Themed Challenges

This is the third in the series of posts about Mass Effect Multiplayer Challenges and Halls of Fame. In the previous one I wrote about Platinum Solos Hall of Fame. Here, I’ll talk about fan-created themed challenges.

Themed challenges for ME3MP are almost as old as the game itself. At the time when I became aware of them, somewhere during 2014, nearly all of the 20+ challenge series you can find at Prestacious’ Challenges were already in place and had long lists of completions in their halls of fame. Most of them were authored by Prestacious, the founder of the concept and the owner of the site. But other authors contributed to the collection too, most notably AW_FC_1986, who put together several popular series and is one of the few players to have completed all or nearly all challenges in existence.

But, what are themed challenges?

The challenge is to complete a Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer match with prescribed character(s) and weapon(s) and satisfy any additional requirements, such as obtaining certain medals, or playing in a specific way. Challenges may be for solo players, duos, trios or full, four-player teams.

The theme is the context or backstory for an individual challenge or a series of challenges. It comes in the form of a brief piece of text and an illustration that may or may not pretend to be serious in terms of lore: some are amazingly elaborate and lore-correct, others are but a thinly veiled excuse for one setup or another, and yet others are meant to be just plain funny.

Let’s take a look at an example. The most popular challenges are those of the N7 Challenge Series. It consists of 21 solo challenges of increasing difficulty. This series, as all others, has some general rules that apply to all challenges, as well as specific requirements of individual challenges. A player proves they completed the match under these constraints by posting a screenshot or a video to the Themed Challenges and Hall of Fame forum thread.

The first challenge in the series, titled “EDI”, can be completed on either Silver, Gold or Platinum difficulty; if playing on Platinum, Armored Compartments are allowed and it is sufficient to get the Mission Successful achievement, whereas on Gold and Silver, Armored Compartments are forbidden and a Full Extraction is required. It must be played on Firebase White, against Cerberus, with the Alliance Infiltrator Unit (based on the titular character EDI from the single-player campaign), and it can be completed using either the N7 Hurricane, or the N7 Eagle, or both. Of course, one must complete the challenge alone, or solo.

For the purposes of search/indexing and categorization (important for the archives of submitted runs), challenges are tabulated in the ChallengeDetails file with the following properties/columns:

  • Challenge — the name of the challenge or the variant of the challenge. In this case, the value would be “EDI”.
  • Base — this corresponds to a challenge as listed on the site. There can be several variants of a challenge with the same name (for example, when the rules are such that one of two weapons can be chosen). These variants would have the same Base, but a different Challenge name. There are about 400 distinct Base values, and about 450 Challenges variants. In this case, the base would be “EDI” too, because there’s only one variant of the challenge.
  • Alt — the alternative title for the challenge, usually placing it within the context of the series. In this case, the value is “N1.1” because it’s the first of the three challenges for the N1 title within the progression to N7.
  • IsBonus — a boolean value (0/1) indicating whether the challenge is an optional bonus (1) or a requirement for the completion of the series (0). Bonus challenges can be skipped and do not enter the calculation of cumulative time taken for a series, which is used to determine leaderboard placements. In this case, the value is 0, as this series doesn’t have any bonus challenges.
  • Series — the name of the challenge series the challenge belongs to. In this case, it’s “N7 Challenge Series”. Unlike the previous properties, this one isn’t free-form, but must take one of the values predefined in the list of all challenge series.
  • Type — Solo, Duo, Trio or Team. These values are also constrained by data validation. In this case, it would be Solo.
  • Difficulty — most challenges can be done on different difficulties, so this was a bit tricky. The options that proved the most convenient are: BronzeAndUp, BronzeOnly, SilverAndUp… and so on to PlatinumOnly. In this case, the value is SilverAndUp.

Next follows a series of columns for the map, enemy, proscribed characters and their weapons. This has the same data types as the corresponding columns in the Platinum Solos Hall of Fame, only complicated by the fact that a challenge may involve more than one player.

Now it gets a bit messy. The following properties attempt to capture the complexity of challenge rules:

