Open Letter to the GDC

This isn’t a prediction for future games. It is a recommendation to the GDC (Game Design Committee) that future games be more based on mainstream sports.

Bill Miller mentioned here ( a survey for the favorite FRC games of all time and posted the results here (

There’s a reason why Breakaway, Aim High, and Overdrive are first.

Unlike more complex and custom games, these games can be described to a complete stranger to FIRST in a few words. “Robot soccer”, “robot basketball”, and “robot NASCAR” is enough to give people a general idea and be interested enough to find out more for themselves. “Tube hanging” or “trailer shooting” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

This means that it’s easier for students to bring their friends to meetings. It’s easier to get school administrations on board, with the idea of “this is a sport of the mind” instead of “we build complicated stuff for some obscure event”. It’s easier for your grandmother and parents to get an idea for what you’re doing and how you’ll compete.

Triple play is harder to explain. “You stack pyramids without walls on bigger pyramids. You gain points depending on how many of your pyramids are on each bigger pyramid and if some of the pyramids make lines from a top view. So it’s kind of like tick-tack-toe.” Even if who you’re talking to gets it, the game doesn’t sound very attractive at all.

Scoring is also simpler with sport-modeled games. Last year (2010), point-totals were low and each point got people excited. It was easy to know who was winning and how much impact a low-scoring bonus could have. It was fun to control the robot but just as fun to watch a match. This is very much like mainstream sports, where games tend to be low-scoring or consist of few point scores at a time (soccer, baseball, football, basketball, etc).

Lunacy is an example of the opposite. The goals move, the robots are all inter-mixed, and no one in the audience who doesn’t know the rules by heart can have any clue of what’s going on.

Finally, sports-based games tend to have more possible robot strategies. There is more of a place for rookie teams, and plenty of major engineering opportunities for teams with more people or resources. Diversification is greater. In Aim High, for example, you could just collect balls and dump them, shoot them high, try to do both, climb the ramp, make it easier for other teams to climb the ramp, etc. The game offered large opportunity for greater diversity and specialization. And there were hundreds of ways to do each possible component of the game.

Meanwhile, this year, the challenge is more or less closed. You can “specialize” in higher or lower pegs, but to be competitive, you need an arm. You can have or not have a mini-bot. Excessive limits on defense rain on that strategic parade, big time. And your mini-bot, it pretty much needs to be a box with wheels after some team updates.

I’m not trying to strike down other game types. Personally, I think this year’s game, though less exiting, is appropriate for first’s 20th year anniversary (although to be honest, when I saw the animation at kick-off, I half-expected it to pause halfway and for Dave Lavery and Dean Kamen to say “gotcha, it’s all a big joke. Now here’s this year’s real game, Touchback!”).

The only point I’m trying to make is that maybe the GDC should take the trend most people favor and base their games off of more familiar sports, a win-win for everyone. They can be just as interesting an engineering challenge, more interesting to watch, and more attractive to schools so they’ll be more likely to form new teams or support their existing ones.

Dean’s challenge last year was to bring people who really liked sports to the competition. I think he has the same idea: if this competition can become more widely known, more students and communities will have the chance to witness how exciting and social engineering, science, and technology can really be by playing a part in it.

I want to know what you think. Does what I’m saying make sense? What’s your favorite FRC game? Would more sports-based games satisfy you?


My favorite game was 2000. Fun to play, lots of action, center goals easy to understand.

I think you have made some good accurate points.

I agree some aspects of sports are lacking in recent games(defense) but I’d disagree that Overdrive is one of the favorite games. It usually doesn’t even rank in top 5. Aim high is always highly ranked and so is FIRST frenzy. Other then that, the most recent game always ranks high because alot of people voting have only played it. Without those two, your only real example is Aim high. I’m not saying your points are invalid. I like many of your points. I just think that your “evidence” is a bit detrimental. It doesn’t really support your claims that much and kind of takes away from your later portions comparing it to actual sports.


PS: Fix your links.

Mainstream games…like Water Polo!

Actually, you need more research to make an accurate call on this. The success of a game the GDC creates does not depend on how much the entire FIRST body likes the game. Obviously part of the goal of the GDC is to design a game that everyone will like, take seriously, learn from and be inventive with. But the success or failure of a game does not depend on if the game was based on a sport.

I loved Lunacy. I even asked on these forums before Lunacy came out to change the floor of the traditional FRC field. I loved Lunacy because it was difficult to build for. It brought about questions to be answered that FIRST teams hadn’t needed to ask themselves ever. That made Lunacy a success - the lessons learned.

I’d take a learning experience over an enjoyable experience any day.

A big part of FIRST is recognition.


the identification of something as having been previously seen, heard, known, etc.


A way identify something that has been seen is to provide a common ground or an analogy. That is why games that look and feel like physical sports are more successful for team size, number of audience members, and excitement generated at the school. Breakaway really helped our team by bringing people who were not normally “into STEM” because the game was easy to understand while being creatively different.

the link to the survey results is bad.

I don’t put much faith in the Survey results, since most people currently involved in FIRST weren’t exposed or knowledgeable of games prior to 2005 or so.

You’re onto something with the Sports themed games though, they are much easier to explain to the public.

Personally, my Favorites are Co-Opertition First (2000), Stack Attack (2003), and Lunacy (2009) - even though I’ve only seen video of games prior to 2005.

