Frank Answers Fridays: June 28, 2013

Blog Date: 
Friday, June 28, 2013 - 10:17

This Frank Answers Fridays feature has been getting positive reviews, which is great.  Unfortunately many of the positive comments have been directed toward me personally, when it was actually one of our fine FRC Staffers, Rose Kue, who suggested the concept, came up with the name, and even worked with the FIRST Marketing department to develop the snappy new banner.  Her suggestion fit so well with our new approach to communication, my answer was an immediate ‘Yes!’.  This is yet another example of the great ideas coming from the FRC Staff.  We’ll work to keep the new ideas coming – not all will be hits, but even the failures will teach us lessons that will help to move us forward.

Today’s question comes from Eric Browning, a mentor from Team 3289 in Utah.

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Question:

Hello from Team 3289.

Since FRC 2011 FIRST has started outrageously scored alternate events like the pole climbing minibots in FRC2011 and the pyramids this year. Smaller teams usually only have time to focus on the main event which has been continually diluted by these side activities. Go onto YouTube and you'll find wheelless robots that were built for climbing only because the reward is so much more it's not worth their time to gather and shoot frisbees (which was much harder than climbing). If the side events score is decreased, maybe we can get back to all-around robots vs. specialized "point bots". Will FIRST see the light on this problem?

Do not answer unless you are going to print my entire question, no editing please.

Answer:

Eric, thanks for the question.  This gives me the opportunity to talk a little about one important aspect of our game design process.

In FRC, we have a mix of teams with widely varying resources and experience playing on the same field in the same matches.  This creates a challenge for game design.   Our mission to inspire students to become science and technology leaders requires us to deliver ‘just right’ challenges to every team.  A just right challenge stretches you past your current limits so you can grow and earn – with your hard work – a legitimate sense of accomplishment and a more expansive view of your true potential.  Too much of a stretch, though, and the challenge becomes discouraging rather than inspiring.  How can one game provide the right experience to our wide variety of teams?

On the Game Design Committee, we solve this problem by attempting to create games that have a low floor but a high ceiling.  In other words, we try to build in tasks that very basic robots can support, along with tasks that require more sophisticated designs.  We want simpler robots to be able to contribute in a substantive way to the match, while still challenging even our most experienced and well-resourced teams to the point where no team feels they have mastered the game and have nothing more they could have done with their design.  Since every team is different, we present teams with a palette of game options, from which they can assemble their own just right challenge, considering their resources and intended game strategy.  Whether a team’s limitations are driven by experience, technical knowledge, or other resources, the question as it relates to the challenge is the same – what’s the most you can do with what you have?

We don’t always get the mix of tasks and their values right in the game, of course, but in the post-event surveys we sent to teams for 2013, with 2,289 respondents, 78% said the game challenge was ‘Just Right’.  (2 individuals – 0.09% - said it was ‘Far Too Easy’. Maybe they misread the question?)   Also, last night I was at Dean’s home talking to John V-Neun, a mentor from Team 148, the Robowranglers, a team with many years - and trophies - under their belts. John said he found this year’s game very challenging. It sounds like even the Robowranglers had to stretch to meet the challenges of the 2013 game.

I expect that some individuals will disagree with the approach we’re taking, and I won’t say this way of doing things is set in stone, but my hope is that everyone can understand the reasoning behind it.

[Sidebar:  John V-Neun, along with Karthik Kanagasabapathy and Charlie Wensel, were invited to Dean’s home last night as representatives from IFI at this week’s Supplier Summit.  Every year, a team of FIRST staffers, led by Kate Pilotte, Kit of Parts Manager, puts on a Supplier Summit here in New Hampshire that starts with a lobster dinner at Dean’s home and ends late the next day after a series of meetings and workshops.  This gives us a chance to thank our many generous suppliers and get ideas to enhance our Kit of Parts for the following season.]

I’ll blog again soon.

Frank

Frank Answers Fridays is a new weekly-ish blog feature where I’ll be answering ‘good questions’ from the FRC community. You can e-mail your questions to goodfrcquestion@usfirst.org. Please include your name, team number and where you’re from, which will be shared, if selected.

Comments

Well said, Frank. The 2012 and 2013 games have been excellently balanced. I believe there is something to do for everyone in the most recent games, especially 2013.

Hi Frank,
Thanks for the great answers! Who is on the Game Design Committees? Do the other programs also have GDCs? Is there an overlap of game designers among the different programs?

Thank you Frank for an excellent and insightful answer to this question.

I want to add that I disagree with Mr. Browning. The 2012 and 2013 games were very well balanced, IMO the 2 most balanced games of the last 5. While I don't have space here to expand on this... if the end game was too heavily weighted, "end game only" 'bots would have been overly dominant. They weren't.

I understand the mentor's frustrations. I would encourage his team to pick the task with the greatest effort to reward ratio, and not necessarily do "the main objective". Engineering is about tradeoffs and choice.

I found it interesting that Mr. Browning's team found it easier to climb than to shoot Frisbees. The team that I am an assistant coach for (3244, St. Cloud, MN) had the opposite esperience. In the end our robot could "hang" (but not climb), and had a good frisbee shooter. I think the difference is where the mentors and members have experience and expertise. Maybe his teams skill set is different than ours.
Given our build experience, I watched both at regionals and championships and noticed that most of the time the alliance with the winning shooters were the winners of the match.

Thank you Ms Rose! The tagline below the banner makes me chuckle every time. I don't think it will ever get old.

Like!

As a rookie mentor, and as a championship participant, I felt that the game was good in that it forced us to focus on tasks we could accomplish. I was just wondering if it may be possible to award the efforts of defensive bots somehow. Has anyone thought of this? Our team did very well defensively, preventing opponents from scoring. We had a blast! Thanks.

I think you answered your own question. "Our team did very well defensively, preventing opponents from scoring." In our team's thinking, preventing your opponent from scoring is equivalent to us scoring the points we just blocked. What better reward? We were one of those "end game" robots built just to climb rather than shoot (though we did have a drive train). By the end of the season, we found a good balance of playing defense for the first half of the match and climbing for the second half that worked well. In hindsight, we'd rather have had a shooter, but we worked with what we had.

... That there were NO climbers beyond the first level in the Einstein finals that were any real consequence to the final score, despite their importance throughout the rest of the tournament - they were ALL shooter bots on both sides of the competition. I too agree with the idea that there should be a wide range of tasks, and that FIRST has done a great job in the last few games of trying to allow both rookie and experienced teams to have fun. Picking what tasks to do (or all of them) is a valuable lesson in scope management.

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