Robot War, Anyone?

01 Feb

So, I’ve been getting some positive rumbles in support of a Robot War tournament. Let me therefore offer a proposal as to how it might work.

The tournament will progress through a series of single-elimination rounds, with each match being a one-on-one contest, opponents randomly determined. Should there be an odd number of robots in a round, the one left unchosen will get a bye into the next round. That might seem quite a nice bit of luck, but it’s mixed blessing in that the creator of that robot will not get an opportunity to see it in action prior to making adjustments for the next round (see the next paragraph).

I’ll run each match just one time, record it, and post it to the blog as a movie. Each round will be separated by a week or so, during which each contestant whose robot remains alive in the tournament can tinker or even, if he likes, entirely rewrite his robot. In this he can be guided not only by his own robot’s performance in the previous round, but also by that of his next opponent’s; I’ll announce matchups for the next round immediately after the previous is complete. (Of course, said opponent may also be changing her robot as well, making this very much a cat-and-mouse — or, if you like, bait-and-switch — game.)

You can modify or steal code from any of the five sample robots that come with the game, but I’ll have to take you on your word of honor that you won’t use or even examine the code to any of the robots published in places like Computer Gaming World back in the day, or available online somewhere. You are welcome to submit a robot you created by yourself at some earlier date. Although, again, I can’t really stop you, teams will not be allowed, as having two or more minds working on a problem gives an unfair advantage. One man one robot is the rule.

And that’s about it really. We continue like this until we determine a champion. I’m trying like mad to think of something to offer as a prize to the winner. I have this book coming out that I wrote about the Amiga, but I’m afraid that offering that to a bunch of Apple II fans might be like setting up a hot-dog stand outside a vegetarians convention. If you don’t want that and you do have a Kindle Keyboard or Touch, there is this game I wrote

The final decision on whether to do this hinges on whether enough people want to participate to make it worthwhile; there’s nothing more depressing than winning a “contest” with two or three participants (not to mention hosting one). I figure we need at least ten to have a contest that feels like a proper tournament. If you’re willing to commit to participate, please leave a comment here or, if you’re not a fan of comments, send me an email. If you’re interested but not happy with the rules I’ve just outlined, let me know that as well. If we can come to a consensus, we can always adjust.

I know that some of you who read this blog are involved with the Apple II community and/or other groups that might be interested in this kind of thing. If you know anyone whom you think might want to participate, please direct them this way. Likewise, if you have blogs, Twitter feeds, podcasts, etc., frequented by the right kind of folks, a quick plug would be hugely appreciated.

And if you’re not an Apple II old-timer and want to know if this is for you…

You don’t need any Apple II-specific knowledge at all, only the willingness to install an emulator and boot it from the Robot War disk image. (Solid emulators are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and probably other platforms as well.) On the other hand, this is a programming game, so you will need to learn a simple programming language to participate. On the other other hand, it’s a very, very simple language. Probably the most awkward part of the whole process will be typing and editing your source with Robot War‘s built-in editor that replaces mice and menus with control-key combinations. If you live in the Unix/Linux world and/or are comfortable with terminal-based text editors like vi, it won’t be a big stretch; otherwise it might give you 20 minutes frustration before it starts to click.

So, let me know if you’re in, and tell you’re friends, and we’ll see if we’ve got the numbers to make it happen.

(Update: We gave it a good try. Thanks to Ken Gagne and others in the Apple II community for working to get the word out. Even with all their efforts, though, we don’t quite have the number of firm commitments to make proceeding viable in my view. So the would-be Great Robot War Tournament of 2012 will not be happening, I’m afraid. Ah, well… I have enough to do as it is.)


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14 Responses to Robot War, Anyone?

  1. Todd Thomas

    February 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Very cool idea, I don’t plan on participating at this time. Though if I get bored while watching tv some night, I might get in a mood to boot up the disk and try it out. Then who knows what will happen, be interesting to see what people come up with. I have always wanted to run a core wars tournament.

  2. Jack Welch

    February 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Sounds interest. I grabbed the disk image zip and note that it comes with a manual. Here’s the first line of the manual:

    Welcome to the battlefield of the future! It is the year 2002.

    Hah! Let me read this over and see if I can manage to get the emulator working and figure out the programming language. – Jack

  3. Scott

    February 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Awesome! I still have fond memories of inventing this really great targeting algorithm. I was really proud of myself until I discovered it had already been in use for 20 years by the time I’d “invented” it. Oops!

  4. Joshua Buergel

    February 2, 2012 at 7:26 am

    How soon would this be getting under way? I’m a bit crunched for time, but this sounds like something I’d have fun with, so given a bit longer time horizon, I might be interested.

    • Jimmy Maher

      February 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

      I recognize that everyone’s busy, so I’d propose giving everyone one month to prepare a robot from whatever point we decide it’s a go.

  5. Victor Gijsbers

    February 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Sounds fun. Count me in.

  6. James Katt

    March 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Robot Wars were a fad that came and went. The biggest problem was the escalation of cost as people tried to build more destructive and battle-hardy robots. Robots ended up costing more than $15,000 to build. This placed it out of reach for normal humans.

  7. codifex maximus

    March 5, 2012 at 4:49 am

    I just happened on this site while reminiscing about Robot Wars. Unfortunately, I don’t have my old robot code but could probably work up my old robots from scratch.

    I’ll get the bots ready and I’d like to throw my name into the hat. So, when enough folks are ready, maybe we can have a go at a tournament.

    Send me an email when and if you guys decide to do this.

  8. John

    April 18, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    Hi! I’d love to take part in a RobotWar tournament. Also if you know of any published robots not listed on this page I’d be interested to see them.

  9. Pat

    July 6, 2015 at 4:00 am

    Just came across this article/challenge about setting up a Robot War tournament. I participated in what was described as the first ‘international’ Robot War tournament that took place way back in maybe early 1981 (fuzzy memory after all this time) set up by a Mr. Krogh (?) somewhere in California (I lived in Texas at the time). Did well (won the first tournament and my robot became a learning tool for others designing their own robots). Even though I beat a ‘Dragon’, I will admit that robot design was far superior to my robot. Have very found memories of those programming attempts. Still have a couple of Apple IIe’s laying around but the Robot War disk no longer functions. I see I’m about three years too late, but would definitely be interested if someone wants to resurrect the contest. Have not figured out how to set up/run an emulator program, so would need a little help with that aspect.

  10. Mike Taylor

    October 26, 2017 at 10:38 am

    “If you live in the Unix/Linux world and/or are comfortable with terminal-based text editors like VM, it won’t be a big stretch” — typo for “VI”?

    • Jimmy Maher

      October 27, 2017 at 8:35 am

      Right you are. Thanks!

  11. David

    August 14, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    I’ve got a bunch of robots I created back in the day… I still have the disk, but it’s a Dos 3.2 format and I’ll be darned if I’m able to find a way to transfer it across! Thats how I stumbled on this page actually, looking for any hints on that… but on the topic of this page, I would have loved to be involved in a robot wars tournament; I used to run my own private tournaments across about 12 different robots I wrote and would have loved to see how my top dog would compete out in the world! … maybe still one day while we are all still walking this earth! :)


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