didn’t take great notes on where I was and who I met every day, so I’m not going to try and quickly write up a recap.  While I have a lot of great stories, unless I sit down and carefully re-trace my steps I’m guaranteed to forget someone or something, and then people will just feel disappointed that I forgot them.  If I have time later on, maybe I’ll try and put together that sort of recap.  But probably not – the further we get from BlizzCon, the less I’ll remember and the less relevant it will be.  Plus, there are more than a few people who would probably prefer I didn’t share all of the stories I have from when they were drunk.  You know who you are. :P

So I’ll just say that I had a blast meeting everyone.  I had a lot of great conversations, met a lot of people I already knew and respected, and met a lot of people that I barely knew at all beforehand.  But I was very happy to meet all of you, whether you’re e-famous, or a theorycrafter, or a player that’s read the blog once or twice, or just an avid player that recognized my name.

Instead, this blog post is going to focus on the game-related news from BlizzCon, and my reactions to that information.  And today, we’re going to start with something that you probably never expected to see on Sacred Duty: A lore discussion!

No, not that type of lore!

No, not that type of lore!

Time Is On My Side…..

There are very few things I disliked about the new announcements.  For the most part, I’m on board with all of the changes they’re making in Warlords of Draenor.  But the story is one of those things that will never completely sit well with me.

Now, to be fair, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about Mists of Pandaria at first either.  For too many years, I’d assumed Pandaren were a joke race that would never see the light of day in WoW, and it was hard to break that mental stigma.  Plus, really, Pokemon in my WoW? And yet, here we are two years later, and they totally pulled it off. Mists has arguably been one of the stronger expansions, both in terms of gameplay and in terms of story and lore.  Even though I’ve never participated in a single pet battle, I know far more people who have done so and enjoyed it.  Even though I thought Pandaren were a joke, they turned out to be a well-fleshed-out race complete with culture and history that made them pretty bad-ass.  So it’s clear that first impressions can be misleading.

However, my objection to the Warlords of Draenor story is more fundamental.  Buckle up, it’s physics time.

You see, I absolutely hate time travel in video games.  As a physicist that specialized in things like quantum teleportation and superluminal pulse propagation, I’m intimately familiar with the important and fundamental role causality plays in physics.  And that’s made me fairly intolerant of any sort of “faster than light” or “time travel” suggestions, whether it’s in the media or in a game’s story.  When my own research was featured on slashdot, I was of course ecstatic, but still a little dismayed at the sensationalist presentation.  I have a self-created mental block on the entire idea of time travel.

So the “we’re going back in time” nature of the Caverns of Time has always sort of bothered me. While I love getting to see the stories from the earlier Warcraft games recreated in WoW, it’s always been a struggle for me to reconcile the time travel elements with the rest of WoW’s story.  And don’t even get me started on the whole Rhonin / Dragon Soul storyline – it was around that time that I threw my hands up in despair and completely gave up on WoW’s story ever making sense again.

Because frankly, time travel in games and movies has rarely been done well in my experience.  Generally, the amount of hand-waving that has to be done to justify time travel just creates new paradoxes that make the whole thing feel silly to me.  Once you allow the possibility of time travel, I feel like a narrative loses a lot of its motivation.  Striving to kill <current Big Bad> becomes much less suspenseful if you know that some intrepid time-traveler will just come fix it if you screw up.  Not to mention the inherent paradox there: if they’re coming back to fix it, shouldn’t they be here now? Why aren’t they?

We Are The Worlds

WoW’s take on time travel is a fairly standard one.  As far as I can tell, it mimics the “many worlds” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.  In layman’s terms, every time a choice is made, the world splits into two or more different timelines, one for each possible outcome of the decision.  So for example, there’s a timeline where Garrosh dies at the end of Siege of Orgrimmar, and a timeline where he’s spared and imprisoned by Taran Zhu.

When we go back in time to the Black Morass or The Battle for Mt. Hyjal, we’re sticking within our own timeline and trying to prevent the Infinite Dragonflight from altering the events of our timeline.  Which again, raises the silly paradox of one-upsmanship: if we succeed, why don’t they just go back in time again to re-alter it?

On the other hand, in the End Time instance, we’re traveling to a future timeline where Deathwing wasn’t defeated. And in the Well of Eternity dungeon, we’re going back in time to take the Dragon Soul so that Thrall can use it in the future.  But if we take the Dragon Soul out of the past, doesn’t that change how the rest of history unfolds? Why do we return to a present that seems basically unchanged from how we left it?

The only rational explanation for this… well, ok, let me step back a moment. There is no rational explanation for this, because the whole pile of time travel nonsense is inherently irrational.  But the least irrational way to rationalize this is to assume that actions in one timeline don’t necessarily affect the others.  So maybe we’re going back to alternate timelines that are eerily similar, but not the same as, our “own” timeline.  So yeah, we stole the Dragon Soul from another timeline, which then caused all sorts of chaos in that timeline, probably resulting in the deaths of millions of people or something.  But it’s okay, because those people all sucked anyway, since they weren’t from our timeline.

I shouldn’t have to point out the multitude of problems with that interpretation.  What makes our timeline (or us) special? Is the Thrall in our timeline the same as the Thrall in other timelines? Am I the same person in this timeline that I am in another? How do I know which one is the “real” one, or are we all real?  And what does that say about individuality or free will if I’m just one of an infinite number of Theck clones in different timelines, all of whom have the audacity to jump into each others’ timelines and fuck around with them?

All aboard the Crazy Train, I guess!

