Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crisis on the Infinite Azeroths

Ever since I first heard of this alternate reality of Warlords at the Blizzcon I've been thinking of making this post and I even had that title in my head.  It was the perfect title and explains exactly where warcraft is heading.  It is heading to the crisis on the infinite azeroths.

The creation of an alternate reality is a slippery slope, one I believe the writers of warcraft are not capable of pulling off.  For those unfamiliar with the slippery slope term I will explain what I mean in reference to the story in game as short and sweet as possible.

The creation of an alternate reality opens the door to create some fantastic story telling.   So many "what if" scenarios to work off of and the experience of playing in them in game can be fun and exciting.  What if the lich king had managed to get us as his servants?  In reality he did, or almost did, because one human took forever to realize he had every man for himself and could get out of that ice block at any time.  We never beat him, we died.  If the lich king had stacked haste and his revive worked faster we would have all been his lieutenants, just as he had planned.  So many what ifs, so many chances for alternate realities.

Now that blizzard has opened that door we can experience everything again as if things occurred in a different way.  And that is the slippery slope when you allow alternate reality.  You keep opening more and more realities and sooner or later things are out of hand.  But as long as you do not connect those realities you will most likely be okay, from a story telling stand point at least.  Oops, blizzard already screwed that one up.  Their first every dabble into alternate realities has us in our own reality intermingling with the alternate reality.  Ouch, a story telling boo boo if there ever was one for even a skilled writer to handle.

This is a story in story telling, one that has been gone down before many times by many different intellectual properties but the one that stands out to me, as a comic book geek, was instantly DC Comics Crisis on the Infinite Earths.  I thought of it the second it was revealed that we would be fighting against people from an alternate reality.

Crisis was a 12 issues mini series published in 1985 and in my opinion remains probably one of the best story lines in the history of comic books not only for being well written, but being thought provoking and handling a very touchy situation, story wise, extremely well.

See, DC had created many different realities to enable story telling.  When they reset the world, to what is referred to as the silver age, they had all the older characters exist on "earth 2" while the new silver age of characters would proudly live on "earth 1".  There became many more "earths" as the years went on to enable story telling.  Earth X, Earth Prime, Earth P, you name it, there were dozens of them.

Every time one of the writers would come up with an idea that they thought would be interesting and pitch it Julie would say something along the lines of "that would not work with continuity" and the idea was either scraped or buffed up and a new alternate reality was created where they could do it.

All was fine and dandy in story telling land as long as those worlds stayed in their own place.  We didn't need a dozen people running around in tights dressed as superman did we?  Then some years back, way back and way before the crisis mini series came out, in green lantern # 40 (1965) the golden age green lantern met the silver age green lantern and something was set in motion that eventually require the crisis on the infinite earths to be written years later.

Rule # 1 when handling alternate realities, do not let them intermingle, it just messes things up.  It is worse than the wibby wobbly timey whimey stuff.  At least timeline stuff people have a prayer of understanding.  But trying to explain that lois lane is only married to superman on earth 2 and lana lang is married to him on another earth and he is single on earth one but on yet another earth everyone knows his secret identity is just down right confusing.  How can all be true at the same time?  Alternate realities is how.

As long as each remains in its own place however it is manageable.  In the end DC had done too many golden age meets silver age stories and it was starting to get confusing.  Only a true comic book geek remembers comic book trivia but even dedicated comic book geeks would have issues with remembering which superman married who, which superman was known, when each appeared, which one was the big blue boy scout and which would just as darkly kill someone.  Then when they all merged together it got confusing, was it my superman doing that or was it the other one?

So DC comics decided to fix everything by creating the crisis on the infinite earths.  To make a long story short, too late I know, the idea of the series was to take all those alternate realities and merge them together.  It made for a lot of destruction and death of some major characters but the idea was to set things in a new single world with no alternate realities because it started to become too much to handle.

There would be one merged world with one history   It would make it a lot easier for new readers to catch up and understand instead of asking them to learn the 14 different versions of superman.  This was all needed because of what green lantern # 40 started by intermingling to realities, earth 1 and earth 2 if you will.

