Nerf Co-op and Litter

Nerf (v)
To weaken or make less dangerous.

Dear FIRST,

When you released the game this year, I was a little disappointed, but if my time in FRC has taught me anything, watch the game before you judge it. Watch 254 and 148 play the game. Watch the rookies play the game. And then, you may judge.

I have seen both, and FIRST, nerf co-op and litter in qualifications.

Nerfing the co-op points and unprocessed litter points would not only help balance out the rankings a little bit, but it would also greatly improve the quality of the game.

Currently, if your team can manage a co-op stack and you have a Noddle Jesus on your team, you can manage in the neighborhood of 60-80 points every match.

Now, co-op will normally shake up the rankings, but in week 1, this was particularly bad. Your robot can can stack two totes and your human player has the great divine on his side, and all of a sudden you can break into the top 8.

But to me, that’s not even the worst part. The quality of the game drastically improves when you remove these components.

I recall in one qualifications match where the alliances messed up the co-op stack early and do you know what we saw? A close match with multiple stacks on the scoring zone. The match was insane and intense. And you know what? The crowd loved it; so much so that one person ran up to me yelling “This is how it’s supposed to be played.”

In the playoffs, the co-op totes are completely removed, and alliances can focus their strategic efforts towards getting the most points with totes and RCs, and what did we see? Everyone was getting in the game. The weakest alliances were posting some of the best scores, teams were daring to stack higher than ever, and the game really came into its own.

The crowd loved it. The teams loved it. I loved it.

  • Sunny G.

I’m going to disagree with you here.

From early on (right at kickoff) we noticed that the game was actually 3 different games (the seeding rounds, the elims, and the finals) and that each ‘game’ had different requirements. Because of that, a robot (or team) that will do well in one ‘game’ may not do well in the next.

Because of this those that are designing for the seeding rounds must also scout for the other 2 game types. and those designing for the elime or finals need to sell themselves as viable partners to those designed for the seeding rounds.

The nuances of this year are far deeper than most years, and I believe that that is a good thing.

Play the game as is and see how you do.

I agree the noodles can effect the game so be it. That means our team has to have that capability if employed against our alliance…not my favorite part but it is what it is. I do see it as “cheap” HP points but they still count and you have a choice of 6 in RC -or- 4 thrown or 1 pushed to LF…we plan to use some for 6 throwing would waste 2 points per N.

As for Co-OP again its part of the game…so live with it. Your choice whether to co-op or not. Your pain or gain.

It would be different if at launch they did not tell us the rules but alas THEY DID! Only major change was eliminating the loophole “Noodle Agreement”.

So either you designed a robot as a team to compete effectively in 2015 or you did not.

Its like life , not perfect. You do your best with what you have as a team.

Perhaps feedback will help after RR or this could be the best game ever… guess we’ll see.

I don’t see this as whining at all. He is pointing out his observations of the game, and how it could be improved. I agree with him, there was a team at our event that could really only coop and had a very good human player. It is very dissapointing to see a robot that is better seed worse just because they couldn’t throw noodles as wel . Human players having too much effect was a legitimate complaint in 2009, and I think it is just as legitimate here.
Edit* Another problem with the noodles is that they can be off putting to outside people. Over the weekend, I had several team parents ask me why teams whose robots were playing much better were scoring lower than people who were throwing noodles. To outside people, the noodles take away some of the legitimacy of this being a " robotics" competition. Just something to think about

I was personally a bit concerned about the value of litter when I first saw the game at kickoff. I thought it was worth way too many points. Though, after getting some hands on experience with the noodles, I was fairly certain most human player would be unable to throw the noodles far enough, diminishing my concerns of human players scoring way too many points.

As build season moved along, our human player (as well as other human players) were starting to show signs that they could consistently throw litter onto the opponents field. After watching week 1 events, it’s clear most human players can throw litter and it’s a very good strategy. Why? Two main reasons, one, it’s worth four points if it’s unprocessed, and two, it clogs up your opponent’s field, creating annoying obstacles.

The problem I have with litter is that human players can directly score many points, a lot of times more than the robot themselves, this can swing matches. What I don’t have a problem with is pool noodles getting in the way of robots. It’s part of the engineering challenge. How are you going to be able to push pool noodles and still get over the scoring platform? There are several simple solutions, but I hope you get my point.

I think the penalty of pool noodles getting in the way of opponent robots is reason alone to throw them. My suggestion to FIRST, make unprocessed litter worth 1 or 2 points, preferably 1.

