Friday, February 10, 2012

[G] Ship Wars@ Google Waterloo: A virtual battle of intergalactic spacecraft

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Official Google Blog: Ship Wars@ Google Waterloo: A virtual battle of intergalactic spacecraft

On Tuesday, January 24, Google Waterloo opened its doors to engineers from the Kitchener-Waterloo area to participate in the first ever Ship Wars Programming Competition. The brainchild of myself and another Waterloo engineer, Garret Kelly, Ship Wars is a competition in which participants code their own intergalactic crafts in the programming language of their choice, and then battle against each other in a virtual environment. The inaugural competition proved quite popular, drawing nearly 40 participants, ready for battle.

The game itself went through a lengthy series of internal tests and refinements at the Google Waterloo office in the weeks leading up to the tournament. On the day of the event, participants quickly learned how to play and were able to code, test and enter their virtual ships into competition in under three hours. Not an easy feat!

The engineers brought their own machines (mostly laptops, but a few brought in huge desktops) to build and run their ships. After a brief overview of the rules, they were able to get started coding their ships in the language of their choice—some even switched languages mid-way through the event, changing their plan of attack. They were able to control the way the ships moved (direction and speed) and the strength of their weapons, but were only given clues as to how their ship and weapon systems would behave inside the simulation— the rest had to be deduced by playing test matches against example ships. This type of on-the-fly problem solving proved to be a unique and exciting challenge.

To test their ships in battle against other engineers’ creations, head-to-head battle stations were set up around the room. At these stations, participants could see how their ships were shaping up, watch them in action and ultimately decide what changes they could make before the final competition.

Local engineers design their virtual battleships

At the end of the evening, guests were given a tour of the Google Waterloo office while their ships “went to battle.” Thousands of simulated head-to-head battles and 15 minutes later, to the sound of much laughter and raucous cheering, the ship captains saw their results and watched replays of some of the most dramatic battles. Prizes (a Motorola Xoom Tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Tablet and a Google messenger bag) were awarded to the designers of the three ships with the most wins. For more photos, here’s a link to our album.

This wildly successful event will be expanding out to a few other Google offices in the near future. Be on the lookout, Pittsburgh and Cambridge: Ship Wars is coming to you next!

Posted by Aaron Kemp, Software Engineer

(Cross-posted from the Technical Programs and Events blog)

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