The story of Warlords of Draenor, as it’s been explained to us, takes this concept to the next level by linking different timelines more strongly.  It’s depicted graphically below, though I can’t take any credit for the diagram; I stumbled across it in a post by Klaudandus on Maintankadin.  Garrosh manages to travel back to old Draenor and create a new split in the timeline.  The “Alpha” timeline on the diagram is the one we know and have played through, where Garrosh never went back in time.  The “Beta” timeline is the one in which Garrosh alters the events in that timeline to create the Iron Horde.  He then somehow opens a new portal that links the Beta timeline to a point in the future of the Alpha timeline.

Mock-up of Warlords of Destruction’s time-travel story. Note that I didn’t come up with this graphic, I got it from the forum post linked in the text. If you know/are the creator, please contact me so I can give you the appropriate credit!

The reason I say it “takes this to the next level” is that instead of allowing a few individuals hop around on the Timeline Superhighway, it’s essentially creating an on-ramp linking Interstate (“Intertime?”) Beta Draenor to Future Route Alpha Azeroth, so that anybody can hop back and forth between the two and cause chaos.  And instead of connecting two instants in time (whatever the hell an “instant in time” means in this hackneyed excuse for a coordinate system), it’s a continuous link, such that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between the time and date in Beta Draenor and the time and date in Alpha Azeroth, just with a pretty hefty offset.  I’m not exactly sure what that offset is – years? tens of years? hundreds of years? Does time even have any meaning if we’re going down this time-traveling rabbit hole?

What Did That Cat Ever Do To You?

So yeah, clearly I’m not a fan of the time traveling crap.  It’s just too problematic.  I know most people can just gloss over it and enjoy the ride, but I’m not one of those people. To me it just smacks of lazy storytelling in the same way that the many worlds interpretation smacks of lazy science.  Even calling it “science” is being generous, in fact. A large proportion of the scientific community (probably the majority of it) doesn’t consider the many worlds interpretation to be science at all, because it is inherently not falsifiable through any means we can conceive of.  In that sense, it’s no better than a religion, because we can’t test it. Scientists have long since accepted that there are other, slightly less insane ways to rationalize quantum mechanical behavior.  Though, for the reader’s amusement, I’ll note that to do so we say that we give up on “reality” to keep causality, which sounds even more off-the-wall.  But it actually does make sense once you rigorously define what we mean by “reality.”

In short, it’s the “Schrödinger’s cat” explanation you’ve probably heard about but never really understood.  You put a cat in a sealed box with some sort of random mechanism to kill the cat.  Traditionally it’s a vial of poison triggered by a chunk of nuclear material, but anything that is both random and fatal will work, so it could just as well be a pistol triggered by sunspots or a high-voltage arc triggered by seismic activity or a time traveler. Also, clearly physicists are awful human beings for doing this to a cat. Poor cat.

I've been waiting to use this in some context for *years*

I’ve been waiting to use this in some context for *years*

But the point of this gruesome example is that once the box is sealed, we don’t know whether the cat is dead or alive.  We could assign a probability to each (i.e. the cat has a 50% chance of being alive), but we don’t know for sure until we open the box.  In quantum mechanical terms, until we open the box the cat is both dead and alive! Or more precisely, it’s in a “superposition state” where it is simultaneously dead and alive.  It’s only when we open the box that the cat “decides” which it is for sure.

Now that may seem ludicrous, and to be fair it is ludicrous for a cat for a few reasons.  But it’s not ludicrous for quantum-mechanical systems, which is what the principle really applies to.  A quantum-mechanical particle has a number of properties (spin, momentum, position, energy, etc.) that aren’t completely decided until it interacts with something in such a way that the property needs to have a fixed value.  For another analogy, assume the particle could be one of two colors: red or blue.  Until it interacts with another object in such a way that it’s color matters (for example, someone observing it), it isn’t one color or the other, it’s in a superposition state of being both red and blue.  Note that this isn’t the same as being purple!

This is what we mean by giving up “reality.”  We have this inherent notion that objects have fixed, well-defined properties – a tennis ball is yellow, my car is blue, and at any given point in time those two objects have a particular position and velocity.  We call that concept “reality” because we assume that each object has “real” properties – i.e. that the tennis ball really is a tennis ball and won’t suddenly become a baseball.  But on the quantum-mechanical level, some of that goes out the window.  If the ball could be a tennis ball or a baseball, it’s both until we make a measurement.  And when we measure it, we have a random chance of discovering that it’s either (i.e. it isn’t just that we don’t know which type of ball it is until we measure, it’s that it literally isn’t one or the other until we measure, at which point it randomly decides which one it is, as if it were flipping a coin).

The fun part of all of this is that giving up “reality” is a choice we make.  To be able to explain experimental results, specifically with regards to entanglement, we have to give up either reality or causality.  That means that, technically speaking, we could give up causality if we wanted to preserve the fixed nature of things.  Most scientists have decided that reality is the one we need to give up though.  There’s far more evidence that causality is preserved (both in quantum mechanics and other branches of physics) than the alternative, which is that our intuition based on macroscopic objects simply doesn’t apply at the quantum level.

Mother May I?

In addition to all of the paradoxes and concerns I’ve raised already, perhaps the biggest issue I have with time travel is the notion of free will.  If you assume that time travel exists, and that people can do so willy-nilly, then eventually you need to accept that the timeline you’ve experienced has already been altered in every conceivable way possible by every person that cared to interfere with it from all times in the future.  At which point, what’s the use in caring about anything? It’s hard to make it feel like your actions matter when there’s the ever-present threat of a time traveler erasing everything you did.  And if what you’re experiencing is already the result of those efforts, did you really have a say in how things turned out? Or are you just dancing to the tune of some time-traveling puppeteer?

