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The Nature of Time Travel

December 2, 2011

Dear Reader,

4.3 has thrown my whole schedule off; I was going to talk about Dead Island and Portal 2 today, but that’s just going to have to wait.  Instead, I thought I’d go out of my norm today a bit and act like an expert on something that I am in no way an expert about: time travel.

One of my earliest memories was seeing Goonies in the theater.  All I really remember was that I lost my first tooth during the movie.  That’s not really relevant to the conversation, but the fact that in the same year I have another memory of actually seeing Back to the Future in the theater is relevant.  One of my earliest memories of a shared story, a transmitted masterpiece of music (what a soundtrack!), culture (Marty’s vest is still super fly), and coolness (the fact that I used “super fly” proves my relationship with coolness) is Back to the Future.

Now, there’s no way to know for sure if that early memory had a major impact on my life, but I’ve always been interested in time travel, not from a “it’s going to happen – it’s real!” standpoint, but from a literary stand point.  The concept of being able to change past events – or not – has fascinated me for as long as I could read.  I read a ton of Hardy Boys books, but in the only one I remember, they teamed up with Tom Swift and had a time-travel adventure.  In my younger and more idealistic years I wrote a good share, too, often about time travel.  I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll say that I’m a fan of the consistent view.

The direction this is headed is, of course, WoW related, but before we get there, let’s discuss a little literary theory.  Essentially there’s two “forms” of time travel: consistent and alternate.  In the consistent view of time travel, you can’t actually change the time line because it was already changed in the past.  If you went back to prevent JFK from being assassinated, you’d fail, not because some magical temporal force would stop you, but because you had already failed, last time.  You’d always failed.  12 Monkeys is a good example of this, as was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; the events had already taken place, had already been seeded earlier in the plot, and the later time travel was consistent with the earlier events.

The alternate view of time travel is more like Back to the Future; in it, you can spawn a new “branch” of the future by changing events in the past.  Whereas Biff is a jerk and a bully at the start of Back to the Future, after Marty’s dad stands up to him in the past due to Marty’s conditioning, the future Biff is now a polite, deferential twit.  In this view, your changes can ripple and have effects, frequently (though somewhat erroneously) referred to as the Butterfly Effect (another movie with the alternate view of time travel).  Another great example of this is Quantum Leap, where Scott Bakula bounces around in time to “make right what once went wrong.”  Our view from the present is that the events he participates in were always “right,” but their computer, Ziggy, can see an alternate future where the events went “wrong,” allowing Dr. Beckett to create a better future.

WoW’s time travel is fascinating because it assumes the alternate view but actually portrays the consistent view (so far).  In the Caverns of Time instances, you go back to prevent the Infinite Dragonflight from disrupting the timeline, often participating in events that later led to horrors and tragedies that you might want to prevent.  As my buddy asked me every time we randomly ended up in the Culling of Stratholme, “Why are we helping Arthas?  Why don’t we kill him right now?”  Well, the Bronze Dragonflight’s mission is to protect the time line, to prevent the infinite agents from disrupting it.  The fact that they can disrupt it suggests that there’s an alternate view of time travel here, that they could in fact break the time line and change the future.  However, the fact that we go back and protect the timeline means that they never do – they never did – which is consistent.

The addition of the End Time instance made the whole Bronze Dragonflight / alternate vs. consistent views even more interesting.  I’ll warn you now there are minor spoilers ahead, but they’re pretty minor.  In it, you travel to an “alternate future” where the mortal races of Azeroth failed to kill Deathwing.  This obviously implies an alternate view of time travel, solidifying Blizzard’s approach.  Still, it’s an alternate future, not an alternate present created by changes in the past, so I’m not sure how this ranks in the consistent vs. alternate debate.  Since we as mortals have to see the time line linearly (unlike Nozdormu and the rest of the Bronze Dragonflight, who can see the whole thing, as is shown when you bring your Outlands orphan to the Caverns of Time and have the guard attack her until Zaladormu commands them to stop.  He says,

WAIT!  This girl had done nothing, and will not be held accountable for what she might do, or fail to do, in the future.  Go in peace child.

