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The Webb Family's Adventures with MIT‘s Battlecode

by Afiya Webb

         

What is MIT Battlecode? Have you ever seen the TV show BattleBots? Battlecode is similar to that, but way safer. Battlecode is a virtual competition where teams of at least one programmer can battle other programmers in a virtual artificial intelligence competition. It is hosted by students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It sounds very serious, but actually the challenges are very silly and family friendly. This year, the battle was called “Bread Wars.” Ducks of many shapes and abilities were programmed to fight for bread on virtual ponds of many creative arrangements. One pond was even shaped like Mickey Mouse. As a team, you battle one other team each round and program your ducks to eat as much bread as possible. The game is challenging, competitive, and fun. Even better, it’s free to compete. However, you need your own computer and internet access. 

        

The battle takes place every January during a time at MIT called IAP, Independent Activities Period. Although college students are the primary audience and the class lasts for several weeks, there are many ways in which non-college students can compete as well. There are multiple ‘sprints’ where non-college students can battle against the college students! However, non-college students cannot compete for any of the prizes at the end of the competition. 

          

Our family has participated in Battle Code for two years. My husband, a seasoned computer programmer, partners with our son, a programming newbie. They worked together to learn about the project, solve the challenges, and watch copious amounts of videos on YouTube. Luckily, there are several YouTube videos that explain the current challenge for the year, and offer examples so you can successfully compete. Topics include: how to get a GitHub account, how to make your repository, and how to program in Java. New videos were released each weekday during the season. So each night, we watched a programming lecture on YouTube.  You can watch the lectures live or you can watch the recording later. Each night my family would work a little bit on the program based on what we learned that day in the YouTube video.  After about two weeks you’re ready for your first sprint. 

            

During a sprint, you upload your program to the Battle Code server and then you battle another team. Don’t worry if you are new to programming. Many people are new when they start Battle Code. After submitting a program, you enter a battle simulation where you see how your program fared against another team. From there, you can change your program to get better or figure out how to solve the project more efficiently.  

        

Next year, our 10 year old daughter will join the family team. Battle Code really is a family affair for us.

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