Some of that can be explained away by making time travel difficult, expensive, or limiting it in some other way. If only a few select people can pull off such a feat, it’s a little more palatable.  Or so the reasoning goes, I guess? I don’t really buy it, because those arguments always assume that future technological advances will never reduce that cost. The concept of nearly-instant global communication between any two people would have been unfathomable to society even 100 years ago.  Yet today we have cell phones that let us do exactly that.  And when in the future, someone discovers the time-travel equivalent of cell phones, then what? Better yet, why haven’t they brought that technology back to us already?

I should also point out that the whole “limited” point of view falls sort of flat for WoW. We have a giant portal connecting two timelines now. And for years we’ve had countless adventurers skipping back and forth through the Caverns of Time as if they were on a day cruise to Lets-Take-A-Shit-All-Over-Continuity’s-ville.

Really, the only “good” variation of time travel I’ve ever seen in a video game is in the Assassin’s Creed series.  I’m sure that biologists and geneticists reel at the entire pseudo-scientific “genetic memory” concept that the game invokes.  But the mechanic works well for a lowly physicist like me.  By retrieving “memories” encoded deep in DNA, a modern-day protagonist can go back and re-live the experiences of one of their ancient ancestors through a virtual interface.  In other words, you’re playing a video game in which your character… plays a video game about their ancestors!

Yeah, it's sort of like that.

Yeah, it’s sort of like that.

Really though, the animus mechanic solves all of the major problems with time-travel in games, because it’s distinctly not time travel.  It puts strict causal constraints on the problem, because you can go back and re-live the environment and world, but you can’t do anything that alters the course of history.  While it’s more constricting from a story-telling point of view, it’s also a lot more sane.

Or like that.

Well, ok, mostly sane.  Just don’t take that guy’s word for it.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about some of the actual mechanics changes that were talked about at BlizzCon, and what I think about those.  Which is probably far more relevant given the nature of this blog.  Bet you never thought you’d see a 2000-word rant on game lore at Sacred Duty!  Maybe I should have saved this post for April Fools Day?

This entry was posted in Humor, Theck's Pounding Headaches and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to Post-Blizz-Con Wrap-Up, Part 1

  1. WHO PUT LORE ON THIS BLOG

    But no, seriously, I loved the post. Literally my only valuable input is on the Dragon Soul: the handwaving, behind-the-scenes fix is that once we killed Deathwing, someone put it back.in time right where we found it. Since the bronze dragons were depowered, I guess the assumption is that during the Spine of Deathwing fight, Nozdormu hopped back to the Well of Eternity and returned it. Nevermind that that theory has holes you could fly Deathwing through.

  2. Zalbar says:

    Time travel is impossible. Just flat out impossible and it annoys the hell out of me when they use this device in books, television, movies, etc.

    Best explanation/plausible one I’ve seen was the multi-dimensional travel via quantum entanglement in TIMELINE by Michael Crichton. Even that is sort of….so-so

  3. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
    Strangely enough, while I also dislike the idea of time travel, some of my favorite movies are Terminator 2, Back to the Future and Looper. So maybe I’ll have less of a hard time digesting Blizzard’s recent excuse of a plot.
    That being said – Theck, was is your stance on having to fight even more orcs, and not just in a patch, like SoO, but in an entire expansion?

  4. So while I agree that Time Travel is a volatile thing in story telling, from the story telling perspective the only thing that will matter is if it’s done well enough to create a suspension of disbelief, which you mentioned being nearly impossible for you given the perimeters of time travel from a physics point of view. Do you find there are any other mechanics of fiction storytelling that do the same? Or is it just time travel that kills it for you?

    Was great meeting you at Blizzcon, I’m looking forward to part 2! I’ll be very curious to hear your breakdown on the itemization changes.

  5. Great post. Wanted to make two comments:
    (1) One problem I see underlying your post is that time travel seems to lack any reasonable verisimilitude for you. That’s cool. I don’t like time travel as a story-telling mechanic either. There could be other good explanations possible besides those you list (Bronze Dragonflight and Timeways as an actual physical place, magic); none of them are going to be sufficient because time travel just doesn’t fit within the kit of epic medieval-ish fantasy.

    It probably hasn’t been thought out in great depth on Blizzard’s end (afterall, representatives have repeatedly said it is much more about creating a fun game than it is creating some sort of perfect story); moreover, I wonder if complaints in the community might cause Blizzard to alter somewhat the presentation of the story.

    (2) It may be that time travel generates this kind of response for you because of your profession. Time travel in popular culture is one of those things you seem well-versed on, is interesting to talk about with other people, and is fun to have a strong opinion about. On the other hand, I don’t really see any complaints about other elements of the game that defy the laws of physics. You play a paladin who wields magic, can create a field making him almost impervious to most things, who survives hits from objects weighing more than a ton, who summons a mount out of no where to fly far distances, who dies and comes back to life repeatedly and finally who kills the same set of raid bosses every week and experiences that story over and over again. Again, perhaps the later belong in the “kit” of an epic medieval fantasy and the former (time travel) just has no place in it.

    I, for one, won’t mind seeing Draenor in all its glory and seeing figures from WCII everywhere. That’ll be fun.

    • Theck says:

      Regarding (2), it’s definitely because of my profession. Time travel is one of the few areas where I really can’t suspend disbelief. Causality is too ingrained in me thanks to my work. Even though I’m comfortable hand-waving away the rest of the physics violations you brought up with “a wizard did it,” the time travel is something I really can’t.