Clearly he sees the whole timeline).  I got way off track there.  Let me start that sentence again: Since we as mortals see the time line linearly, having an “alternate future” might still be consistent since our actions eliminate the infinite possibilities presented by the future.  I’m honestly not sure.  That type of time travel is seem in literature that suggests you can only go to the future, not the past, because the past is “fixed.”  Stephen Hawking is in this club, having suggested a time machine will be built someday, but has not yet been built, so the tourists from the future cannot reach this far back in time.  In other words, you can’t go back further than the first time machine offers the chance to travel at all.  Of course all of this gets into the free-will vs. fate debate, too, so perhaps we should just contain the philosophy and get back to WoW.

Back to the End Time instance, in fact.  In the instance, the final boss is Murozond, a twisted, evil future vision of Nozdormu.  If I have my lore correct, eventually the Old Gods show Nozdormu his death, and Deathwing convinces him to break the timeline and avoid it, creating the Infinite Dragonflight.  It’s a masterpiece of time travel literature, honestly, and it also makes perfect sense.  How can there be another dragon whose realm is Time?  Each aspect got it’s own realm, so it makes sense that it would have to be Nozdormu that created a race of dragons who could screw up the time line.  Honestly, it’s fantastic.  The very enemies you’ve been fighting since BC were created by the same fellow who keeps sending you back to prevent them from screwing up the timeline.

Even more tragic than that is the fact that he must know it’s him.  If the Bronze Dragonflight can see all the future timelines, then he knows.  He knows what’s waiting for him if things go poorly with Deathwing.  He knows that he will be the one to undo all that he’s stood for his entire immortal life.  He doesn’t even get to die heroically fighting Deathwing; Nozdormu’s going to become worse than him.  No wonder he wants us to get off our asses and fight!

However, there is a bit of paradox involved here, as is often true of time travel literature.  If we do kill Deathwing, thus preventing the obliteration of Azeroth, thus preventing the Old Gods from again reigning, then we stop them from showing Nozdormu his fate and prevent Nozdormu from becoming Murozond and breaking the timeline.  Killing Deathwing prevents the Infinite Dragonflight from ever existing, negating all those dungeons.  I guess, then, that Blizzard not only evokes the alternate view of time travel, but also inter-dimensional travel where the infinite dragonflight from universes where Deathwing survives can cross over and screw up our timeline.  The only solution to that is to close the Caverns of Time altogether, it seems, as there would be no need for them without a Murozond, and I’m pretty sure Blizzard won’t do that.

On top of the lore aspect, the Murozond fight itself has an awesome mechanic not seen elsewhere in WoW, a rewind tool.  The encounter can be reset five times, giving you six opportunities to beat the beast who would – at current gear levels – be impossible to beat in a single go.  Great thinking, great design, great work Blizzard.


Stubborn (and temporary.  If you ever want a long list of time travel movies and literature, let me know.)

P.S. I’d still like Rades to do more lore on this; his voluminous intelligence on WoW lore could certainly produce a far better narrative than this.  Consider it a a pro-bono commission (what an paradoxical term!).

P.P.S.  I meant to ask about Morchok.  Yeah, he’s easy, but at around 7 1/2 minutes he’s hitting me for 300k and one-shotting me.  Is this an enrage timer that I can’t seem to find any information about?  Yes my guild’s dps needs work.  I get it.  I’m still curious.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2011 10:11 am

    Hopes yer long list of time travilizations includes Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. If’n it don’t I highly recommends.

    • December 2, 2011 10:28 am

      It doesn’t; I’ve never heard of it. I’ll definitely check it out, though. Thanks!

  2. Kierbuu permalink
    December 2, 2011 6:18 pm

    There is another option with the Infinite Dragonflight. While their ‘past’ was destroyed in the new instance, their ‘present’ still exists in the older Cavern of Time instances. A paradox cannot exist. Time will have to heal itself by giving the Infinite Dragonflight a new ‘past’ in the future.

    Like say, a group of bronze dragons are mad about the whole aspect thing coming to an end. They pool all their might and knowledge to weave a new identity for themselves. Maybe a new infinite flight that travels back and forward in time to try and disrupt important events in the formation of the Horde and Alliance. That way the two factions can’t unite to destroy Deathwing, but more importantly to the new dragonflight, Nozdormu can’t be weakened with the destruction of the Dragon Soul.

