Energy Impact : A Promising Game For A Second Year

FIRST Global HQ released today the long anticipated game of the 2018 FIRST Global Challenge, Energy Impact. Though you have to say it softly, there’s no doubt that the game this year was more meticulously planned and designed than last year’s free-for-all H2O Flow. With a wider field, more scoring zones and a special addition to the tournament format, it’s unquestionable that Energy Impact will be a promising game for FGC’s sophomore year.

The Game: A Rundown

Energy Impact is played on a 6m x 7m field, between two alliances (or villages) of three robots - the Red and Blue alliances, for 2 minutes and 30 seconds per game. The objective is to generate as much power than the opposing alliance. To do so, alliances will have to collect and manipulate cardboard 15cm a side cubes, called Fuel Cubes and Power Line Cubes, as well as transport “Solar Panels” and spin a “Wind Turbine”, before parking on their platform for end-game points. They can also get a coopertition bonus for activating the “Coopertition Power Line”.

See the full game video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPDQhhv11KY&feature=youtu.be

Starting Positions & Game Pieces

As in any FIRST game, teams start lined up on their baselines.

  • 48 fuel cubes start in a “free-for-all” starting location on the field of play.
  • 2 power line cubes per team start on designated spots on the field.
  • Each alliance has 2 more power line cubes in their Solar Panel Factory (in the Driver Station).
  • 5 solar panels per alliance start in the Solar Panel Factory, off the field.
  • Human players are also lined up behind a Village Power Station, where Power Line Cubes and Solar Panels are brought by their robots.

Regular Scoring

There are four ways for teams to score points (outside of the end-game).

Solar Panel

Alliance robots can retrieve 15x25cm, 200g solar panels in the loading zone from human players (no contact, direct or transitive). Robots must transport the panels to the Village Power Station, and human players can then install the panels on the “Solar Array”.

Each panel installed on the array generates 1 kJ (point) per second for the remainder of the game.

Wind Turbine

Alliance robots must first connect the Wind Turbine to the Village Power Station via their Power Line. To activate a Power Line, they must have first brought a Power Line Cube to their Village Power Station.

After the Turbine has been connected, a robot must spin the turbine’s crank - a “fork shaped protrusion 30cm off the ground” - three times.

After being connected and cranked three times, the turbine generates 1 kJ (point) per second for the remainder of the game.

Reaction Plant

Alliance robots must first connect their Reaction Plant to the Village Power Station. The plant is in the middle of the field, and is shared by both alliances. Alliances must fill the 8 slots (4 on the ground, 4 above the ground by 47.5cm) with Fuel Cubes to score.

After being connected and filled completely, the plant generates 3 kJ (points) per second for the remainder of the game.

Combustion Plant

Alliance robots must first connect their Combustion Plant to the Village Power Station. This plant allows alliances to cash in a Fuel Cube for points by placing them in either the low or high goals.

After being connected, the plant generates 5 kJ (points) per cube in the low goal, and 20 kJ (points) per cube in the high goal.

Bonus Scoring

Coopertition Bonus

Alliances are encouraged to work together to get a coopertition bonus.

If both alliances can deliver one of their Power Line Cubes to the opposing Village Power Station, a 100 point Coopertition Bonus is applied to each alliance.

End-Game (Parking)

Robots can park at their Village Power Station when T=0 for extra points.

1 robot parked: 15 points 2 robots parked: 30 points 3 robots parked: 50 points

Rules

Direct contact between humans with robots, even transitively, is forbidden. This is particularly important for the loading zone. However, if a robot is not communicating, it is permitted for human players to manipulate their robot in the sole objective of restoring connectivity.

Robots must also fit inside a 50x50x50cm frame at the beginning of a game, but they may expand. Robots can also only manipulate 3 fuel cubes at a time and 1 power line cube at a time, for a maximum of 3 cubes of all sorts.

Scoring game principle

“Defense” as is seen in other FIRST games is not permitted. Contact is expected, but not with a defensive aim or with the goal of preventing a team to score points.

Features of Energy Impact and Comparisons to H2O Flow

Roll-out

The roll-out of this year’s game was seemed professional - more similar to other FIRST games. Though not coming in the form of a formal “kickoff”, the game video was accompanied by fairly exhaustive, but simple-to-read rules, in the style of many FIRST game manuals.

Larger field, more scoring zones

After the endless pit of doom and robot destruction that was the H2O Flow river, FGC HQ has smartly created more areas in which teams score points, avoiding a sole focal point for all 6 robots. The larger field (6x7m) as opposed to H2O Flow (4.5x5m) may also be a indicator of how big the venue for this year’s Challenge will be (will we still have 4 fields?). In any case, it will allow for more spacious gameplay, ensuring that teams’ true strengths can shine unhindered by inevitable contact with teammates.

Meaningful strategy

With more ways to score points, teams will have to make more choices, both in the construction phase - what tasks are worth accomplishing? - and in each individual game. Alliance strategy will be more meaningful, as alliances will not all be focused on one task, but rather best completing as many tasks as possible.

In this blog, we’ll try to theorize in a later post the priorities robots should have.

Trademark simplicity in a more spectator-friendly sport

Nonetheless, Energy Impact remains an equally “simple” game. Unlike other FIRST games (FTC and FRC) there are not multiple game pieces or the fear of defensive strategies. Instead, much like H2O Flow, there is one main game piece - this time, a cardboard box - and another game piece (the solar panels) that can be made with the REV kit. I’d argue that FGC HQ has struck a better balance this year in preserving that simplicity while still creating an engaging game for spectators. (H2O Flow was remarkably repetitive and simple).

A Better Format

H2O Flow’s greatest flaw in my view wasn’t the gameplay - it was how points were counted. Teams had to score as many points as possible in six rounds - and that was it. It wasn’t clear at times whether or not it was ranking points or gameplay points that were the most prestigious, and there was no progression to a playoff round. Teams discovered by some magic at the end that they had ranked high enough for a spot on the podium. Moreover, teams that may have suffered communications problems during their game, often affecting both alliances, just had to deal with their reduced point total. Teams near the top of the table would have to hope for impeccable communications during their round.

This year’s game makes a clear distinction between the two ways of scoring points all while providing for the drama of an additional round for the best teams. There is a Ranking Round (you could see this as a “Regular Season”) where all 160+ teams play an x amount of games with the primary aim of winning. They will be ranked on ranking points, with total gameplay points as a tie-breaker.

After the Ranking Round, the top 24 (or 36) teams will advance to an additional round, which for clarity’s sake we’ll call the Playoff Round (though it’s not a playoff). This exclusive club of teams will play x games among themselves to try and accumulate the most points possible, and the country with the highest total gameplay points from the Playoff Round wins the Gold Medal.

This allows for the schedule to culminate in an exciting 2 or 3-hour period where the best teams duke it out for the medals, watched by all the other countries and spectators. It creates a focal point for the event. The winner won’t be the random best among 6 rounds - it will be the country who was able to stand out even among the best robots and the well-practiced drive teams on a consistent basis. It’s not the best format (I’m still a fan of the alliance selection in FRC), but it’s the best solution for this kind of competition.

In Conclusion

Energy Impact is a promising game that will force teams to be more creative, build smarter bots, make clear priorities and that will better determine a deserving set of victors. The 2018 FIRST Global Challenge promises to be a better version of its Washington counterpart, and I can’t wait.

Written on April 17, 2017 by Timothy Gulliver