      I think part of it is the level of consequences and the issue of internal consistency. Wielding magic doesn’t somehow break the ability to tell a coherent story; sure, the paladin can conjure energy out of nowhere, but on a macro level that doesn’t really break much. We hand-wave it away as being able to draw on some weird repository of energy and don’t worry so much about the whole “cannot create or destroy energy” stuff.

      But with time travel, you open up an entirely different can of worms. Unlike having magic augment (arguably) physical phenomena, time travel isn’t internally consistent. It introduces a bunch of paradoxes that don’t have good answers, no matter how hard you try and justify them. As soon as you break causality, your entire story goes out the window because you lose the ability to definitively say “X happened because of Y.”

      I’m actually with you on the “seeing Draenor in all its glory” part, though. I think it’s a great setting for a story. I just wish we didn’t have to use time travel to get there.

      • My preferred story is a parallel universe one. I hope WoW story folks read this.

        Multiverses are a big thing in some epic fantasy, at least Dungeons and Dragons, and fits with the broader cosmology in WoW (elemental planes, etc.).

        It deals with the “Time Travel” element too since there’s no reason that parallel universes would be on our exact same time-frame. Correct my physics if I’m wrong but doesn’t time reference depend on relative velocity? If so, then a parallel beta universe as a whole (or at least parallel beta Draenor) moving at a different rate relative to our alpha universe as a whole (or at least parallel alpha Azeroth) could result in there being a different apparent “time” on beta Draenor. The changed Dark Portal would then just be a cross-dimensional thing and not a cross-time thing.

        Also: don’t play BioShock Infinite.

        • Theck says:

          A measurement of a time interval would be different on those two universes, but not absolute time. In other words, it still wouldn’t allow time travel. Most of the “go into an alternate dimension moving very fast to slow down time and then return to the present” tricks you see used in literature are blatantly wrong.

          • He’s not suggesting that this would allow time travel. He’s saying there’s no time travel involved *at all*. Garrosh may mistakenly believe he’s traveled in time, but he has actually traveled to parallel dimension where for whatever contrived reason you want (maybe a wizard did it), events are ~30 years behind events in the original Draenor. Time is flowing at the same rate (though what the heck is “absolute time” anyway? Doesn’t relativity preclude the existence of such a thing?), but it took Orcs 30 years later to evolve, the Draenei showed up 30 years later than on alpha Draenor, etc.

            Recall that Draenor was originally described as being in a different dimension than Azeroth anyway (though at some point it seems to have been converted into a planet…). It’s not even remotely far-fetched to have the dimensional Dark Portal reconnect to a different dimension than the original Draenor. It just happens to be one that looks confusingly similar to Draenor of 30 years ago!

            So there you go, no time travel whatsoever, no going into a fast-time shadow-errr-dimension, just exactly the same plot device as used in Warcraft: Orcs and Humans!

          • Theck says:

            Harping on my use of an abstract “absolute time” concept when discussing different dimensions seems… sort of pedantic. What I was trying to say was that his proposed “go to an alternate dimension that happens to be traveling at a much higher speed, and thus has ‘slower time’ (whatever that means)” still wouldn’t allow time travel.

            And also, that the entire trick is busted to begin with. If you since you have to accelerate to “go into that alternate dimension,” which is why these sorts of alternate dimension training montage tricks don’t actually work on a fundamental level. The body being accelerated is the one that experiences a shorter time, so you actually *lose* time by trying this trick. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin_paradox)

            As to your example of an alternate dimension that is magically 30 years behind: sure, that would work, at least insofar as it removes time travel. On the other hand, these are supposedly the same characters that existed previously in our timeline, so it still has all of the problems that the Many Worlds interpretation has. Which is the “real” Thrall? What does identity even mean if there are an infinite number of copies of yourself? And what does free will mean if every decision just splits you into two new versions of yourself?

            In other words, it’s still crap no matter how you try to rationalize it.

  6. Vallez says:

    Thanks for the graet post! Allthough none of this matters because they’re not going to make more expansion past level 100 anyways.

  7. Keres says:

    Though I question, Blizzard’s direction, with regard to Time Travel in the storyline, I personally care more for a coherent explanation, that can fit into the created universe, more than a rational one. It’s fantasy-fiction after all, it is supposed to be a bit irrational. Granted, it can be taken too far, to the point where there is no frame of reference for the audience.

    Consider this, as explanations:

    Take one: Garrosh finds an artifact that allows him to time travel/hop dimensions/world jump. Its a bronze dragonsale that fell off of the bronze drake that helped adventures probe the heights of the Occulus, enhanced by an explosion of magic, when Malygos was killed, carried by Kalegos until he gave it to Jaina as a pledge of friendship, which she left behind in the destruction of Theremore where it was charged by the Mana Bomb and infused with all the power that Rhonin had at his disposal, which was further picked up Horde Troops while they were looting the area, given to warlocks, who put the scale on a felhound hide strap for the Warchief to keep with him at all times.

    *****Average player looks at that and says “BS.”.

    Take Two: Garrosh gets an item from a cloaked figure that he finds lets him jump back in time. The cloaked figure is never seen again.

    *****Average player looks at it and says “That is lazy.”

    Take three: Garrosh forces the goblin engineers, dark shaman and warlocks to work on a way for him to increase his army with Orcs, that are battle tested. Working together the warlocks and engineers strike on an idea to gather fel orcs from outland, bypassing blasted lands portal. After summoning one of them Garrosh kills the fel orc, and several others, because he wants a pure horde. Blood splashes on the equipment and causes a power surge that allows the machine access to pre-outland Draenor. Before he can take advantage of the capabilities of the machine he is defeated by Alliance and Horde. After the escape he uses the machine to go back in time.

