There was excitement in the air on the evening of Feb. 1, as spectators filed into Kresge Auditorium for the BattleCode 2008 final tournament. Thousands of dollars in prizes were at stake as the teams sought to prove their software’s mettle.
Some of those in the dense crowd were 6.370 participants fulfilling their mandatory attendance requirement, others were friends of finalists, and some were just curious individuals. Others were prospective employers from software companies that hoped to recruit the contestants.
Joel M. Stein, ’10, a BattleCode director, praised the contestants’ productivity as he began the event; he said that the competitors wrote more than 275,000 lines of code. “At a rate of 30 useful lines per hour and $20 an hour, the code would be worth more than $180,000,” said Stein. The teams, according to Stein, were made up of the “best of the best of MIT programmers.”
BattleCode, he said, is a real-time strategy game. (Blizzard Entertainment, developer of real-time strategy game StarCraft, is one of the event’s sponsors.) The game involves robots individually and autonomously controlled by code written by the contestants. This year’s game required teams’ robots to capture and hold territory, or to eliminate the other team entirely. The tournament was played in double-elimination brackets.
The tournament began with Team Darwin vs. Bettercode: one man, Daniel A. Whitlow ’10, against a team of four. Describing his name and his strategy, Whitlow said, “At first the plan was to make something that adapted to everything but then I decided to always throw scissors and attack.” Darwin lost the first set of three matches against Bettercode, but he continued to win in the loser’s bracket before finally being eliminated. He came in fourth overall and was the highest-ranked team containing only one entrant.
The second set of three matches was between setBang and Code’s Compiling. Code’s Compiling got quickly beaten in only two matches.
After winning against Code’s Compiling, setBang continued winning sets until they encountered the undefeated In Memory of James Albrecht, composed of team members Albert R. Ni ’09, Hyun S. Kim ’09, Yufei Zhao ’10 and Daniel Gulotta ’07. The team is named after James T. Albrecht ’08, who died in the summer of 2007 while working in New York City as an intern for D.E. Shaw & Co.
In the first set of matches against In Memory Of James Albrecht, setBang lost the first two, leaving In Memory of James Albrecht undefeated.
Because it was a double-elimination tournament, setBang encountered In Memory Of James Albrecht again in what turned out to be a thrilling conclusion to the event. Shocking everyone, setBang gave In Memory Of James Albrecht its first loss in the first match of three. In Memory of James Albrecht lost because of a lack of “a bit of aggressiveness,” according to one of the team’s members. But In Memory of James Albrecht beat setBang in the intense two remaining games, winning $5000, a trip to New York courtesy of D.E. Shaw, and “eternal glory,” in the words of Stein.
The finalists had varied strategies. Some teams focused on defense, some on offense, and others on adapting to their opponents’ strategies.
“The winning strategy had a rock solid implementation and didn’t lose a single best of 3 match in any of our tournaments,” said Stein. The strategy focused on regrouping, keeping the army strong, and protecting the team’s crucial archons — energy-producing robots with the ability to create other robots.
Second prize, $4000, was awarded to setBang, comprised of Enrique J. Cintron ’11, Adam J. Spanbauer ’11, and Shawn S. Westerdale ’11. Third place, $3000, was awarded to Bad Dudes, made up of Thomas D. Belulovich ’09, Griffin Chronis ’08, and Adam P. Rosenfield ’08. The top sixteen teams earned cash prizes.
But the prizes were not only distributed based on final rankings. “Best Strategy,” awarded by D.E. Shaw, was presented to Bettercode. “Most Helpful Bug Reports” went to Trite Ablative Maelstrom. According to Stein, the team members of Trite Ablative Maelstrom decompiled the BattleCode engine and sent a fix to the directors. “Best Team Name,” awarded by BAE Systems, went to Chuck Norris Knows if a Program Halts. One of the winners of “Best Team Formation,” HEARTBEATZ, formed the letters “LOL” with their units before starting every match.