Now back to warcraft and the coming crisis on the infinite azeroths.

Blizzard did not just create a different reality, which they could have easily done with the caverns of time, they created an entire expansion on it.  For them to make that work there were two options, make this our new reality because the past was changed, or pull the alternate reality card.  They pulled the alternate reality card.

Like I said, if it were an instance in the caverns of time it would have been fine.  The whole "that wasn't real" thing can work in an instance.  As the central focus of an expansion we need to interact with that alternate reality.  In effect they did, in one expansion, what it took DC comics 20 years to do, completely screw up their world by intermingling between 2 realities.  Warlords is warcrafts green lantern # 40, the beginning of what will be the end when it comes to alternate realities.

A slippery slope.  New realities will come and go, or could come and go.  Who is warchief in this reality, did deathwing win in that reality, did the titan abandon us in the other one, did the legion win and we are all minions of theirs now fighting for our freedom.

Sooner or later they will open the doors to there being multiples of the same character out there with different histories all thanks to alternate realities.  We could have the Jania with the eye path that killed everyone in org after her city was destroyed.  She teleported pieces of garrosh all throughout the world one small bit at a time just so she could hear him scream.  Or the Jaina that did not work with Thrall and the alliance all but laid waste to the invaders known as orcs and anyone who sided with them.  Or the Jaina that fell in love with Thrall and married him and turned on the alliance and used her powers to collapse the mountain that is ironforge on all the alliance leaders when they were there for a summit.  Or how about the Jaina that just sits there and cries all emo like all day every day, we know that one right?  Or maybe there is the Jaina that never made it out when her city was attacked and her blue dragon boyfriend went medieval on the horde?

All of these make for great stories, but all of them should not intermingle with our time line and our history.  Warlords would make for an interesting raid, but it is a scary proposition for an expansion because I can see it ending up exactly where DC ended up in 1985.  Blizzard eventually realizing they made a mess of things and coming to the conclusion that combining all realities to set things back in order is the only real answer to "alternate realities gone wild".

So as new realities unfold with warlords and from there on every time we make a decision that impacts the world a new reality is made where that decision was made differently and we will continue to intermingle with it instead of making it a "what if" in the caverns of time like it should be and the day will come when blizzard too will realize that rule # 1 of alternate realities is do not let them intermingle and they will need to combine all the worlds into one single world with one single history so it will start making sense again for those people that just can not follow it.

That expansion will fittingly be called, Crisis on the Infinite Azeroths.


  1. I agree with you on a conceptual level.

    However, Blizzard has time and again said that for them 'gameplay is paramount' (read: as long as it's raining Epics, everything is okay) so if a development makes no sense whatsoever from a story or immersion PoV but makes agood excuse for a gimmicky fight labeled as 'fun' the first few times around, they'll go with the later.

    Perhaps you remember the Cata-controversy, when people asked GC if the screwy timeline (Cata-TBC-Wrath-Cata, now with a mish-mash of MoP thrown in btw) wouldn't effect new players, he merely shrugged and said that WoW 'always had a screwy timeline anyway' (no it didn't).

    Personally, I think a bigger issue will be the idea to plonk out an Expansion every year, and skimp on Patches in the process. Already plenty of people have 'treadmill blues' and the WoW policy of making a previous Expansion basically utterly pointless spells a trainwreck to happen to me.

    But we'll just have to wait and see I guess.

    1. I do agree with the game play first mentality, but there is nothing wrong with them creating an expansion where we had cool things and game play. Why create an alternate universe to do so? It seems like a lame cop out to just "what if" the whole thing. That would be better served for instances or such, in my opinion at least.

      Cata is what screwed up WoWs timeline. It was fine. In classic you were starting, as you moved along you moved closer to current time, and then cata came and you start at current time and move to the past? Cata screwed up the time line. For him to say "it is like that anyway" is about as stupid as stupid gets. It wasn't like that, you made it like that.

      I hate the treadmill more and more as the years go on. But I think I am in the minority there. I think most people would love a new raid with new gear every month.