    ****Average player looks at it and says, “Eh, its possible”.

    It really depends how they handle it or how much in depth they want to go into the details.

    At a personal level, when I look at a storyline I think more along the lines of “Does it fit the universe that the author has created,” rather than “Does it fit in the current universe I understand.” We each have our different perspective, of course.

    Speaking of perspective: Your explanation of the “Schrödinger’s cat” concept seems, to me, to indicate that from that viewpoint unless we analyze something it does not have an inherent…”identity” (not sure how else to explain it) that exits on its own, without a person measuring it’s “identity”. So in that unless all those who could measure the item do so with the same metrics, the “identity” of the item could have multiple “identities” based on the descriptions of each persons perspective?

    This is what I mean: There is a ball in a box. The ball is 30cm in diameter, with a weight of 1 kilogram.

    Person 1 opens the box measures the item and says it is a ball 30cm in diameter, with a weight of 1 kilogram

    Person 2 opens the box measures the item and says it is a sphere, 11.81 inches and weighs 2.1 lbs.

    Since both, by their standard of measurement, are right, and the “identities” in which they measure the item are different how do we know which is correct, or incorrect, or are we forced to measure it ourselves and assign an “identity” from our own perspective to the item?

    Or did I completely misunderstand the concept? :)

    • Theck says:

      It’s not just a question of perspective. It literally means that until you open the box and measure the ball, it doesn’t have a defined state.

      To riff off of your example: let’s say the ball can be red or blue with equal probability. Note that this isn’t the same as having two different balls (one red, one blue) and having someone randomly choose one to put in the box before he hands it to you. The ball is literally some magical thing that can be red OR blue every time you look at it. The statement is that, until you open the box, it’s technically both red and blue. If you open the box and look at it, you’ll see one or the other. If you reset the system and let someone else open the box, they’ll see one or the other (but not necessarily the same color you saw!). If you repeat the experiment enough times, you’ll find that the ball is red about 50% of the time when you open the box and blue the other 50% of the time.

      We like to think of an objects properties as well-defined – i.e. the ball is either red OR blue, and doesn’t change. But that’s not how quantum mechanics works. A quantum “ball” (i.e. particle) can often be both, and only “chooses” which one it is once someone measures it. And provided you repeat the experiment properly, it chooses randomly based on some probability function.

  8. Blizzhoof says:

    So you don’t feel that it takes handwaving to accept fireballs, running your spirit to your corpse to resurrect, a stone that allows instant teleportation from anywhere (even other dimensions) to specifically an inn or anything else. However once time travel is mentioned it becomes ludicris? Seems a bit odd. Also, if you can accept all that, then why can’t physics work differently in that world? Everything else does…except gravity it seems.

    • Theck says:

      There’s a world of difference between the degree of hand-waving necessary for fireballs (which don’t need magic at all in the first place, just creative use of energy) and breaking causality. It’s sort of like comparing a traffic violation to a triple homicide. Completely different degrees of severity.

      The point is that “why can’t physics work differently in that world” lets you get away with most of WoW’s broken physics. It still doesn’t let you get away with time travel, because time travel doesn’t work in *any* version of physics. If you have a version of physics that permits time travel, you don’t have a coherent narrative anymore.

    • Theck says:

      Also, I hope it was clear that ranting about time travel was a thinly-veiled excuse to talk about physics on a WoW blog.

      • Lottick says:

        Very clear. :) On a side note, I’m sure Quantum Leap made you want to pull your hair out.

        • Çapncrunch says:

          Quantum Leap used the ultimate hand-wave: God did it. In the end the show effectively abandons the science of time-travel and instead goes with “divine intervention” (though I’ve never for the life of me been able to figure out how their computer was able to determine probabilities for which task God had sent Sam to do….)

  9. Keres says:

    Ah, I see. That is where I was getting tripped up. The “cat” in the box is representative of a quantum particle, not “any” object.

    Granted it is over my head to a fair degree but I’ve tried to keep up with some of the “quantum computing” information that is coming out and the articles touch on some particle mechanics. Way over my head, but interesting just the same.

  10. Beetle says:

    Well … thanks for making me feel dumb. I never expected to read this on a WOW Paladin blog :-) Also, episodes in Star Trek with time travel involved are usually my favorites. After reading all this, things will never be the same again! Why can’t I just go back in time and warn myself not to rea… oh wait … right.

    Seriously, an epic post. Very informative and understandable. But you did ruin Star Trek forever.

  11. Zapelm says:

    I can eat all that storyline: since it is fantasy-lore I should leave logic and physics behind. We can say it is impossible by our logic but we can’t confute it, and we’re firing shadow globes from our hands and happily talking to spacegoats and walking cows. Magic is magic, and that is fun and .. magic.

    What concerns me is the change in “timetravel logic” from Caverns of Time to WoD. In CoT we traveled to fix the past because, if not, our future will be forever changed. Even if it is illogical, I like it, even with the straches of Dragon Soul plot, at last someone is presumed to have brought it back in the right spot to let time flow right. The time must be preserved.

    In WoD timetravel is time and alternate dimension travel, we’d not be influenced by what happens in that other dimension. We’re supposed to just enjoy our journey and only care because IronHorde would come to conquer us. The past can be changed in every dimension, and who cares if by doing that green orcs from Draenor2 will never go in Azeroth2 and, at the end, Azeroth2 it will be obliterated by not having the Horde helping to fight Archimonde (or deathwing? or w/e). Then my question is, why did I help Thraal escape from Durnholde? In my time he escaped and helped us with Archi (and later DW), should I care what happens in every timeline? Why didn’t I save fair Taretha from Blackmoore if I will not be influenced by it in my time? My explanation/retcon would be that Infinite dragonflight can change all infinite realities at once while Garrosh changed only one, but seems more a weak excuse than a fantasy-reason..

