Game Design suggestion - reinstalling the lowest rung

As this year’s team has struggled with various and sundry lifts over the past 3 months, it occurred to me that this year’s game is the first game that does not have any scoring option for robots that can only drive (and plow), but not lift. In previous years, the no-lift scoring options were:

2006 Hangin’ Around – score in triangular low goal
2007 Quad Quadary – score in square low goal and own bases by pushing into quadrant
2008 Elevation – score in triangular low goal and drive onto the platform
2009 Clean Sweep – push small balls under the wall

It is not that easy to build a lift, and of the 40 or so Vex students that I have coached/taught over the years, only 3 have been capable of independently building a reliable lift and adapting it to the game of the year. Some are able to build a lift as a “concept piece” that they copy from a previous design or instructions, but as soon as they have to modify the size/gear ratio/other significant parameter, they lose all sense of geometry and how the parts of the design fit together. Many of my students can’t even screw-for-screw copy a robot from a photograph.

While a robot that can’t lift isn’t going to be impressive, it would be nice if low-level teams that have no lifting ability could at least participate and feel that they can accomplish SOMETHING.

The high-level teams will always find innovative ways to make game scoring interesting, but when prospective or lower-level teams feel that the lowest rung (figuratively) is out of reach, they won’t participate. Something to think about when trying to appeal to the masses.

P.S. How about a separate subforum for new game design suggestions and ideas, similar to the new product ideas subforum?

A Protobot can pick up a ring and score it on the shorter goal with the addition of a piece of 1x strap. This is why there is no floor goal this year.

the title was sort of missleading :stuck_out_tongue:
i thought it was to reinstall the lowest rung of the LADDER :wink:
i agree with the complexity level though, it will be hard for new teams to start from no experience
but they can also do stuff such as defense (pushing robots OR tubes under the ladder), tube hoarding…
even thought it isnt much, in elevation and clean sweep, you are still limited by what you can do with only a drive…
you can build a low profile drive for round up and push the tubes back out of the ladder :slight_smile:

I hadn’t thought of using the Protobot arm for scoring – it didn’t instinctively occur to me, and I’m not sure if a low-level team would think of it (though one with only the Protobot in its inventory of parts and experience probably would).

In a similar vein, this year’s challenge is also missing “second rung” tasks like scoring in Elevation’s 3-inch goals or Quad Quandary’s dumping rings on the 3-inch platform. The QQ platform is especially good for “moving up” beginners – it not only is relatively low, but the wide platform is much easier to score on than an narrow pole or even in a triangle goal. That year, I saw some rather clever but mechanically simple devices, like see-saw scoops powered by a single motor. As lifts are required to lift to greater heights, you run into complexity issues like the weight of arms, having to cut and mount brackets on pieces (8-inch chassis rails no longer work), using elastics, etc. It’s nice to be able to develop knowledge incrementally.

The populations I work with are perhaps a bit different than most who frequent these forums. I have a small handful of students who are gifted mechanically, but I have far more who struggle with building but are good at programming or are not exceptionally gifted in either. Most come to me with no experience of any kind in robotics. Often I drill students in the basic concepts only to find later that they can’t figure out why their arm goes so slowly when they geared it down.

But there are some success stories. One student realized that after a whole season, he couldn’t build a Squarebot on his own. We set him to work with the Squarebot instructions, then gave him photos of progressively more difficult robots to copy. It took about 3 years for him to get a good sense of the geometry of building, but now he’s one of the strongest builders I’ve worked with and is mentoring younger students. In fact, 2 of my 3 best builders took 3 years to develop to the point of designing and building independently.

It’s fun to see what very talented builders can concoct, but an even greater joy to watch builders blossom who might not have developed without the team experience.

In my mind, the Protobot is the first Vex robot everyone should build. A game playable by a Protobot is in my mind a game with a low enough barrier to entry. In fact, this game might be good for the Protobot; with some modification a Protobot could harvest tubes from under the ladder. From there, the “second” robot would expand on the first; non-cantilevered drive, omni wheels for turning, vertical arm tower for height. That gets them going and teaches people the “must dos” (bearing blocks everywhere, strong connections) versus where they can experiment.

If a team has no arm, what are they doing at competition? If they show up without one, neighboring teams should help them build the Protobot arm.