  2. The important thing is that with this time travel business, even if they won't ever want to talk about copies of same events and heroes, they will have to. They don't want to talk about these things, it was easily seen in the Blizzcon sessions, and I certainly can sympathize, but they will HAVE TO, because they WILL run into conflicts that are much too large to ignore.

    They jumped the shark.

    Prior to WoD, people's problems with the lore were things like faction favoritizm, lack of depth in hero X, strange behavior of hero Y, etc. In WoD, the lore just gets so absurd, it is hardly possible to reason about it any longer.

    1. The term "jumped the shark" is the exact same thing that came to my mind when I saw an alternate reality story line.

      I don't think time line comes into play as this is not in our own time line, but multiples of each character does. And the fact someone could have "escaped" into our world and become a major player later would open up all doors the writing staff is quite honestly not skilled enough to address in my opinion.

      This will make lore more confusing for the people that knew little about lore to begin with. It is, or at least could be argued, a burden to those that are not into this stuff because the little they do not, what they see while questing, will not make sense to them thanks to a two reality thing.

  3. Anon, Grumpy's former guild leader:

    Pretty sure it was a story named "A Flash of two worlds" in which Barry Allen met Jay Garrick started the Earth 1 / Earth 2 silver age/golden age cross overs. On the other hand, yea, it did get complicated by the time Crisis on Infinite Earths occurred. I kept up with it, but I could for sure see why it was necessary to simplify the DC Universe.

    It was a 12 book series, but it went into every DC title and changed everything for everyone. To read the complete story of that "Crisis" required collecting every DC title at the time (for at least certain issues of each). I compiled the lists of which one occurred when and read the whole story from the first appearance in Teen Titan (a single panel? not more than two or three panels?) on through the whole twisted tale well over a year later. As a story telling device, it was perhaps the high point of the comic story telling art. Marvel's secret wars and the later crisis from DC all felt evocative but not quite up to the supreme sweep of the Crisis on Infinity Earths, or at least that was how I saw it.

    With regards to the alternate Azeroth, I dunno, I suppose Blizz will pull it off, but honestly the only thing that is attracting me towards it is the level cap of 100. The alternate Azeroth seems kind of lame at best as a storyline. Sorta like we need a filler before we get onto the main story, i.e. destroying the Burning Legion and freeing all the captured worlds that are known to exist.

    Some of the adjustments proposed for the game sound interesting, but as far as a storyline goes, eh, ok if that is what Blizzard wants but it sure doesn't make much sense to me. Creating an alternate timeline is a big undertaking to be sure, with a whole world to gain (or at least a really big continent) but really I would have been much more excited by a phased Outland being invaded by the Burning Legion with perhaps even a phased victory at the end of the expansion for the Legion, sending the Alliance and Horde reeling back to Azeroth.

    Begin the expansion beyond that with the Alliance and Horde with their backs to the wall against the actual Burning Legion. Begin to have special events on each server to show progress fighting back, in the flavor of the AQ gate opening events, but using phasing tech to keep servers from crashing.

    In short, Blizzard still has an awesome story to tell, but I fail to see how an alternate Azeroth really advances that story at the moment. Oh well fortunately for Blizzard, level 100 characters will be enough to keep me subscribed for a while longer. The rest of the newest expansion will be held to the wait and see category.

    1. I don't think there's ANY intention to advance the story at the moment, that's kind of the point. We're going to see the story of the Draenei before they were just the shattered remains of a civilization... we'll get to see their last world, intact, with them at a high point.

      From our perspective, we're high fiving each other for putting Garrosh in prison, then next thing we know we're about to be attacked by the Iron Horde from the other side of the portal that until 3 seconds earlier we thought led to Outlands... but doesn't anymore. We're immediately under attack. That's the story. It doesn't advance the current plot because it doesn't intend to.