    Even then, even if I simply enjoy the expansion and “lalalala who cares lalala” my playtime swallowing every paradoxes, I still really hope Blizzard never uses this type of multiverse-plot again: I’d not like to see Kael’thas coming from an alternate reality riding Onyxia and leading an army of mechagnomes..

    • Theck says:

      Time travel (or the lack thereof) is the one piece of physics I’m just not willing to part with, unfortunately. That’s just where I draw the line, because a world without causality just doesn’t really make sense. I can wrap my head around magically conjuring globes of fire and teleportation and all of that. But breaking causality is a deeper, more egregious offense than any of that (for a lot of the reasons you raised).

      Ironically enough, most of the rest of “magic” can be explained without much alteration to existing physics. We can already conjure fireballs seemingly from thin air through various means and send energy bolts at our enemies (see also: lightning, ball lightning, spontaneous combustion, and exploding grain silos). You can hand-wave away summoning mounts as teleportation, and you can hand-wave teleportation through various means (quantum teleportation doesn’t really fit here, since it’s not the same thing… but you can sort of put that square peg in this round hole..).

      Basically everything else in magic comes down to “be able to manipulate matter/energy in unusual ways,” which isn’t so much a violation of existing physics as an addendum to it. Time travel is the one piece that you really can’t do that with.

      • Dewclaw says:

        Should all rules of physics apply to pixels in our fictional settings? $19.95 per month can buy a lot of bent physics at scale.

        • Theck says:

          And I’m not arguing about the rest of the bent physics. I’m arguing about the part that literally breaks storytelling, because it’s much more egregious.

      • Zapelm says:

        ITT in WoW, timetravel must be accepted or you would not explain Nozdormu and his breed at all, nor Titans giving him the powers to do what he does. I’m not a physic (and much less quantic one), but in this fantasy-world we can imagine what would be the implications of things like being able to invalidate the Second law of thermodynamics. AFAIK that principle is based from empirical deduction, and it is valid since nothing has ever worked differently.

        What would happen if some actually unknown particles/beings/actions don’t follow it? What if the discovery of “neutrinos being faster than light” was indeed true (and not later falsified)? It is not the 1st time wow-physics don’t make any sense, you have experienced 1st-hand being able to block Thok’s (or insert any supergiant) attacks when we know there is no chance in hell that would be possible. Moreover it would not the 1st time a supposed infallible dogma can be falsified and everything is coherent too, just imagine 5th Euclid’s Postulate..

        • Theck says:

          Which is why I think the entire Nozdormu storyline is a crock of shit! Again, there’s a lot of parts of physics you can (and must) adjust to have an enjoyable fantasy setting. I’m willing to accept those adjustments, though again, they’re not really that big a deal. In almost every case, it’s just about being able to manipulate matter and energy very precisely for unexplained reasons.

          Time travel is several orders of magnitude more flagrant a violation though. Breaking causality opens up paradoxes that cannot be rationally explained. They literally break storytelling, because you can no longer be certain that action X causes result Y. And if we can’t be certain that our actions have any results, where does that leave the story? Is it very heroic if we can never be sure that *we* killed the boss, and it wasn’t the result of some insipid time-traveler that just tricks us into believing it was us?

  12. Airowird says:

    I’m definitely no quantum mechanics expert, but would time travel not require a “receiver” first? Similar to the cell phone example, you can’t really travel back to a time where there is no way to create your body, just like you can’t call to someone that doesn’t own a phone. I know laws of thermodynamics don’t really apply to all quantum mechanics, but without the receiver concept, dying in this world or sending stuff back would cause energy/matter to be called into existence yet never ‘leave’ that timeline.

    As for how Caverns of Time works:
    I always assumed in tBC and WotLK that the the events were within our timeline. e.g. the Escape from Durnholde actually happened like that, Thrall just remembers it as if he escaped to prevent him remembering the Bronze/Infinite Dragonflights. This remained consistent untiln the End Time instance, where we see a different future, one where we fail to stop Deathwing. I would chalk that one up to developers bending the rules to tell a story to be honest. This also makes the Bronze Dragonflight more of a preserving than a policing role, maintaining events as if nobody ever time travelled in the first place.

    I’m not sure about the WoD story though, creating a secondary timeline for Draenor seems a very slippery slope indeed. In fact, the only ‘normal’ way out I see is actually returning Draenor to what it should have been at the end of the expansion. But I don’t even see how the opening of the Dark Timeportal makes sense in the current Warcraft universe. Where does Garrosh get the help to open up this rift in the first place? Wrathion seems to have already left, the Old Gods don’t have any power over portals to other worlds, the only ones with that kind of power would be linked to the Infinite Dragonflight (who’s leader is dead) and whatever made the Timeless Isle, well you know, Timeless. Either way, this seems like a lore/plot hole big enough to cause a Maelstrom.

    PS: Everyone time travels already when they level a new character, as they go from Cataclysm to tBC, to WotLK, to Cata and again ending in the MoP time period. Oh, and not even gravity works as it should, or you should be able to walk to the bottom side of Outland.

    • Theck says:

      I’m not sure if time travel would need a “receiver,” because quantum mechanics doesn’t say anything about that except that it isn’t allowed. But your point is one of the bigger flaws about time travel – if someone does something in the future, how does that change propagate to the past via time travelers linking the two? There’s no obvious, rational way to handle it that remains self-consistent.

