Pixie Dust Or Perfectly Plausible?


One of the most anticipated games of the year, Assassin’s Creed 3, is now out, and the word on the street is that it’s fantastic. However, I’ve been seeing a lot of people saying that the first mission is “completely unreal”, “Not possible in real life”, “You’d have to be God to not be spotted in reality”.


While I haven’t gotten to play as much of the series as I would like, I have watched/read enough on it to know that the moves and methods are largely realistic, so hearing these comments intrigued me enough to watch the first mission. As I suspected, it appears that these conclusions are coming from simply not being familiar with certain aspects of concealment, human observation, and the time period, so I thought I would explain a few things that I noticed people seemed to be ignoring, and or might not be aware of. Fair Warning: This commentary will spoil a chunk of the first mission, so if you don’t want to find out what happens, play the mission before you read on.

The basis of the mission is that you are at a theater, in the lower level, in back, and your target is in an upper box just to the right of the stage. Your route consists of getting up onto the wall from a back room and working your way towards the stage and upwards along the left side of the theater interior. After getting into an empty upper box, you then work your way across the top of the stage to the right side of the theater. Yes, it definitely is not a risk free route, but as I am going to attempt to show, it is not “impossible”.

Human Element

First, the people at the theater. Many have said that everyone at the theater should have seen the protagonist working his way along the wall. While there are other aspects involved, I’m looking specifically at the people. I’ve learned over the years that a lot of times people overestimate their ability to observe things around them. I know this is true of me at times. I would say though that my observation skills are above average, but that is because I’ve been working on improving my observation skills for years. I read about a simple test where you think of a place that you see every day, and picture everything you can remember about it, then compare the picture in your mind with what’s actually there next time you are there. You’ll miss the vast majority of what is there, but if you keep practicing, you can condition yourself to be more observant and recall more (think Jason Bourne). A classic psychology example I’ve seen is a person is told to count the number of times a ball is passed among a group of people on a video. While they are passing the ball a person in a gorilla suit walks into the group, stays there for a bit, then moves through the group and off the video. It turns out that the majority of people who perform this task never even realize that the gorilla is there.  We tend to get tunnel vision when watching something like a movie, or paying attention to something specific.  In the game, you are not making the climb before the opera, when everyone is milling about and more likely to look around. You go during the opera, when the vast majority of the people are focusing on it. In addition, any slight noises you might make climbing are masked, which seems to be missed or written off by the nay-sayers. One final though on the people: the men here are going to be similar to the type who would be in the British army, which was pounded by the French and Indian Forces in the French and Indian war not that many years early in ambushes rarely catching sight of their enemies, even with almost no cover on the battlefield.

So basically it boils down to this: if you aren’t breaking into the line of sight of someone, chances are fairly good that you won’t be noticed in this climb.

Disappearing In Sight

Notice, in the shadows, wearing dark clothing, and not in the line of sight.

Next, it does not seem too well known that you do not need to be behind something to remain unseen.  Someone who is trained in evasion can often disappear into mere shadows.  For example, I’ve read numerous accounts from trappers, cowboys  and other outdoors-men of the old west of how American Indian braves could cross areas of plains without being seen that you would swear didn’t have enough cover to hide a rattlesnake.  The trick is using what you have available, like shadows, to break up your profile.  That is the main idea of camouflage.  Lots of creatures, as well as humans, pick up things based on their profile.  But the camouflage breaks up the outline, making it harder to detect.  For example, if you were looking for a truck in the woods, you would be watching for the profile out a truck standing out though the largely vertical lines that you find in woods.  But if it is covered in a camo tarp, thus breaking up its distinctive outline, it is much harder to spot.  For a more recent example, I just recently read an article by Minnesota Outdoor News writer Gary Clancy regarding camouflage when hunting.  He talked about using the shadows to your advantage, and the example he gave was how when he served in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were experts at hiding large numbers of troops in ambush in areas where there was almost no cover that you would traditionally think of when trying to hide.  They did this without camouflage  simply by blending into shadows with their dark colored clothing.

Let There Not Be Light

Modern day Royal Opera House

Finally, the shadows themselves.  I would hope everyone who played this game knows that there were no electric lights back then, but what is likely not known by the average gamer is that the Royal Opera House where the mission takes place did not get gaslight until 1817, and limelight until the 1830’s.  Thus, during the time period this event is set in the theater was lit by candles and oil lamps, and both tend to cast extremely dark shadows.  In addition, since it was during an act, the lighting in the seating areas would be low, so as to allow the stage to be better seen by the audience, just as the lights are lowered during a movie in modern times, thus increasing the shadows within the auditorium.

Most Dangerous Point?

Crossing the stage

In its entirety, the only time I thought you would be in great danger of being noticed is when two pieces of the set that are on pulleys behind the stage slide down a few feet when you jump onto them, but as the only people I saw back there were a few actors getting ready to go onstage, I can see how you wouldn’t be noticed, as they would likely be too focused on getting into their characters to notice any sounds from above, or may have simply attributed it to prepping for a scenery change.

Plausible, or Busted?

In summary, we not only have the shadows and someone trained to evade detection, but also the fact that he was dressed in such a way that he can utilize the surrounding environment. Combine these facts with the tendency of people to not be aware of their surroundings when viewing something like an opera, this “impossible” mission becomes one that is actually completely plausible.

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