    • December 2, 2011 10:48 pm

      I like the idea that the infinite dragon flight, being beings of time, are stuck in the “present” in those instances. I’m not sure you’d need further justification than that, in fact, but it’s still pretty sloppy. Interesting ideas!

  3. December 2, 2011 8:28 pm

    Morchok doesn’t have an enrage timer, but at 20% his attacks will be hitting for 20% more. That shouldn’t account for 300k hits though. Have you checked that it’s not something going wrong with the tank swapping for the armour debuff?

    I know we had a wipe due to people not standing close enough (everyone decided to be “helpful” and go to the crystal instead!), but that’d kill more people than just you.

    Regarding the time travel, my head always hurts when trying to think about it *lol* But you made some really good points and I do find the entire story (or stories?) interesting. On a separate (albeit slightly related) note; I’d love to see that orphan draenei girl all grown up and actually doing something. They made her entire quest line make it appear as if she was destined for something special.

    • December 2, 2011 10:43 pm

      That’s not it, because it happened at 24%, and it frequently happens right after Blood of the Earth, so the debuffs have always fallen off. I’ve seen one other report like this; someone said that at 3% Morchok had “doubled in size and done a stomp that one-shotted everyone.” That certainly sounds like a berserk, though there’s no evidence he has one.

      Yeah, I’d love to see either of those orphans (or both) actually be relevant again at some point. They’re kids when we meet them, but it’s been 3 years already since then (Cata) and Pandaria will grow them a bit more. Unfortunately, I doubt Blizzard would be that cool, despite the fact that the End Time instance is. Thanks for the comment!

  4. December 4, 2011 7:06 am

    What a well thought out post. You have enlightened me with your knowledge on time-travel along the way.

    I too was querying particular parts of the new patch lore and how it works out. This has clarified it somewhat.

    Also, how cool is the last fight against Murozond?! I absolutely love the mechanics, such a step forward 🙂

    • December 5, 2011 9:33 am

      Yeah, I love the new mechanic, and while I don’t want to see that mechanic all over the place, that’s the kind of ingenuity I DO want to see all over the place, instead of the same tired fight mechanics.

  5. December 4, 2011 12:42 pm

    I can’t find a transcript right now, but I seem to recall that Nozdormu says at the end of End Time that he will become Murozond eventually, that it’s all part of a cycle. This fits the consistent view again and implies that it will happen regardless of what happens to Deathwing. I guess that would fit with the idea that you get in some time travelling stories that some events simply cannot be avoided – like in the 2002 version of The Time Machine where every time the protagonist tries to save his fiancée from dying, she then dies from something else shortly afterwards.

    • December 5, 2011 9:42 am

      I just poked around a bit, read the quest text and so forth, and found on wowpedia this text:

      Nozdormu says: Still, in the future, I will… fall to madness. And you, heroes… will vanquish me. The cycle will repeat. So it goes.

      So apparently, he’s aware that something must happen to create this loop, to prevent a paradox, but he can’t see what. I’m disturbed that he can’t see it, since we’ve already established that, like the Shadow, the Bronze Dragonflight Knows.

      As for 2002 Time Machine, that is a consistent view, but it employs the “magical healing force” of time or something along those lines. You can make changes, then, but time “heals” itself. I prefer a cleaner view of time travel where you simply fail for some legitimate reason; you must fail because there’s a single simple time line and it didn’t happen the first time through.

    • teaspoon permalink
      December 5, 2011 9:34 pm

      Nozdormu knows he *must* become Murozond at some distant point in his personal timeline, because he has already seen Murozond and recognised himself. He may even become Murozond to allow the party to defeat him and/or see the “End Time” scenario because those events will be necessary to their later successes.

      One minor correction to the article, though… Nozdormu seeing the moment of his own death is not the work of the Old Gods. The Titans showed it to him when they granted him his power over time so that he would know he had limits.