      Even the TBC/WoLK story has this problem. Consider that in your situation, we were seeing the “actual” events – i.e. the one true story. But that means that there was only ever one attempt by the Infinite Dragonflight to interfere, and only one attempt by us to stop that interference. How do we know that someone in the future doesn’t try to go back and change it again? Does this mean that no matter what, those future time travelers are destined to fail? If so, what does that say about free will? Again, there’s no rational way to sort out this paradox. And I agree that it only gets weirder once you introduce separate timelines.

      The “time travel” when you level a new character is more a result of expansions than anything else. If you’re willing to divorce the concepts of character level and time, then you can sort of rationalize it by saying that when we go to Outland, we’re just experiencing memories from our character’s past. In other words, our character grew up in “old” Azeroth, went to Outlands, went to Northrend, and then came back to deal with the Cataclysm, and then experienced Mists. It’s a little hand-wavy, but it works well enough to get the job done.

      It’s doesn’t work as well when you’re traveling tens/hundreds/thousands of years or to places where humans didn’t exist (Well of Eternity, old Draenor).

      Gravity in Outland is definitely on notice.

      • Hyral says:

        “How do we know that someone in the future doesn’t try to go back and change it again?”
        We don’t. But Nozdormu and the Broze flight are keeping track of it.

        “Does this mean that no matter what, those future time travelers are destined to fail?”
        Yes. Because Nozdormu is safekeeping the “one true timeline”.

        “If so, what does that say about free will?”
        What does law enforcement attempting to stop criminals from hurting others say about free will? It’s not much different from what I see.

        The way you seem to see time travel in WoW is assuming it can work outside the control of the Broze flight and Aman’thul, but in this game’s universe everything time related is linked to these beings and cannot happen otherwise. Any devices that may be created in the future to allow time traveling within our timeline, any attempts by the Infinites to change our timeline, any sort of tempering with our timeline in any way is already predestined to happen, has actually happened, and has already been stopped by the Bronze flight. We’ve even been part of some of these events already.

        As for free will, as Nozdormu said “All that matters… is this moment”. Your free will happens now. Your choices and decisions change the true timeline the moment you make them, any attempt to make choices or change choices at any other point in time outside “now” are not part of the true timeline and will be corrected. The only one slave to his destiny is Nozdormu, but once again he is a special case thanks to Aman’thul and the reason why time traveling is possible in this universe.

        Or at least that’s how it’s always appeared to me and always made sense.

        • Theck says:

          You can’t see the difference between law enforcement attempting to stop criminals and totally revoking free will? Because there’s a pretty big difference there.

  13. Beelgers says:

    I’m pretty sure that the only accurate representation of time travel out there is when Superman flew really fast in a direction opposite the direction that the Earth was rotating. It is obvious that would work perfectly :)

  14. Matt Clemson says:

    I take Blizzard’s approach to handle time entirely as a *place*, rather than a strict progression of cause to effect, which I think is just about acceptable in an environment where big scary monsters come back from the dead once per week. We’re in a world of groundhog weeks, and every three months or so we enter a slightly different one.

    One aspect in particular that tickles me is the notion that… what if the Dark Portal has *always* travelled in time? It’s not actually explicitly clear that it’s only a journey through space, it could easily have always been a time journey as well; not just connecting a pair of worlds, but also connecting two distinct eras. Maybe time’s always been malleable, maybe these are distinct bubbles that could be connected in any arbitrary fashion?

    While that’s mostly silly, I’m pretty sure that the crux of their approach to this story is that Draenor should [i]not[/i] be viewed as a location in the past, but a real and credible threat to Azeroth connected to [i]now[/i].

  15. vladamyr27 says:

    100% agree with you Theck. Time travel kills books, movies and games for me. I am simply unable to get past my own quirks and accept it as a storytelling device. Very much looking forward to your next post!

  16. Thels says:

    I can totally understand Theck’s peeve about time travel. While lobbing around fireballs and turning people into sheep is not exactly possible in the real world, it’s an alteration to how physics work. Fantasy world, fantasy physics rules.

    Timelines however are not anything physical at all. It’s something we make up to make the concept of time passing by, future and past easier to grasp and communicate with each other. There is no such thing as an actual timeline. Timetravel doesn’t change physical rules, it treats something totally imaginary as a physical concept.

    Not only that, they are very inconsistent with it. As already discussed, Durnholde and Black Morass were part of our own timeline. We traveled back into our own timeline, and fixed things up. But when Garrosh does it, it’s suddenly a jump to a different timeline. What makes him so special?

    But Time Travel raises another question that fireballs doesn’t raise. Why ain’t it used more often? If this Iron Horde business is so much trouble, why aren’t we going back in time ourselves and kill the young Garrosh? Or heck, kill him 2 seconds before he traveled back in time, if we worry about continuity enough. But if we did that, he wouldn’t go back in time, so there would be no iron horde for us to worry about, so we wouldn’t go back in time, so we wouldn’t kill Garrosh, so Garrosh would go back in timeo, so the Iron Horde would come bother us, so we would go back in time to kill Garrosh [insert loop here]

    Honestly, I like the WoD timetravel more than the CoT timetravel we had to endure up to now. The WoD timetravel has at least some structure to it. By “traveling back in time”, you basically create an alternative timeline, which eliminates all the worries about why haven’t the smart people from the future arrived yet. If they would, it would have turned into an anternative timeline. By making this alternative timeline an alternative dimension more than a timeline, I could then see them hooking up the portals together, as the portals are a connection between two different dimensions.

    Admittedly, it’s not perfect, but Metzen basically admitted, it’s not an expansion about timetravel. The timetravel is merely a means to get to the expansion.