      I'd argue that none of the expansions so far have done much to advance the Azeroth plot much, honestly. BC was about protecting ourselves from various Outlands elements (somewhat pre-dates me). Wrath was about protecting ourselves from the Lich King. Cataclysm was about us protecting ourselves from Deathwing. MoP was a bit of a side trip, more an exploration, but turned into protecting ourselves from Garrosh. Now we're going to be protecting ourselves from the Iron Horde. Not sure what the difference is from a plot advancement point of view. Cataclysm arguably had the most plot development of all (Theramore destruction, Horde territory gains, etc) and most people consider that one to be pretty much a filler expansion of recycled content without a new world/continent to explore.

    2. Jay and Barry actually did not start the "crisis" but Hal and Alan did. I have both issues you speak of.

      It was one of the best series of all time. Might even be # 3 on my personal list. Watchmen was # 1 by a long shot and the malev way that bounced between magnus and rai had to be the second best mini story but not sure if you can count that as it was part of the two series, but an amazing act of story telling none the less.

      I don't like the door they opened with this. It seems like they are using it as a device to let people live in the past because people often say "how great would it be to play with those characters" so they are doing it as a grab to nostalgia more than anything else. It might be a fun expansion, but from a standpoint of story it is weak in theory to begin with and I do not have much hope for a decent build up from a "what if" story that will just be thrown away to from the get go.


      I would argue that cata had the worst story telling of any expansion to date, but for what you said, seeing change, it was the only one we actively got to see anything change. So I will give it that. Too bad it changed for the worst. Some areas I used to like to quest through are just unplayable since the redesign.

    3. Anon, Grumpy's former guild leader:

      No, what Barry started when he vibrated over to Earth 2 was the first silver/golden crossover. Now I suppose an argument could be made that without that initial crossover establishing the DC Multiverse permanently, that crisis would never have occurred. But I would not make it.

      I think the writers DC was hiring at the time made it inevitable that the golden age characters were coming back as themselves with their own continuity intact dating back to the 40s and earlier. Which lead inevitability lead to the "Crisis", as an alternate world was the only possible explanation for two Supermen, one from the WW2 era and another from the more modern times (then of the 60s 70s and 80s) and so on.

      The Alan Scott Green Lantern was significantly different in origin and weakness from the Hal Jordan GL. An alternate reality gave a logical explanation.

      So yea, I think Crisis was coming at least from the first time Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman and a few others were hired to pen a DC comic, though of course no one had any idea of such a grand adventure was down the road.

      Another way of looking at alternate reality is the H. Beam Piper sidewise time travel where one reality gives way to another slightly different version of the same reality till a "time zone" is filled with all the subtle variations of what could be.

      For example, one zone could be Rome Triumphant where the Roman Empire never fell, with an unending variety of how that plays out. Another zone could be the Macedonian-Greek zone where Alexander succeeds in establishing a world government for all the civilized lands of his time. Again that could play out in a multitude of ways.

      One particular line will become the focus and that is what we have in WoD, a single what if that is becoming a expansion pack. I think what has Grumpy somewhat concerned is the temptation to make another AR expac. The sky's the limit on it to be frank, but hopefully Blizzard will not use this particular technique again anytime soon.

    4. Sliders, a TV show from some years back, had some interesting alternate reality scenarios as well with things like you mentioned. They handled it "okay". It is a very touchy issue. Time travel is easier to deal with than alternate realities when it comes to story writing.

      One of the best time travel stories in comic books was timewalker from valiant when he tried to change things and somehow what he "changed" made what originally happen actually happen. It is a fun exercise in time travel writing and I enjoyed it.

      I know what you mean with the flash story, but for the crisis story it is generally considered, by everyone, that GL 40 was the start of the "crisis". Not the start of alternate universes, that was in flash, but the start of the crisis.

  4. Usual disclaimer: I suck at lore.

    Everything I'm hearing/reading about this aspect of WoD is saying that time travel from our perspective will be roughly zero. OUR reality won't be changing, not really.

    The reality on the other side of the portal, though, that'll be changing. So the portal will go to a different version of Draenor/Outlands. On a general level, I think it's silly to assume that the Dark Portal has been instantly teleporting us to a whole other world all along... maybe it is, but there's nothing to say that we aren't visiting Outlands (/Draenor) in the future, or the past, or how it is today. There's nothing to say that the DP has been taking us to "OUR" version of Outlands/Draenor, perhaps it has always taken us to some other timeline/reality version of it. I think we've all made some assumptions but it seems that those assumptions may have been premature.