(As for the QQ “second rung”: It was effectively much less effective for scoring because any half decent team would just brush rings right off the top of it, and rings dropped from a high height would just bounce off. If the goals had a recessed lip, I would agree.)

That’s a good question, and an important one to answer. It’s for this reason, among others, that we decided not to register a rookie team this year. Every year we get rookies who are on the edge – do I participate or not? They come irregularly and don’t spend the time that’s needed to build a really good bot. But if they feel they can pass the first “hurdle” (for example, last year’s rookie team started with a gathering device that spun the small balls into a collecting area on the floor inside the robot, then spit them out through the wall slots), they might come back. If I have them build a hinge lift from step-by-step instructions then ask them to modify it to solve the challenge, more often than not, they get stuck and give up. If I can get them to an event, I usually have them hooked, and they have the motivation to get better. But if teams feel unwelcome if they don’t have a lift, they won’t come. This year, I started with 6 rookies, of whom 4 built basic bots, showed mild interest in competing, but stopped coming when they saw the game. The 2 remaining will attend a competition alongside the veterans.

I seem to recall that there was a lip of some sort, and at the regional we attended, scoring on the platform was common – sometimes opposing teams would knock off rings, but sometimes not. At our event (which I believe had lower level robots than many of the regionals), probably more than half the robots couldn’t score on any pole at all.

Fundamentally the issue to consider is what should happen to the bottom teams when the top inevitably moves up? Should all teams experience a somewhat linear shift, leaving the lowest level teams much higher than, say 2-3 years ago, or should there always be room for some teams that can barely drive?

If done correctly, having some easy tasks could even make things more interesting for the advanced teams. Some matches are won by the margin of a few points, and if there are easy tasks that are solved by one type of device and harder tasks that are likely to require a different device, the advanced teams will be challenged to figure out how to solve both types while staying within the limits of space and motors, whether it be design a device that that’s versatile enough to do both tasks, or to cram 2 mechanisms into a limited space.

Over the years, I’ve never been a big fan of the “low hanging fruit” concept. I understand that teams may have limited time constraints, budgets, and resources, but from what I’ve seen, design is directly proportional to the amount of exposure the students have to the system as a whole, not just building time. I try to start my student’s season off by showing them pictures of the types of mechanisms that have been made before in order to get them thinking, and several times this season KTOR lent a robot a group of students new to VEX just to get them out to an event.

One of the most important policies on all of my teams(college included) is “You can copy any design you like, just as long as you can explain it and make a noticeable improvement.” Design is an iterative process, so a new iteration of an older design is still the student’s work. Starting off with something like a protobot may be the way to go if resources are limited, then (in theory) the students spend more time thinking of ways to improve the arm than how to make a working drive platform.

if you have rookies that are “on the edge” then they should go to an event (non participant) and just experience the thrill and competition
that was how i got hooked :slight_smile:
me and my partner went with just an upgraded square bot, we came home with plenty of ideas (dual tank tread for elevation ;)) and got started right away
its sometimes hard for rookies to “look” at a picture and get how the mechanism works
it is easier if you are AT the competition in person, SEE the robot operate, and ASK the teams how a certain mechanism works, or why they did what they did
that is how all starters get better, they copy and understand the fundamentals, and then they build on it
just my personal experience

When you went with your upgraded square bot, were you (and your robot) part of the competition, or did you spectate only? If participating, did you you know that your bot had the ability to score something, or did you know you couldn’t score but plan to drive around playing defense?

we went as a spectate
even though, we still brought our robot and ALL of our equipment for all the help we can get (we didn’t even know how to program other than basic drive commands)
we had a squarebot base, with an arm with “rollers” at the end
so it can “theoretically” pick up cubes and “theoretically” score it (excluding the 21" goal)
i think that was the most experience in robotics i have gained, many people helped us solve our programming issues and they even gave us advice on how to make our robot better

If your team is really struggling to build lift systems, something that your team could try is building the “3 inch robot” that can fit under the ladder and retrieve tubes. Or, the team could try a robot that can tip over the moveable goals, and descore that way (if they do it right, the goal might stay over :rolleyes:)

I can’t give many suggestions on scoring, though - sorry… :frowning:

I’m trying to think of all the things a 3 inch tall robot can do strategically, and I’ve actually come up with a decent list.

