FIRST has the Same Problem Many Teams Do

…and they need to try to learn the same lesson.

Annually, teams see the game reveal and begin dreaming of building a robot that successfully plays every part of the game. Dialing back the dream to make, say, a defense-only robot, or a low-boiler-only robot, feels wimpy. And annually, the vast majority of teams that try to do everything can’t pull it off. Their high-boiler shooter fails. Their climber can’t climb. Not to say that kids can’t be and aren’t inspired; they are of course. But teams that recognize and work within their limitations sure look inspiring too, and they often find success on the field, which is super inspiring.

FIRST has spent the last several years trying to outdo themselves with their themes and increasingly complex fields. The result (as shown to my satisfaction in the Gear spring fiasco, the Boiler counting, the Purple Light red cards, etc.) sure looks like an organization that doesn’t effectively work within their limitations. And that is frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking.

Are kids still inspired? Yeah, of course. But if FIRST gave us simpler and more robustly designed fields, a lot of kids would find that winning and losing was less arbitrary. And that would be more inspiring.

Well Said!


+1 to this as well. Our “practice field” is a 10’ wide corridor. We have to carry the carpet and all the field elements (including a half airship) in and out through a 32" door every drive practice. (Yes, we practice creative geometry)

I think FIRST can keep the themes, I like how they follow a story of sorts. However I think we need games where the field elements can be built by a majority of teams to simulate. My team has a full field with elements but I understand that not every team has access to build that level of field accuracy. It seems to favor some teams over others IMHO. Keep the game challenging while keeping the field simple.

YES! Every year I cross my fingers and hope for field elements that fit these criteria:

  1. Possible for us to build within reason
  2. Not so huge that we can’t store them
  3. Doesn’t require a 20 ft ceiling to get useful practice
  4. Doesn’t require a full 54 ft length field to get useful practice

The percentage of teams that has a giant space where they can leave a partial or full field setup all the time has to be fairly small. Space is a premium commodity at our school.

While I agree with everything you’ve said, we keep on going on and on about the negatives of this, that, or something else. Sure, the game’s sorta iffy this year, but there’s still a lot about FIRST that hasn’t lost its luster.

The way FIRST does its award announcements, honors teams for certain accomplishments, invests tons of money into making a game itself, sends FIRST officials to certain regional/district events just to see how the teams are doing, and just plain gives tons of high-schoolers great college experience.

Yeah, it’s easy to talk about the bad, but it gets a bit…much?

Sorry to hijack the thread.

Going on the field getting more and more complex; The first time that we got to test out our robot on a mock up field was a couple days before bag day when we went to 537’s mini-regional. Even the simpler models of the playing field that was provided by FIRST was way to complex for a newer team to build. I’m all for having the uber-complex (and therefore uber-cool looking) fields. But there should be simple designs available for practice that even a first year team can build.

My team does a new theme every year. In doing this, we realize that we are making a choice to use our resources (time, materials, money, work, energy, thought, etc.) toward something that in no way effects game play. We know that we are making potential sacrifices in other areas in doing so, but we believe that it is worthwhile because of the passions and abilities of the students who make up our team. We also know that NO ONE but us is effected by this choice.

When FIRST makes the choice to put as many resources as they have towards their themes over (especially) the last two years, it isn’t in the same category as when a team makes that choice. Here are just a few examples off the top of my head:

  • The money that is spent on the decorative elements of the field is part of the finite money given by teams to FIRST in order to participate. That money was NOT spent elsewhere in order to pay for the decorative affects.
  • When choosing to design a game around a theme, choices are made that compromise game play and even potentially safety. Examples include last year’s Portcullis, this year’s Boiler and Airship. Does FIRST figure out fixes? Yes, often they do, but I argue that in spending time on the theme they have taken time away from testing and iterating their designs, to the detriment of the teams.
  • Making even modest simulacra of field elements has begun to take up far more resources for teams than was once the case. I am struggling to recall any game from the past in which the team fields were so resource intensive. Naturally, the same is true for the official fields, with resulting field problems, as we have seen.

Frankly I don’t really care if FIRST wants to theme their games. Every game has some theme or other. But I hate to see themes take up so much energy and force so many compromises. Again, I think FIRST needs to look at their limitations and make choices in the future that prioritize durable, functional, safe, and consistent field elements that teams can readily simulate, rather than the choices they have made in the last two years, in which these priorities (excepting safety) are subject to the “look”.

I’m not finding this easy. My team are consumers of an expensive product, which this year is costing us the price of a used car (for the participation fees sent to FIRST; we could combine that with travel costs, materials, and other expenses and buy a new Corvette). I would much rather praise FIRST, and I often have done so. I think this issue is worth not being sunny about, because I think it needs to change for next year.