    WoW has dealt with time travel / timelines / alternate realities as far back as I can remember... Caverns of Time, Bronze Dragonflight. It's nothing new, they've been planting seeds for this kind of expansion pretty much forever, and they're doing it in a way that'll have almost no impact on Azeroth, it'll only have an impact in the plot and story for WoD and perhaps beyond.

    Is it POSSIBLE that they'll then start messing with time in other ways? Sure, but that's no different than prior to the WoD announcement, that's always been an arrow they've had in their quiver. I don't think WoD makes that any more likely, in fact the way they chose to implement it (all time travel stuff is done by other people in another place, we only come into the plot once they threaten us now) indicates that they DON'T want to go in an alternate reality direction FOR US (Azeroth, Horde/Alliance, etc). They're doing it to tell a story and to give us a chance to go back to early Draenor, to finally give us the Draenei story that Draenei fans have been wanting forever. Probably the only story they CAN tell, really, and possibly one they'd planned when they first decided to bring in Draenei as a race, it's not like they've progressed their story more than incrementally (if at all) since then so they MUST have had a plan... I mean, the remains of an alien civilization struggling for survival? How can that turn into some sort of encompassing plotline in an MMO? The only way to do it would be to go to Draenor as we are or to go REALLY FAR back in time to earlier worlds which would be a much more complicated story and would have bigger implications... and that WOULD be a time travel expansion. They didn't go that route and I'm pretty sure that isn't just a coincidence.

    Of course, if in two years they announce the next expansion as Wrath of the Revamped Lich King, then I guess your concerns will be well founded. :)

    1. Yes, the story has nothing to do with time travel, we will not be time traveling at all. It is about the creation of an alternate reality.

      Lets say it is one where you went to college for physics and become a developer of a source of nuclear power that destroyed the world. A "what if" scenario.

      I think WoD makes it more likely because they are NOT messing with the time line. It gives them complete freedom to do whatever they want, story be damned. It is an alternate reality.

      I think you, like many others, are confusing or connecting the two differences between "time travel" and "alternate realities". This is AR not TT.

    2. The TT part comes in because we will be traveling to an AR that is set 35 years in the past. That's what confuses people.

    3. Yeap. But people do not realize it only "seems" like our past. To us it might look like 35 years ago, but to them it could be happening at the same time as our time. Their world could have just started 35 years after ours.

      That is the thing with alternate realities. It is possible to go to a world that has not suffered the sundering yet. It does not mean it is the past because it is that words present.

      Not sure if I explained that right. But there might be no TT involved at all, we just perceive it as such.

    4. @Jaeger I don't think we're going to be traveling back in time at all, we're going to be traveling to the present-day version of Draenor/Outlands as it is after Garrosh is done screwing with the history over there. It is possible that we'll travel back in time, say, 2 years after he traveled to but at that point I'm not sure why they'd bother since by doing that we COULD just go back those extra 2 years and stop him from making changes (if we decide we want things to stay as they actually happened over there).

      When the pre-6.0 event patch hits all of the Garrosh time travel thing will probably have already happened... he'll be at the point of planning or being ready to invade Azeroth with the Iron Horde army. We go through the portal and stop him. None of that requires us to time travel unless they choose to write it that way and I'm seeing strong indications that they want to avoid that. We're just going through the portal as always and ending up in Draenor instead of Outlands.

      Let me try this another way... let's say that Draenor is 35 years as the spaceship flies from Azeroth, flying with whatever technology exists over there to get us home. We go through the portal, immediately hop on a ship and head back to Azeroth, arriving in 35 years. In MY take on what's coming, 35 years will have passed on Azeroth since we left and it'll be the same Azeroth - same timeline, same reality, however you want to phrase it... in a time travel take on it, if we travel back 35 years as you're proposing, we'd be arriving back on Azeroth at the same time that we left it (and if we're going back 35 years to an AR, it'd also be a different Azeroth than we left).