*]Drive under ladder - return tubes to “grabbable” field
*]Knock over stacks - particularly effective since nearly every team doesn’t make stacks anymore but just picks up the prebuilt stacks
*]Hoarde tubes under ladder or into a corner - yes, one by one but this can still be disruptive especially if the mound of tubes is defended by the robot

Try taking the day before competition to get these kids brainstorming as to what they can do with no arm - there’s a surprising amount of stuff. The kids who really catch on will think of it, do decently enough to make eliminations, and want to stick around.

This post is written by a student who ended a QQ competition with a squarebot with a hook bolted on it to move goals around - with a Winning Alliance trophy in hand.

It is exactly this type of experience that I would like to make available to beginning students of today, though realistically, the squarebots/protobots probably won’t be winning trophies. In 2007, many/most teams were beginners, so it didn’t take as much effort to participate and even to “stay with the pack.” When new students visited our team from 2006-2008, over 90% stayed, while in the past 2 years, when students have visited, over 80% have left. Why? I believe that while overall the recent visitors actually have more raw talent than their predecessors, they feel less capable than the rookies of 2006-2008 because the task is harder and the bar is higher than before. While the rookies also have more support (in the form of help from the vets and previous online designs), it doesn’t seem to compensate for the feeling of intimidation.

Actually, our veteran team has finally arrived at a working design that pleases them (and me), after cycling through 4 iterations of impossibly impractical (yet compellingly cool) designs, including this one. The vets have always held their own, captaining an alliance at every event but one in the past 5 years, and earning Excellence, Tournament Champion, or Finalist awards every year. I speak, not so much for the students I have, but for the ones who did not stay, yet have names, faces and futures. I try to put myself in their shoes and ask, “If I had to start/join a team for the first time today instead of 5 years ago, would I have the confidence to jump in?” Probably not.

The 2 rookies we haven’t lost (yet) were hard-won. Three weeks ago, our team staffed a robotics tournament for elementary/middle school students, and the team sought out the 8th graders who would feed into our high school and invited them to join. The veterans (all graduating seniors) made the decision to let the rookies be the drivers at competition to a) make it hard for them to no-show and b) get them “hooked” by the experience. While I have reasonable hope that these 2 will stay and form the core of next year’s team, it’s clear that recruiting and KEEPING rookies is much harder for us than it was 3-5 years ago.

In a previous thread, it was expressed that having 1/3 of 1% of students involved in robotics was far too low a goal. While I know that many exceptionally talented students have yet to join, if we are to expand this experience to include students whose talents are solid, but not stellar (I would say most of my students fit in this category), it would be wise to consider what they are capable of in the short window of time while they are deciding whether to stay. And having the dreaded “low-hanging fruit” might be part of the strategy for appealing to people who haven’t yet jumped all the way in.

Murdomeek, you and your partner showed exceptional motivation and initiative. If more students were half as dedicated as you, life would be very good!

Are you saying that you believe a squarebot or protobot should have a good chance at wining a standard (ie, not elite or highly competitive) level VEX competition? If that’s your goal for a game, what incentive does it give teams to build something better? Or more generally, how could a game be designed such that a “better” robot even exists? Maybe I misunderstood your point.

The proper way to design a game, which is what the VRC GDC strives for, is to make it competitive and fun to watch and play regardless of the quality of the robots, as long as all of the robots in the match are of a comparable skill and quality. We do not try to make a game where an alliance of protobots has an equal chance at beating an alliance of elite robots. We believe that an innovative design and hard work to build a more efficient robot should be rewarded with a better shot at winning the match.

All that being said, we held an event this past Saturday where a team showed up without a robot; they didn’t know they were supposed to build it before the event. A few of our students helped them build a simple base with a simple arm with a simple claw that could pick up a tube and score it on a movable goal. This team was picked for the eliminations and descored a tube in the semi-finals that turned out to be the deciding points in the match.

One possible solution to your problem of discouraged students is to find a less competitive event where a simple robot can make a difference. If our event was more competitive and had more than 21 teams, this team most likely would not have been picked for the eliminations.

I would just like to say that I support having the lower level of scoring. I have sent data to Rick Tyler and Brad Lauer. If any other VEX employees want to see it please PM me.