    • December 6, 2011 1:00 pm

      Great article I just had the same correction. From the moment Nozdormu received his power over time from the Titans he was shown all of time, including his own death. So his madness had been seeded from the very beginning. It is inevitable that he will become Murozond (Or as I like to call him since I did the bronze dragonshrine in Wrath and figured out he was behind all of it, Nozdormu the Infinite, because well his goal is to never die.) and corrupt his own bronze dragonflight into the infinite dragonflight. Though knowing all of time and that it is a consistent timeline it just appears alternate to mortals he sends his agents back to lure the adventurers (us) who are going to eventually kill him as Muruzond back in time so they can kill us before we can kill him. But since it is a consistent timeline they will never be able to kill us or change the timeline because it has always been that they went back and lured us back and that’s how the events originally came to pass and always will have come to pass….. It’s pretty awesome. We were always the ones to free Thrall just his memory is written the way it was told in Warcraft 3.

      Also Chromie is the coolest character ever.

  6. December 4, 2011 5:56 pm

    I love this post. Its the kind of lore and storytelling I wish Blizzard was good at because its the kind of detail exploration that makes the dungeons interesting. Thanks for this piece. Its hard to follow a story that’s not told in meaningful ways during gameplay.

    • December 5, 2011 9:43 am

      You’re quite welcome, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I, too, wish more dungeons were like this instead of just jaunts into dangerous places for loot. Imagine the story that could have been told in Blackwing Caverns; instead, we go in after Raz, who’s been monsterfied, and he owns some goons. There was a story there, a sad story about a goblin turned into a beast who can’t survive outside the dungeon. He dies, in the end, too; Blizzard could have done so much with that, but instead we get a few quasi-cinematics.

  7. Blayze permalink
    December 5, 2011 8:03 pm

    If memory serves, it was Aman’Thul who showed Nozdormu his death to warn him off exactly this.

    Since Aman’Thul empowered Nozdormu and is a Titan, he’s clearly more powerful and experienced at this time nonsense.

    So the Titans empower the Aspects to stop the Hour of Twilight caused by Neltharion, Aman’Thul shows Nozdormu his inevitable death, Nozdormu has his future self killed, confirms this is how it’s going to go down for him, then uses up all his power putting down Deathwing.

    That’s saying nothing of the other time travel inconsistencies we have in the lore: Predestination (Murozond, Mysteries of the Infinite), rewriting our timeline (The North Wind, Darrowshire), Close Enough Future (Caverns of Time) and what’s either an alternate timeline or Ripple Effect Proof Memory (The demon Hakkar in the WotA trilogy).


    • December 6, 2011 8:24 am

      Oh, of course. The alternate timeline created when Krasus and friends traveled back into the War of the Ancients ‘Back to the Future’-style and had ‘Back to the Future’ shenanigans. That completely created an entirely new timeline separated from the original and was pretty much handwaved into existence.

      The same thing is happening essentially with the Well of Eternity instance. By us taking the Dragon Soul from that moment of time and unless we somehow just return it to that point in history after using it, well, congrats! You just prevented Alexstrasza’s rape during her detainment in Grim Batol where Skullcrusher used the Dragon Soul to weaken her so that Deathwing could get her hands on some of her eggs … which would be later used to be experimented on to create the Netherdrakes, the prototype Twilights, Nefarian’s Chromatic Dragonflight, and pretty much Deathwing’s current army.

      Timey wimey indeed.

    • December 6, 2011 1:05 pm

      Alexstrasza’s brood was used for the Chromatic drakes. the Nether drakes were a cosmic accident that happened to the remaining black dragons who were on Draenor when it shattered into Outland. How they’re all involved is Sinestra went and gathered a lot of the eggs and brought them back to Grim Batol and experimented on them to create the Twilight Dragons after Onyxia and Nefarian’s failure with the Chromatic dragons. Honestly I’m really glad the whole black dragon storyline is done it’s been going on for all of WoW so far.

    • December 6, 2011 2:34 pm

      This is pretty much what I was planning to write back.

      The Titans showed Nozdormu his death at long time ago. He knows it’s coming and he knows its unavoidable. Perhaps he didn’t understand the context of that moment when he saw it, but now he does.

      It is my opinion that he becomes Murozond in response to the loss of his Aspect powers. Perhaps he didn’t foresee that defeating Deathwing would sap the rest of his power and leave him a normal dragon.

      And now, in anger at the loss of said powers, he will slowly go insane and become Murozond in an effort to stop Deathwing from being defeated so that he can keep his powers.


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