Do you think they start with a theme and build a game around it or the other way around? Last year I could see the game coming first and the theme being applied as an after thought. But this year it totally looks like they started with a theme and then designed the challenges around it.

I think the last three games have all started with the theme as a primary driver.

I think the concern is that if games continue to get more complex, the competition experience could degrade enough that it will start to seriously affect a team’s overall experience.

After last year’s reveal of a heavily themed game, I was pretty concerned FIRST was starting to head down the same path as BEST, and this year’s game doesn’t make me feel any better about that. BEST’s games have gotten ever more complicated and weird as they’ve stuck with super heavily themed games. They’ve gotten so bad that I try to steer people away from BEST to Vex or FTC, despite the fact that BEST is essentially free to teams.
2016’s game has 6 different scoring options, plus various combo bonuses.
2015 had like 9 scoring options, and a “market shift” dynamic that changed point values between seeding/semis and semis/finals.
I recall one year that was theoretically playing O-Chem on the field and you more or less had understand stoichiometry to understand the scoring system.

Theming is fun and all, but when you start letting it dictate actual game design, you can get really bad results.

You would’ve though the 2015 game would’ve had them rethink their theme inspired approach! :wink: /s !/s

Yes, that one would’ve burned me on the idea fer sher.

I so agree with you. We were the first team in Colorado to sign up for BEST when they came into our state, but last year we stopped BEST and began Vex.

Again, valid arguments. Just not necessarily under-discussed arguments. Here’s a short list of discussions that, on the face of it, are really good discussions, but they always digress and end up at the same point: the game’s not as good as it could be.

This realization is something I’m sure everyone here is aware of, given the fact that we’ve all been playing the same game for three weeks now.

Why are we tying this to themes? This has been an issue in non-themed games, and some there have been themed games in which this wasn’t an issue.

I feel like a broken record here, but 2013’s field wasn’t exactly simple or team friendly. 2013 had gigantic field elements that were an expensive challenge to build and store (pyramids), an automated scoring system that wasn’t reliable (weight sensors in goals), required cycling across the whole 54’ field, and a host of scoring objects that had to be counted and sorted prior to each match. Heck, it even had giant nets that had to be installed around the field for safety reasons.

Even a simple field with quick reset like 2014’s posed significant challenges in many other ways. Remember the pedestal lights in 2014, and the great amount of heartburn they caused? Week One 2014 had matches literally paused in order to fix pedestal lighting issues. While subsequent weeks were better than week one, pedestal lighting was an ongoing issue all season long. And the biggest complaint was that referees had to take their eyes off of gameplay in order to score the match via their referee tablets. There were numerous threads complaining about missed assists, phantom assists, or penalties missed while referees entered assists. So even with a simple field, there were still very legitimate gripes about gameplay.

Ironically enough, the recent game that best alleviates these issues is both themed and one of the most hated of all time, Recycle Rush. Teams could easily build all the field elements, didn’t need a full 54’ to practice, there was no automated scoring system to worry about, and the refs didn’t have to distract themselves from gameplay to keep the match running on their tablets.

If I recall correctly, Lunacy in 2009 also didn’t have that many issues with the field. The only thing I remember as annoying was the attempted real-time scoring.

Perhaps this type of game is what everyone really wants, deep down inside.

You’re 100% right, Jon, but the reason these threads keep coming up is because people recognize things can improve, yet nothing has been done to put any change into action. You’ll see these threads stop the day FIRST announces that it’s recognized that pushing the themes as hard as it has been has been a detriment to the games themselves, and as a result they are going to change how they design games to make the games themselves better for teams. Until then people will keep discussing how things can be improved, because otherwise keeping quiet is the same as agreeing that everything is okay.

The floor was so much fun, good times putting it down, picking it up. Plus the wagon.

I think you can extend the “team” analogy a little further. FIRST is the premier robotics competition now, so they need to be the “elite team”. They’re on the cusp of being a great “team”, but need to make some changes to their design and build process to make the field more robust and reliable. How much testing and iteration do they put into a field before unveiling the game?

I think a few little changes this year could have made the field a lot easier to deal with. Boilers that don’t return Fuel (when do you get burnt coal out of a boiler?) would have replaced Fuel indexing and counting with a weight sensor, which couldn’t be worse than what we currently have. Replacing the spinning Rotors with lights, filing down the edge of the davit, replacing the lift rope with just a plastic handle attached down to the Peg, locking the lift mechanism so it can’t pull all the way out of the slot, a latch to hold ropes in place instead of velcro, and probably countless other little changes to this field would have, in my opinion, really improved the experience this year.

I’m not sure whether FIRST builds a prototype field and tests it with generic robots. I can’t imagine that they do. If they don’t, they should. If they do, I don’t get how this field happened the way it did.