SumoBots Programming Game

In the summer of 2007 my friend, Michael Abraham, and I wrote a robot programming game in Matlab. The idea came out of a little demo he wrote where one circle was chasing another circle. Eventually the circles could be run by their own functions, then they were shooting at each other, then dropping mines, and so on. It was dubbed "Matbots".

It turned into a little programming competition among several of us at work. Someone would invent a new feature, like cooperative bots or bullet dodging, that would allow it to dominate for awhile. Then someone else would build on that and come up with some other killer feature. At one point we even hooked up a joystick so we could control our own bot live against our creations.

I never shared that here. Someday I will.

Anyway, Mike took a little bit of the Matbots code and design and came up with a new, similar game called SumoBots. Programmable bots are in a frictionless circular playing area with the ability to accelerate in any direction. Collisions between bots are governed by a spring force dynamics. Bots are out of the game when they leave the circular area. The goal is to knock out all the other bots. Here's a video,

I like how smooth and natural that looks.

He got a number of people at his lab to code up some bots to compete. I threw the code up over at bitbucket, a Mercurial host, which you can checkout with,

hg clone

(I haven't convinced anyone else over there to use a version control repository, let alone this one, but here's hoping!)

You can use either Matlab or Octave to program your bot. It works in both, with Octave being on the slow side. For Octave, you'll need to define a cla function as a call to clf (they don't define it for some reason). To start coding a bot, just look at the samplebot bot for information on programming a bot. Edit the players in player_list.txt, then launch it by running engine (engine.m).

I wrote one bot so far called bully. It charges at the nearest bot, being careful to cancel out its own velocity. In the video above this bot is red.

The other bots so far is kyleBot, blue in the video, which passively runs circles around the outside of the surface hoping to trick aggressive bots, like mine, into running out. The bot2fun bot, black in the video, is like bully, but tries to keep safely near the center of the playing area. The brick bot, green in the video, is a dummy, practice bot that just gets knocked around.

The tricky part in writing a bot is managing the frictionless surface. Acceleration can't just be in the direction you want to travel, but also against the current velocity. You might want to set up some kind of process control for this.

Right now I think there is a balance issue. Passive bots have an advantage, but the game won't progress if everyone takes this advantage and writes passive bots. It's like camping in a first-person shooter. As a partial solution to these stalemates, Mike has proposed that the playing surface should shrink over time.

If you want to join in, grab the code and start coding.

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Chris Wellons