Not to mention the mad rush to the chin-up bar!

I have to agree with a previous poster in that the survey is flawed in that most present participants weren’t exposed to the older games.

You find that many students have a close association with their first game… no matter what it was.

I don’t think that robots playing soccer or basketball is a good way to go.

I think that a relatively simple game with lots of action and plenty of scoring is what is the best game to observe.

Do you really want to see robots playing tennis?

Scoring should be visible and easy to follow.
Overdrive was a good example.
Spectators did not like that game because it was like NASCAR… they liked it because of the excitment of the HUGE blue and red balls traveling around the track and lifting and tossing the ball over a goal rack. If you asked many pure spectators…most did not even know that teams got points by going around the track.

Clear scoring… lifting objects… throwing them…placing them in an obvious pattern…
Large scoring pieces also make it more exciting.

An exciting climax of the game is important too…
with possibly game changing consequences.

Traditional sports have followings because they have been around for awhile…

Imagine creating a game where you hit a little ball with a stick and go walk after it until it finally falls into a little hole…

That doesn’t sound too interesting… but look at how many people love to play it and watch it. They have a connection to it.

I think spectators like to see big, fast, exciting things happening…

Lifting a robot… throwing objects… moving quickly and precisely … lifting an object…
accumulating objects and putting them a goal…
these are the types of things that spectators like.

They really don’t care or even know that the robots operate autonomously… and most of our best work in automatic control isn’t even noticed…

I think the GDC has done a pretty good job most years with making something that was interesting to watch…

They have such a huge job…it is a testament to their abilities that they give us such neat games to play… considering everything they are trying to get done…

I don’t want to see robots playing basketball
or soccer or volleyball…

I want something different that is easy to understand if I am a spectator

Personally, I would agree with you (OP). I was not fully exposed to FRC until last year, which coincidentally was “soccer”. Now I first heard of FRC from a friend whose brother was part of team 696. He explained that the robot played “basketball”. Now that got me interested. Personally, if I was unaware of FRC until this year, I would not have even bothered to join.

Aim High, Frenzy, and Lunacy are the best games that have ever been made. Frenzy had previous positives to games with some new challenges thrown in. Aim High was a barrel full of crazy scoring. Aim High and Frenzy married and created Lunacy, which was the slick offspring of the two.

Take something great like Aim High, put in a little crazy and necessary variations, and you have a great game like Lunacy.

Take Rack n’ Roll, put it on a wall, and pop up towers and you have Rack n’ Droll…err Logo Motion.

Kidding aside, I’m anticipating how GDC will approach the 2012 game.

Ah, the eternal struggle of the GDC. They put an awful lot of thought into games (and rules), but if you really consider it, they have a very difficult job. Have some sympathy.

That being said, I like the OP and agree with it in spirit.

The next step is to write our your ideas for games and (somehow) get them to Bill Miller. He’ll make sure they are considered. The more detailed and specific, the better, but remember that games also need to be realistic in terms of cost, logistics, field reset, scoring, and so on.

Who knows, maybe your game ideas will form the basis of next year’s game!

This is the danger with surveys like this… They are doomed from the start, and are not a true reflection. Look at your rookie year and the majority of rookie years you find on CD they are post 2007 and 2008.

FIRST has a high turn over and this survey is a blatant representation of this. The odds that the best 5 games FIRST produced just happened to be last 5 games is next to none.

Actually breakaway was a miserable game to watch from a spectators perspective. I went to one competition just to watch, with no emotional attachment to any of the robots, and I got bored very fast.

A more appropriate measure of a game would be to post a rating system where teams can vote at the end of each season, this way the turnover wouldn’t have this effect on “stats”.

I do like sport like games, don’t get me wrong. 2004 was awesome for this because it was the first year of the human player, and the human player was actually a player. They had to shoot balls into a goal similar to basketball. In my eyes FIRST has since abandoned the human role in the game, minimizing the role of physical skill in the games.

People naturally arent emotionally connected to robots, unless the built them of course. Having true human players allowed non STEM spectators to have an emotional connection to the game, thus making them for entertaining to watch.

I think the GDC has a touch challenge in mixing explainability, scoring and challenge.

As someone who did crowd control, breakway was not as easy to explain as lunacy. “robot soccer plus try to hang the robot at the end” is easy enough to explain. Then the scores came out. Penalties affected the scores so much that it confused people. With lunacy, there were penalties, but they weren’t such a significant part of the score. Bringing the score down from 5 to 0 is harder to explain.

I think other games are easy to explain. Like next year could be “collect groups of oversized cards to get 21”. It’s a concept people have heard before - from gambling. And Lunacy wasn’t hard to explain - “try to get the balls into a trailer while the other robots try to stop you.” Not a sport, but an easy concept.

Basically, I think explainability is more important than a sports analogy. The environment itself provides the link to sports - cheering in the stands and the like.

One of my all time favorite games was 2000 when only 392 teams were part of the competition playing at only 10 regional events.

Looks like I’m in good company (with Al and Mike)—the 2000 game is probably my favourite as well. (And Chief Delphi’s 2000 robot has always been a favourite of mine—one of the best all-around robots ever.)

I agree with at least part of the original poster’s premise: 2009’s Lunacy is way down on the list. But I think that’s because it was a frantic mess played with neutered robots, and not because it didn’t resemble a sport.