The excitement was palpable but the action was strictly virtual in Kresge Auditorium, the scene of this year’s final tournament for 6.370, MIT’s artificial intelligence programming contest. A large and diverse crowd turned out Saturday night to cheer on their favorite programmers as the programs — virtual autonomous robot armies — battled against each other on-screen.
Emerging victorious from the double elimination tournament was the team My Other Programming Language is Scheme, comprising Mark M. Tobenkin ’07 and Dany Qumsiyeh ’07. Tobenkin and Qumsiyeh managed to rally from behind to twice defeat team Battletoads (composed of Daniel M. Kane ’07, Thomas D. Belulovich ’09, Adam P. Rosenfield ’08, and Griffin Chronis ’08) to claim the top prize of $5,000 as well as the award for having the army with fastest attack speed.
Thus, for the second year in a row, a team relegated to the loser’s bracket in the early rounds of the tournament came from behind to win it all. This year’s final match was especially melodramatic, as winning team My Other Programming Language is Scheme lost the first game in the best-of-three final match against runner up Battletoads, who took home the $4,000 second prize as well as an award for best overall navigation algorithm.
Event directors Adam V. Donovan ’07, Matthew M. Papi ’07, Yang Yang ’07, and Arash Ferdowsi ’08 said that changing to the best-of-three format was one of many gameplay alterations this year. With the new format, “teams have a chance to learn from their earlier games,” said Donovan.
Previously limited to Boston-area college students, parts of the contest this year were accessible to teams anywhere in the world. Papi said that teams had submitted programs from as far away as South Korea, Costa Rica, and Portugal.
Another major gameplay change was the revamping of the energy system (“energons”) that powers the virtual armies. “Last year, there was a lot of energons flowing around,” said Jasper Lin G, who won last year’s event but helped the directors design the gameplay for this year’s contest. With the changes, the programmers were forced to design algorithms to have their armies strategically manage and distribute their energy.
The changes led to a final tournament with considerable diversity of strategies. For example, third-place finishers Georgian n00bs (Zviad Metreveli ’10, Lawrence L. Chan ’10, Michael R. Fettiplace ’06, and Gleb Kuznetsov ’10) executed a very defensive, methodical strategy. In the early rounds it was wildly succesful, but in the later rounds, a shift to a larger battleground map favored the fast, attacking strategies of Battletoads and My Other Programming Language is Scheme.
The end result was that the final battles between Battletoads and My Other Programming Language is Scheme were frantic, fast-paced see-saw contests.
The action delighted the crowd, which included not only 6.370 participants, but a large number of MIT students, alumni, and corporate sponsors, as well as a crop of young students from Bay Farm Montessori School in Duxbury, Mass.
For the sponsors, the event was a chance to recruit MIT students. Matthew Flint, lead research engineer at BAE Systems, a defense and aerospace automation firm and a principal sponsor of the event, said that “for BAE as a company, this contest is very closely aligned with what we do every day.”
The primary school students from Bay Farm Montessori School had different reasons for their attendance. “Everyone’s bragging about it, that they saw it last year,” said Ian Wright, age 9, referring to his peers who’d made the trek to last year’s final. “It’s cool and fun to watch,” said Abby Austin, age 11, whose mother Julia works at vmware, another sponsor of the event.
Neither Tobenkin nor his partner has yet decided how to spend their prize money, they said. “With time, I ruled out buying a digital oscilliscope,” Tobenkin said.
Qumsiyeh and Tobenkin agreed that it was very surprising and exciting to win the tournament. They said that in the final rounds of developing their program, they pulled quite a few all-nighters and changed their program to better deal with Battletoads’ fast attack strategy. “Most of our time was spent on code that we threw away,” Tobenkin said.
In eighth place was Jaime Quinonez ’07, the only of the top eight who was also a finalist last year. Filling out the rest of the finalists were bloodthirsty lawngnomes (Daniel A. Whitlow G) in seventh place, CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet in sixth place (Kevin P. Modzelewski G), CTU Cambridge in fifth place (Daniel R. Gulotta ’07, Albert R. Ni ’09, James T. Albrecht ’08), and LEEEEROOOY JENKINS! in fourth place (Trevor B. Rundell ’09, Rocco K. Repetski ’08, and Eric A. Khatchadourian ’06).