  • Armored Compartments — are either Allowed, Not Allowed or Allowed on Platinum only. This rule is usually series-wide, but there may be exceptions. In the case of EDI, the value is “Allowed on Platinum only”, per the global rules for the series.
  • Missile Use — can be Unrestricted, Restricted, Restricted on Platinum only or Not allowed. Restricted usually means missiles can only be used on objective waves or in specific situations (for example, to save another player from being instantly killed by a boss-tier enemy). As above, this is usually regulated at the level of the series. In the case of EDI, the value is “Unrestricted”.
  • Medigel Use — can similarly be Unrestricted, Restricted, Restricted (Gold and below), Not allowed, or Not allowed (Gold and below). Here and elsewhere, challenge requirements may depend on difficulty (to make lower difficulty runs more challenging, duh). In the case of EDI, the value is again “Unrestricted”.
  • Geth Scanner — is either Allowed, Not allowed, or Not allowed (Gold and below). In the case of EDI, it is “Allowed”.
  • Cyclonics [Use] — being the gear that increases shields and thus has arguably the greatest effect on survivability of all equipment, Cyclonics can, like Medigel, be Unrestricted, Restricted, Restricted (Gold and below), Not allowed, or Not allowed (Gold and below). With EDI, it is “Unrestricted”.
  • Misc Restrictions — these three columns (no challenges have more, and most have fewer) try to generalize the various additional restrictions, such as demanding a certain character build, limiting the use of consumables other than missiles and medigel, or limiting them in some specific way (for example, the “hardcore” variant of the challenge “While They Reach the Normandy” in the “Tales from the Trenches” series has the following instructions: cannot use two types of consumables — missiles, ops packs, medigel or clips), or gear. This is where I gave up trying to capture every, often arbitrary, detail of challenge instructions. If a challenge that comes up in search has Misc Restrictions, the user is advised to read the description of the challenge for details. In the case of EDI, these columns are empty.
  • Gameplay restrictions — specify how the challenge is to be played, or rather, how it’s not to be played. The values — No pizza running, No hack glitching, No incendiary glitch, No pizza running and hack glitching, No clever use of game mechanics and No bleedouts — mostly concern the [ab]use of some known bugs that can make the game unduly non-challenging. Again, EDI doesn’t have this type of restriction.

In the end is a group of columns detailing the various requirements for the completion of the challenge. There are too many to enumerate here, but the most common are Mission Successful, Full Extraction, medals for Waves Survived, Weapon/Melee/Biotic/Tech Kills, or a proscribed number of Bronze/Silver/Gold medals. For EDI, the only requirement is “Full Extraction (Mission Successful on Platinum)”.

The last column, titled “Special Rules or Requirements” takes a boolean value, with the value of 1 meaning that the data model cannot capture the complexity of challenge instructions. In the case of EDI, the value is 0. But out of about 450 challenge variants, almost 150 has 1 in this column. That means that a third of the source material cannot be completely described by the model. Despite this seemingly defeating statistic, the data model does a good job as the basis of the search functionality and is a necessary part of the archive of challenge runs (to be discussed in a future post).

With few and simple rules, EDI fit the data model without friction. Let’s study another example: the “Snap Inspection”, the second challenge in week 14 of Tales from the Trenches. Here’s the challenge description as stated on the site:

Conditions: Combat Reapers on Condor

  • Harcore: Mission successful, no bleedouts, missiles only allowed to break a sync kill;
  • Insanity: Mission successful, missiles only allowed to break a sync kill or against targets;

Characters & Weapons:

  • Krogan Warlord with Graal Spike Thrower or Claymore
  • Turian Ghost Infiltrator with Phaeston or Argus

And these are the series-wide rules:

Hardcore difficulty:

  • Mission Successful on Gold required
  • Armored compartments not permitted
  • Missiles only permitted on objective waves. Not on extraction.

Insanity difficulty: 

  • Mission Successful on Platinum required
  • Armored compartments not permitted

Here and elsewhere (with the exception of the First Weekly Themed Solo Challenges), hardcore is an unnecessarily idiosyncratic way of saying Gold difficulty, and insanity of saying Platinum difficulty.

The choice of weapons for each of the two characters turns this one challenge into four challenge variants (Snap Inspection I, II, III and IV) with the same Base (Snap Inspection). Variant I is Krogan Warlord with Graal Spike Thrower and Turian Ghost with Phaeston; variant II, Krogan Warlord with Claymore and Turian Ghost with Phaeston; and so on. No matter the players’ choices, matches played per any of these specifications will be archived as runs for Snap Inspection, and the Tales from the Trenches Hall of Fame has a single section for this challenge. At the same time, searching either for challenges with Graal Spike Thrower or Argus will list variants of Snap Inspection that offer those weapons.

Apart from the weapons, the four variants are exactly the same, and exactly as you’d expect them based on the rules above, so I won’t list all their properties. The interesting bits concern Missile Use. It is tabulated as Restricted, but the exact type of restriction isn’t captured by the data model (thus there’s a “1” in the Special Rules or Requirements column). On Gold difficulty, missiles are allowed only to break a “sync-kill” (which irreversibly disables one player till the end of a wave); on Platinum, they are also allowed for assassinating enemy targets on objective waves.

This type of requirement only became popular with newer challenge series, as the players interested in this sort of thing became fewer and more skilled, needing additional constraints to make the game more difficult than usual. This is one of the reasons I didn’t want to encode it into the data model. The other is that the diversity of “unusual” rules is huge, and capturing one or a few wouldn’t solve the problem, while capturing them all would bloat the model out of proportion.

Imperfect as it may be, it works pretty well and it has needed no serious modifications in the three years of my tenure as the curator of ME3MP Halls of Fame. More importantly, at least from a personal point of view, it was an exciting project and an awesome learning experience.

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