    Perhaps if you look at Draenor2 as a place that is just very very similar to Outland/Draenor1 was 30 years ago, but being it’s own dimension, it all makes perfect sense. Garrosh travels to Draenor2. On Draenor2, they set up a link to the Dark Portal on Azeroth, and the newer connection overrules the connection that was established from Draenor1 nearly 30 years ago. Removed the Timetravel from WoD.

    There is actually another pet peeve about WoW that bothers me more than the time travel… Corpserunning!

    Every single PC in WoW can corpserun. I can imagine there might be a few players among the millions that quit the game before they ever died, or didn’t figure out how to corpserun properly, but the vast, vast majority of players can corpserun, so we’re nothing special, and corpserunning is something that is inherit to the characters on Azeroth and Draenor.

    Then why didn’t Uther corpserun after Arthas killed him?

  17. Serenais says:

    Well. I should probably state that I am in no way properly educated past high school physics in the area, I just happen to read a lot on Wikipedia and watch a lot of National Geographic spiced with a bit of Sixty Symbols on YouTube (which probably means I read a lot of stuff I shouldn’t and don’t read a lot of stuff that I should in order to keep my “picture” of the current scene in any way concise, or whattherightwordis…), on top of that, my native language is not English, thus I will probably mangle the terms anyway…

    That being out of the way.
    I personally go with that the universe in which WoW happens is one that conforms to Eternal Inflation – it seems that the same laws of physics (and metaphysics) apply anywhere in it the same way (that being under the assumption that a change in underlying “microworld” mechanics would result in a change in the mechanics of the “percieved reality”) – Azerothian plants seem to grow on Outland, a fireball on Azeroth seems to be the same one that it would be on Outland, etc., – thus it probably originates from the same laws of physics (and metaphysics); the two worlds however do not have to be (and more likely than not aren’t) in the same “bubble” of normally expanding space divided by space that is still undergoing inflation – thus, they are in effect casually disconnected (I HOPE that’s the correct therm for two sets of coordinates that are unable to share information unless something really weird happens). On top of that, if we go with “the universe” (or multiverse, depending on your definition of universe) being REALLY big AND the number of possible quantum states in specified volume being limited (and thus, in a number of “sets” big enough, there’s one that is an exact copy of ours with “that one detail different”, so to speak), we do not really have to time travel – we are just going to a bubble in the universe where the “reality” is what “we” percieve on Draenor. No time travel involved, only thing that is created is a stable wormhole (which would be the “really weird something happening”).

    The thing that is a bit interesting, though, is how that “Garrosh’s friend” knew where exactly to open that portal to, considering that in this case, there are so many possible catastrophic misses that choosing the correct reality is numerically impossible. (and I doubt bubbles of normally expanding space do have their own IP address subsets, so to speak).

    I hope I even make sense… That’s how I explained the “thing” for myself without having to resort to timeline branching. It’s probably not all that better, though…

    • Thels says:

      The no coordinates idea fails if you think of the Draenei, that flew a space ship from Draenor to Azeroth, but I honestly rather forget about that little detail, and we could always explain it as a ship that travels through dimensions rather than space as we know it.

      As for Garrosh’ friend knowing exactly where to go, I don’t consider that so much as an issue. Time travel itself is disturbing. Getting a feel for which time and dimension you need to be at, not so much. We’re talking about a universe where people have access to magic and scrying power. With a bit of scrying power and a moment to search, it doesn’t seem to inconceivable to find the right world.

      • Serenais says:

        Hm. You do have a point there with the Naaru ships that the draenei used; it could be concievable that the Naaru created a system of beacons connected via tiny wormholes to know which “bubble” is safe to travel to (send in an unmanned ship, it creates a beacon automatically after performing some set of one-way tests; if those fail for whatever reason, provided the unmanned ship is actually able to function/keep existing, you don’t get a beacon to an unsafe spacetime), though in this case, I am somewhat willing to handwave it by stating that the Naaru are “Sufficiently Advanced Aliens”; that is however, beaten straight out because it was stated by Naaru themselves that they don’t need the ships anymore as they evolved above the need to use them (what exactly that means will probably remain a mystery, and probably for the better x) ). Of course, both the ships and Naaru themselves have to be aware about “where” to travel, and they appear to be exactly that – even Exodar, when its “dimensional drive” failed, it ended up above a habitable planet (for the draenei, anyway) inside a pocket of normally expanding space.

        I guess the same could be said about “Garrosh’s friend”. From what we’ve heard, he’s a bronze dragon, and if they did/could manipulate time, I guess that nothing prevented them from creating a “temporarily” closed timelike curve so that they develop sufficiently powerful “sorting” algorythm to find a proper “target spacetime bubble” for a portal without that developement having to last ages.
        That’s without thinking what someone with the ability to enshroud themselves in a pocket of space locked in a closed timelike curve scenario (interruptible from inside and shielded from outside interference) could do, though. No wonder Nozdormu went crazy from all of that.
        Or will go crazy. Or went crazy. Or…

        Of course, Garrosh’s friend simply could’ve already known where to go beforehand. One thing is finding a target from an infinitelly large set of possible ones, another is going to a catalogue of “analogues to current reality and realities to it attached” and simply finding a secluded spot to cast an otherwise “simple” spell (mages cast portals to Shattrath all the time, after all ;) ). One could imagine that if time is just another spacetime dimension, the Bronze dragonflight could have explored another “realities / bubbles of normally expanding space” where reality is very similar to ours. Just to see “what would happen if”.

        I might be getting way too tangled into all this… And that.

Leave a Reply