      We'll see how it goes but I'd put strong money on it being a lot closer to the former than the latter. I'm not even sure there will be any sort of AR slant to it... the revamped Draenor will be the current reality of what's on the other side of the portal, we'll have to go to CoT or similar to go back to Outlands as it was in BC and possibly while leveling, too.

      They just wanted to tell a Draenei (and Orc) story without confusing the hell out of us. Based on the reaction and theories I'm seeing, though (including my own), I'm not sure if time travel would have been any more confusing. :)

    5. That is what I am thinking as well. Not time travel but alternate reality where their world is just not in perfect "time synch" with ours.

      It might be 35 years ago as we think of it, but that is their current time. Being it is an alternate reality, they can just be behind us time wise so to speak.

    6. We are traveling to a Draenor set in a parallel universe that is about 35 years in the past. How that parallel universe came to be doesn't really matter. It could have been created by Garrosh traveling back in time, or it could just be a slower parallel universe or a parallel universe that started later or whatever... I'm more inclined to think that Garrosh traveled back in time and started messing with stuff, which created a parallel universe with a different history than our own universe. Maybe Blizz will give us an answer, but doesn't really matter. Things that happen there have nothing to do with our own history.

      Anyway, he won't have been there very long before he starts connecting the dark portal on that Draenor to our dark portal on Azeroth, so he can invade our Azeroth with his new Iron Horde. We will then go through the 'red' dark portal to the alternate 'past' Draenor to defeat the Iron Horde and stop their invasion of Azeroth.

      Blizz still needs to explain how we'll get to Outlands though. If you're under 90, I don't know if the dark portal will be red or green (either has it's continuity problems), but 90+ will definitely still need a way to get to Outlands.

      I still think it's too complicated for the general player-base. I get it, but time travel and alternate universes are normal things for someone who's consumed as much sci-fi/fantasy as I have. Having a lot of experience with modern physics and relatively doesn't hurt either...

      Blizz should have added some slides during Blizzcon or on the websites about the timelines and alternate universes and whatnot; might have helped reduce the confusion, but perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

    7. The going back and changing things to break into its own timeline is the one that makes the most sense and might be the easiest to explain. I would guess that is the one they go with.

      From what I gather the "red" dark portal will only appear visually, it will still bring you to the old outlands. It will only bring you to the new zone when you are on the quest.

      Just like the boat on SWs dock only brings you to vashir when you are on the quest, otherwise it goes to northrend. The portal will only bring you to there when you are on the quest. Once you get there and open it up there will most likely be another portal in the main city somewhere just like all the cata zones and pandaria.

  5. I know very little lore - basically, what you get from occasionally skimming the quest text as you try to blow through the levels. In otherwords, nada.

    Reading this post brings into sharp relief how little I know. To me it seems like they thought, "More orcs! You can never have enough orcs. What's the most orcs we can find? Back on their homeworld. What BS contorted rational can we come up with that allows us to go play with the most orcs possible? Time travel back to the golden age of orcs! woo! Problem solved."

    Some spoil sport brings up, "Um, but that means it will end up different than Outland and we still need Outland to level people."

    "First off, you're fired for raining on my orc parade. We could just boost everyone to 90, then we don't have to worry about it. Everyone wants to do endgame raids anyway and start playing with all the orcs, no one wants to level. Besides I want the orcs to take over Azeroth and everyone be their slaves, Outland gets in the way so it goes. Everyone'll want to play orcs after that. woo! Orcs forever!"

    "But we don't have the manpower for that, it'll take years to rework everything. We can't wait 5 years for the next xpac. Your stock options will plummet in value."

    "I thought I fired you. Security! Hrm, okay, then instead of time travel we do an alternate reality. Then the next xpac can be an alternate version of Azeroth where the orcs take over. Excellent, gives me more time to think of cool orc things we can do. And we can do those pornographic female orc animations I've been wanting to do too."

    1. You know I would not put something like that past them. They wanted to play with orcs and figured out a way to do it. Not to tell a story, not to advance the lore, not to view history, just to play with orcs.

      So the concept made the expansion, not the story.