I’m going to say no, there wasn’t a team that could only do coop. Any team that can coop can place a bin or two at a time on the scoring platform.

The litter throwing is also a good thing because you could design a robot to deal with litter if you wanted, people didn’t so they want the litter removed.

What’s unbalanced in this game is probably the recycling containers. They are worth too much because they are the item that is the most difficult to place. They should be worth more points than the totes because they are harder to manipulate, but their value of 2 times the stack height is out of line.

The game would be better if the scoring were 2 points per bin and 4 points per recycling container with a bonus of 1 point per level.

With that, a capped stack would be 12 points plus 10 for the container instead of 36. That would give high stacking/capping teams a competitive advantage without being the overwhelming advantage it currently is.

  • Coopertition: I like it. I like it a lot. It adds a dynamic in the preliminary rounds that is almost required in order to make it into the eliminations - at least as a captain. We specifically chose to address this in our designs from day one, spent a lot of time on it and how have now problem doing 75% of the work for a coopertition stack. To eliminate such an integral part of the game at this point in time would be… very unfair to teams who chose to dedicate time and energy to accomplishing this.

  • Noodle Points: I do think they are a little too heavily weighed as a part of the game and, though I was pleased that they made a change to address the infamous “Noodle Agreement,” the adding of the tape significantly altered the way they fly through the air and further increased their utility - both for scoring points and for potential “defense.” I would rather that “unprocessed litter” be worth 3 points and sticking them into a stacked RC be worth 8… Perhaps even letting the noodle points count if the RC is on a scoring platform, but not stacked. (i.e. score the noodle, but not the RC). But, hey, I know that everybody has a different opinion and that I don’t get to decide on rules. We’ll enjoy playing the game as is…

  • As for your statement that “weaker alliances were scoring the most points,” it sounds to me like the “top” teams needed to scout better. Yes, coopertition skews the standings in terms of being a predictor for elimination success, but good scouting can see right through that.

  • Can low-resource teams compete? Yes - if they have some engineering expertise. This is an engineering challenge so to ask for a game where strong engineering skills are not required is, well, self-defeating.

Tasks that can be done with little more than a kitbot: Sweep pool noodles into landfill; push totes onto scoring platform (not stacked);

Task that can be done easily by adding something to the kitbot:
Stacking totes; stacking RC’s on short stacks of totes; sticking pool noodles into RC’s at HP station; Snatching RC’s from center during auto; pushing multiple RC’s and totes into autozone during autonomous.

Yes, money and access to a machine shop can make a huge difference and reaching Einstein without such access is very, very difficult. However, you can compete very well at the district and regional level with very little money, mediocre tools and some ingenuity.

Actually, they can change rules of the game, referenced by the team update that addressed the “noodle agreement”. There is also a clause in the rule book stating that point values may be changed for championships.

Quite frankly, it’s not even the fact that noodles can score so much being thrown, it’s the fact that the game wants these noodles to have more of a role than being bonus points on top of a stack. I care more about noodles being thrown, getting into robots, and getting into drivetrains. We got a noodle stuck in our drivetrain in one of our finals matches. We essentially had to saw the noodle in half with our chains to free ourself. I feel like teams will start to take advantage of this, and play “defense” on landfill bots by throwing noodles to get jammed into other robots’ drivetrains.

Also, the point values are also pretty high. 40 points on noodles. That’s a 6 tote stack with an RC and noodle on top, something you don’t see often in quals… or even playoffs at weaker regionals.

I think this year has by far the best implementation of co-opertition that we’ve ever had. A match with or against a really good team is good for everyone now and there’s no disadvantage to doing it. Perfect!

We explicitly designed our robot to be good at scoring on the co-op step, at the expense of the rest of our stacking game. We decided to forego any chassis cutout to make placing on the co-op step as easy as we could manage. As a robot that primarily stacks totes and has a fairly weak recycle container game, we designed around auton and co-op knowing that these two tasks would make it drastically more likely for us to seed first and win the bin race at alliance selection.

While I completely agree from a scoring balance perspective that these changes would make the game more exciting, it would be quite disappointing that our major design compromise was for nothing. If that’s truly what it takes to make the game better, so be it, but just know what the consequences of such a choice are.