Jon T

I guess “exactly” was a poor word choice. What I meant was that going to a competition with a squarebot/protobot, being able to score something (by moving around bases or pushing objects into a goal), and feeling a sense of accomplishment was something that 2007 season students were privileged to enjoy, and I’m hoping that today’s recruits could have the same opportunity. What I DON’T expect is that squarebots/protobots will win trophies.

The robots of today are immeasurably better than 3 years ago, and that’s a great thing! But the downside is that to “stay with the pack”, today’s robots must be much better than before. It’s one thing to expect a 3rd year veteran to be much better than a rookie or even 2nd year veteran. But it’s a different matter to expect a 2010 rookie to be much better than a 2007 rookie.

I don’t expect low-level teams to do well in competition, and honestly, I don’t care if they come in dead last (someone has to!). I do care that they’re so discouraged that they don’t even want to go to competition, where they have the greatest potential to learn and be inspired. When they make it to an event, we almost always have them “hooked.”

But you’re right in that VRC may have “outgrown” my team. I am on my Generation 3 team, and each generation has a harder time jumping in than the one before, even though I believe that Generation 3 (including the lost ones) had at least as much raw talent as the previous generations. While my team moves up by inches, the rest of the field moves up by miles, and if we’re too out of step with the pack, it may be time to call it the end of a great experience. If I can’t convince my 2 new recruits to stay the course for next year, I will have worked my way out of a job.

That is the #1 scary thing about VEX. The entry bar from the first game has gone up. I doubt that the winners from that first year could match up with the winners now. The Acme Exothermic Hawaiian Jones Cheesy Egg Machine is a pretty huge opponent to build to. I’m excited about the ability to start middle school kids and get 2-3 years of experience and hit their stride.

Smartkid has done lots to present out their omni modules. Liam built a great Ackerman bot that the guts of should be presented. One of my favorite book sets is the “Behind the FIRST” robots, a year worth of robots and their design. I’d love to see a better job of taking apart cool robot so other teams could build and learn from them.

My problem (which I’m looking for sympathy for) is that I plan for x number of roboteers and I get 2 times as many. So I’m playing catchup for parts and management and not enough for mentoring. I seldom get a chance to build as much as I’d like to.

To move back to the lowest rung. we went to an event that the low rung was gone and lots of teams hung above the floor. So if I was going to do Round Up again I’d change two things. I’d remove one of the orange rods to give access into the ladder. 10 points to hang off the floor, 15 for above the orange rung, 25 for above the yellow. I’d also tape the rectangle around the ladder and rings that are fully in the area would be 1 point.

Having said all that; My goal is to teach problem solving, team work, have fun and build things safely. So winning is only the icing on the cake.

Well that certainly wasn’t the impression I was trying to give you. I may have worked my way out of a (part time, volunteer) job.

I understand your point now about rookie team members not having the skills to build a Round-Up robot that can contribute in a meaningful way to the game, therefore they get discouraged. Many students on our teams had a tough time as well. When we held our in-class competition a few weeks ago, a majority of them couldn’t score.

As both you and Foster pointed out, the entry bar did go up this year, maybe too far. It’s actually something we consider each year when we create the game, at least as long as I’ve been involved. We thought the game was easy enough for rookies if the protobot was able to score, maybe we were wrong.

This outcome would really, really stink if it occurs and is evidence of a widespread trend.

I have watched the program, the teams and the competitions evolve this far; and I have seen and experienced what MM described.

Among all the reasons to have a VRC program, one is to expand the pool of talent that becomes excited about STEM pursuits. There is a modest-sized collection of students who are or will be in VRC because it is the type of activity they enjoy whether VRC exists or not. Scratching their itches is useful and fun; but if a program like VRC doesn’t expand beyond that group, then the program will leave, so, so much untapped potential rotting on the vine, that you could almost cry.

Even after the recent tremendous growth, VRC today still doesn’t touch even 1% of North America’s eligible students. So, I recommend we all continue to help develop a program(s) that will continue to grow until it reaches at least 10% of those students; not one that will “plateau” any earlier than that.

Remembering that the point of a pyramid doesn’t get very far off the ground if it isn’t supported by a large broad base is an important thing to keep in mind. The world needs that entire pyramid.

PS: I recognize that the Protobot was this season’s low-barrier-to-entry design; but I gotta say, the Protobot isn’t my favorite simple design. This season’s results are probably a lesson-learned.

This actually would be a great way to eliminate the “tube under ladder” strategy, if desired…