Atomic Games 2017 – Now with Real-Time Strategy!

We really enjoyed hosting our third annual Atomic Games event in Grand Rapids this year. It was a huge success! We met so many smart students and had lots of opportunities to work with them throughout the day. Our team overheard a number of the competitors saying how much they enjoyed this year’s challenge and that they continued to work on the problem after the event.

Notable Changes for 2017

We’ve used the same format for the Games since our original event. Each year, we invite up to 32 students to join us in teams of two. At the beginning of the Games, we reveal the challenge. Teams then have the day to write a player for the challenge. Finally, we host a single-elimination tournament where teams’ players match up against each other.

This format allows us to interact with students and watch them work in teams to plan strategy, execute their plans throughout the day, and respond to adversity and time pressure. Students enjoy the opportunity to focus on one large problem rather than scrambling to solve a lot of smaller problems in a compressed timespan.

We had some notable changes this year:

  • Interest in the event is spreading. We had nine schools represented this year, with students from Calvin College (10), Grand Valley State University (9), Hope College (4), Kalamazoo College (3), the University of Michigan (2), Aquinas College (1), Alma College (1), Michigan State University (1), and Saginaw Valley State University (1).
  • We were fortunate to have more interested students than we had room, with 52 applicants vying for 32 spots.
  • This meant that we had a very strong field this year, with our students’ average GPA sitting at 3.75.
  • Rather than continue our board game theme (Othello in 2015, Connect Four in 2016), we built a real-time strategy game from scratch for this year’s event.

Our 2017 Game

Shawn Anderson put together our real-time strategy challenge for this year’s event. Students found the game more interesting than past challenges because it was much more open-ended, and they had to balance how successful a particular strategy might be with the likelihood that they could build it within the given time limit.

In the current challenge, each player starts with a base and several worker units. As workers explore the map, they discover resources. Workers gather these resources, then bring them back to the base to build their resource supply. Players can expend resources to build other units including tanks and scouts. It’s possible to win with either a purely peaceful resource-gathering strategy or by building an army to attack the opponent’s base.

Congratulations to Our Winners!

We want to congratulate Kelsey Brennan from GVSU and Brian May from Alma College for winning this year’s Games. Their win was especially impressive given that they hadn’t met each other prior to the event. Well done, Kelsey and Brian!

Event Photos

Dan Kelch did a wonderful job capturing the spirit of the event with some photos. Here’s a small selection of his shots to give you a feel for the event.