I’m the kind of guy who no longer plays video games that are fun. I play the really frustrating ones so I don’t mind the noodles from a gameplay standpoint. But when designing a robot you are given roughly the general spectrum you need to perform under. It was clear from the start that even if you didn’t plan on using noodles they would end up on the field so designing around that is something that teams should have done. The noodles I saw being thrown were done on a “when I can basis.” I personally love the idea of the noodles because I love how it enables a team to play defense, without throwing defense onto the role of a robot. Last year there were so many shoving matches which while fun to watch didn’t really add much to the games complexity. The thrown noodles makes defense a decision, instead of a state of being. The decision is “Do I need to move this noodle” the state was last years “are these two robots locked in a shoving match for a majority of the round?” In my personal opinion decisions are much better for the flow of a game then forcing people into states of hard defense.

Hjelstrom, I think you hit the nail on the head. In week 1, it was exciting to see opposing alliances working together at the coopertition bridge communicating ever so subtly through minute movements of their machines.

Having been involved in FIRST for over a decade, this is the first year where I looked at the qualification pairings through a completely new perspective. For the first time, I was excited to see excellent robots on the opposing alliance. Co-op points are the highest reward per effort that I’ve seen in recent years, so it heavily encourages participation. Further, the importance of Co-op points has discouraged throwing litter early in qualification matches.

With respect to the three different stages of the game, my hat is off to the game design committee. I believe this was done in an effort to create parity between alliances. The criteria for being successful in qualifications is different than the criteria for being successful in elims and finals.

There is a noticeable increase in the importance of scouting this year because one cannot heavily rely on high scores as a barometer for a team’s capabilities. The capability to deliver stacks of two yellow totes to the co-op bridge is of great value in qualifications, but has reduced importance in later stages. The importance of being able to throw noodles consistently goes up in elims and up further in the finals. The capability to cap stacks with cans and litter goes up in elims and finals.

Also, remember that this is week 1. During week 1, coopertition points were a high percentage of top teams’ total scores. If memory serves correctly (since online results are still not available), the top 8 teams at the Georgia Southern Classis were awarded somewhere around 30-35% of their points from co-op points. Scores tend to increase week-over-week, more so this year because of the lack of proportional increase in defensive activities. In later weeks, I expect that Co-op will still be the easiest 40 points alliances achieve, but there will be a reduction in how much those points skew qualification standings.

In closing, human players will continue to be an important part of this year’s game, but their impact (outside of offensively scored litter) is limited to 40 points. The disparity between the best and worst human player throwers will shrink over time to the point where a “noodle jesus” may only have a 10-20 point positive impact on their alliance’s total score. As non-litter scores improve at later regionals, district championships, and the world championships, I expect this impact to reduce to around 5% of an alliance’s points.

Great game… I wouldn’t change a thing!

In terms of co-op as a game mechanic, I think it’s purpose is to allow teams without the ability to score containers to seed highly.

With a tote stack auto and co-op every match, a robot without RC manipulation skills can still seed highly. Some teams noticed this from day 1 and built to it. 1519 at GSD was not skilled with Recycling containers, but by co-op stacking and autonomous tote stacking nearly every match they ended up the first seed, picked the best RC manipulator at the event (95), and won the event.

Although I agree with you that the containers boost the score too much I think the multiplication values need to be easy. Something like 2 points per level versus 4. You have to keep the scoring simple because the audience already has a hard time following this complex scoring system.

Does anyone see it that allowing points for thrown litters is disadvantaging girl players? Same with Frisbies in 2013.

Both litter and frisbees require significantly more finesse than physical ability to throw effectively.
I see no difference between male or female human players at either task.

I’m pretty sure the weakest person on our team(which is pretty weak btw) could throw the litter the length of the field. As stated above, it’s a lot more about finess and technique than power. In fact too much power usually has bad results. I would argue that height is more of an advantage than anything else. Short people can do it yes but will take more practice and effort on average than a tall person probably.

That maybe true. But from the matches I’ve watched, I haven’t seen a girl player in that role. I wonder if what you said is also FIRST’s rationale.

I suspect the point is less “girls can’t throw” and more “girls tend to be shorter”. There is a common argument for taller being better when throwing over the alliance wall. Anecdotally this past weekend (at Horsham), this observation appeared to have some merit for noodles. That said, I’m not arguing to change the practice(s) at all. Heck, my Einstein HP in 2013 was like 5’4"? (I don’t know how tall he is, but he’s not tall.) Granted, 2015 is a lot closer to 2009 than 2013 in this regard. As for not seeing girls as HPs; given our ratio on most Drive Teams and teams in general, it’s not so surprising regardless of the HP task.

With a sister who regularly throws for her track and field events and is hoping to be the human player… no, I don’t see it as a disadvantage at all :wink: