Home Artificial Intelligence Robot armies duke it out in Battlecode’s epic on-screen battles

Robot armies duke it out in Battlecode’s epic on-screen battles

Robot armies duke it out in Battlecode’s epic on-screen battles

In a packed room in MIT’s Stata Center, a whole lot of digital robots collide across an enormous screen projected on the front of the room. A crowd of scholars within the audience gasps and cheers because the battle’s final result hangs within the balance. In an upper corner of the screen, the individuals who have programmed the robot armies’ strategies narrate the motion in real time.

This isn’t the newest e-sports event, it’s MIT’s long-running Battlecode competition. Open to student teams world wide, Battlecode tasks participants with writing the code to program entire armies — not only individual bots — before they duke it out. The resulting dramatic, often-unexpected outcomes are decided based on whose programming strategy aligns best with the parameters of the sport and the circumstances of the battle.

The unique competition pushes teams to spend hours coding and refining their armies in a quest for the superbly crafted game plan. Since 2007, the competition has involved highschool and college students from world wide, upping the mental ante as individuals with diverse backgrounds tackle the open-ended challenge.

“We alter it yearly, so there’s latest rules, latest varieties of robots, latest actions they’ll do against one another, and a brand new goal for the right way to win,” Battlecode co-president and MIT sophomore Serena Li said before this 12 months’s final match on Feb. 5. “The strategies change yearly since the game changes.”

MIT was especially well-represented on this 12 months’s final tournament. Of the 16 finalist teams, three were made up entirely of MIT students, while one other included three MIT students and one Yale University student. The winning team was made up of scholars from Carnegie Mellon University and Georgia Tech.

Although this 12 months’s competition is officially closed, the exertions and long hours required for achievement in Battlecode often create a bond amongst participants that lasts far beyond the tight timeline of the competition.

“The spirit of the competitors is what makes this system so great,” fellow co-president and MIT junior Andy Wang says. “There’s all the time teams seeking to create increasingly more advanced robots and heuristics to unravel this thing, and persons are putting in all this work and dedication, only to be matched by competitors doing the identical thing. It creates a extremely incredible atmosphere yearly.”

Setting the code

For the reason that early 2000s, Battlecode has given students a specified period of time and computing power to put in writing a program for armies of bots that battle in a video-game-style tournament.

When this system kicks off in January, participants are given the Battlecode software and the 12 months’s game parameters. Throughout Independent Activities Period (IAP), which MIT students can take for course credit, participants learn to make use of artificial intelligence, pathfinding, distributed algorithms, and more to make one of the best possible strategy.

“This can be a game that’s too complicated to play manually,” explains MIT senior Isaac Liao, who won the foremost tournament last 12 months. “You’ll be able to’t control every unit because there are a whole lot of them and also you’re going for two,000 turns.”

Battlecode includes tracks for first-time MIT participants, U.S. college students (including MIT students who’ve competed before), international college students, and highschool teams.

“The power for anyone to compete really opens up the chance for everybody to try their skills on an excellent playing field,” Wang says. “High schoolers and international students do very well, and it’s cool because plenty of these teams will stick together and keep contacting one another even after highschool.”

Following a month of refining their strategies, teams begin competing in tournament matches that lead as much as the ultimate event. Battlecode’s organizers fly within the international finalists and set them up in a hotel, where they often meet in person for the primary time after weeks of online backwards and forwards. Liao, who has competed for several years, says he still keeps in contact with former competitors.

The ultimate battle is played out in front of a live audience at MIT, with the highest teams receiving money prizes.

Over time, there have been many memorable events. One 12 months an MIT student broke the sport by determining the right way to leave the software space designed for contestants. (He kindly informed organizers of the flaw before the actual tournament). One other 12 months organizers threw a brand new variable into the battles: zombies. A team made the finals by hiding a bot within the corner of the screen and letting the remainder of the bots turn to zombies to eat the opposition.

This 12 months’s total prize pool was over $20,000. Organizers made about 200 T-shirts to offer out before the ultimate event and quickly ran out.

The unpredictable final match makes for a tense scene as competitors are given a mic to elucidate the strategies unfolding on screen in real time.

Wang says organizing the event, which has increased in complexity with the inclusion of international players, is hectic but fun.

“The Battlecode members are all really friendly and welcoming, and it’s an amazing time running the actual event and meeting all these latest people and seeing this project you’re employed on all semester come together,” Wang says.

Indeed, the final word legacy of Battlecode is perhaps the friendships formed through the extraordinary competition.

“Quite a lot of teams are product of students who haven’t worked together too closely,” Wang says. “They found one another through the team-building process or they know one another casually, but plenty of them find yourself sticking together and go on to do plenty of things together. It’s a option to form these lifetime acquaintances.”

Skills that last a lifetime

Various current and former players noted the abilities required to have success in Battlecode transfer well to startups.

“Moderately than other competitions where it’s just you in front of a pc, there’s lots to be gained from teamwork in Battlecode,” says senior and former president Jerry Mao. “That basically transfers into industry and into the true world.”

This 12 months’s sponsors included Dropbox and Regression Games, which were each founded by past participants of Battlecode. One other past sponsor, Amplitude, was founded by Spenser Skates ’10 and Curtis Liu ’10, who met during Battlecode and have been working together ever since.

“There are plenty of parallels between what you’re attempting to do in Battlecode and what you find yourself having to do within the early stages of a startup,” Liu says. “You have got limited resources, limited time, and also you’re trying to perform a goal. What we found is trying plenty of various things, putting our ideas on the market and testing them with real data, really helped us give attention to the things that truly mattered. That approach to iteration and continual improvement set the muse for the way we approach constructing products and startups.”

Beyond startups, participants and organizers said Battlecode can prepare students for quite a lot of careers, from quantitative trading to training AI systems to conducting research. Perhaps that’s why students keep coming back.

“An important skills for achievement are plenty of iteration and perseverance and willingness to adapt on the fly — mainly to vary the way you’re working quickly,” Wang says. “You see what other teams are doing and also you’re not only competing but additionally talking to them, studying what they’re doing well, and adding their strengths to your bots. I believe those skills are necessary anywhere, whether you’re constructing a startup or doing research or working in an enormous company.”


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