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Virtues of Virtual Training

Smoke3723 September 24, 2011 User blog:Smoke3723

I suck at competitive sports. And competitive non-sports. And competitive everything that involves being observed by other people. At school they observed my ineptitude and tore me to shreds over it. I took silent satisfaction in knowing what the bullies did not: I can clear the Azure Lake in 14 seconds!

Safe from the distracting gazes of spectators, the "sport" of video games is the perfect way for the competition-impaired such as myself to demonstrate just how skilled they are. In general, though, these scores remain in the saved memory and remain indecipherable to family and friends who refuse to learn anything about computers.

In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the Virtual Training system shares the scores from the challenges across the Internet. People who know exactly what those times mean, and what constitutes a good score, can see them freely. When you register friends, you can compare your scores with them; this allows you to demonstrate your worldwide ranking and make your computer-unsavvy rellies understand just how good your score is. The combination allows us gamer-sportsmen to experience the pride of being ranked, yet still maintains the relaxed and solitary atmosphere.

While there is pride in being ranked, there's still no competitive streak. My only goal when doing the virtual training challenges is to do the best I can do, not whether or not I can beat everyone else. If my time for a Short Free-Run Course makes me world number one, but I know I've 'stumbled' in making that time, then it's not good enough and I'll need to run the course again and again until it's perfect. By contrast, if my time for a Long Free-Run Course makes me number hundred-million in all the world but I know I haven't stumbled while making that time, then that's fine too. In general, I simply can't be bothered trying to improve on my times.

After all, just look at the times recorded for the Stealth Assassination courses. A large chunk of the top hundreds all have the score of 6.66 seconds. Oddly enough, the names next to those scores come in exactly the same order for all of the Stealth Assassination courses. Can they possibly be genuine? Well, the only way one can kill 8 guards in 6 seconds is if those 8 are all conveniently lined up to receive a Flying Knives attack. No, I think the highest numbers on the leaderboards are hacked or something, and we can all consider ourselves about 200 or so ranks above what the computer tells us.

Although the score-sharing means we are playing only for prosperity, it still encourages us to do better. I was satisfied with simply having a gold medal with each challenge, but as I befriended others online (total strangers whom I've never met and know only by their GamerTags) all had scores well above mine. And since I had played these guys on Multiplayer, I decided that these scores were genuine and not rigged. So I went back through my scores and experimented, to see if by some miracle I could beat those gamers who so thoroughly defeated me on the Multiplayer maps.

With the inspiration I was able to improve my times. I found new routes for the flag runs, considered the various angles from which to approach the guards, and perfected my execution timing. My skills and scores increased, and my times were the best out of the half-dozen or so on my Friends list.

Of course, the record-breaking drive goes both ways: soon enough one of my Friends beat my scores and times. Not being the competitive type, I let it stay there. Eventually I felt ready to take another try at the record: and try and try and try. Finally I clawed my way back to the top of my Friends list, but the pseudo-rivalry between us continues to this day. Every so often I check my scores, and when they're beaten by a friend I take my time and see if I can beat them.

Not that I always know when to quit. Having scored 1 024 points on the Short Kill Streak (32 corpses in 45 seconds) and gained a four-digit score, I decided to rest on my laurels. At least until one of my Friends managed to equal my score: my first reaction on seeing it was you bastard!. I then set myself the task of doing what I had previously deemed to be practically impossible: kill 33 guards in 45 seconds. (I'll let the publicly-visible scoreboard be the judge of my success.)

Sometimes, though, great scores just sneak up on you. Another reason I enjoy the Kill Streak challenges is it allows us to enjoy Ezio's various combat animations. Watch in awe as the great assassin ducks, weaves, stabs....

It was during the Medium Kill Streak that it happened. In 1:45 I did not make a single misstep and 57 guards fell to my blades. I say blades since a total of 16 were used: 15 Throwing Knives pierced the digital ragdolls while the remaining kills were made by the Short Blade. At least one tried to grab me, only to be thrown to the floor: even this did not break my stride. 57 squared is 3 259, and that score placed me at #99 on the leaderboard. Out of 97 900.

Maybe the high-scores of Virtual Training aren't rigged, after all.

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