Behind-the-Scenes of the 2021 FIRST Global RoboCo Challenge

Howdy, RoboEngineers!

Last week, we showcased some of our funniest RoboCo glitches, bugs, and bloopers! This week, we’re taking an equally fun look behind-the-scenes of the 2021 FIRST Global® RoboCo Challenge (FGRC21)!  

Our collaboration with the world-renowned FIRST Global was Filament Games’ biggest undertaking in recent memory. Three livestreams, three unique challenges levels, and two months of social content take a lot of planning and hard work to pull off and we never could’ve done it without the combined efforts of our friends over at FIRST Global as well as our own production and development teams.

Design is Everything

FGRC21 Website Banner

You can’t make a compelling video or website without a fantastic designer. Luckily, we have one in the form of Tracey Reinke, Filament Games’ web and graphic designer. Originally an engineer, Tracey started at Filament in 2019 after she switched to a career in design. Since then, she’s done everything from rebranding Filament Games’ website to making Discord emojis to creating cool motion graphics for social media. With FGRC21 specifically, she was in charge of designing the look of the website as well as designing the logo and helping our video producer, Josh Bartels, with editing the videos. Here’s Tracey’s account of how exactly she went about doing all that design work: 

When it came to designing the logo for the challenge, I wanted to make sure it was an image that encapsulated both FIRST Global and RoboCo’s brands as well as invoked the feel of a competitive event. To do this, I first took the badge shape and ribbon banners that are commonplace in competitive events and combined it with FIRST Global’s font. I then added in some RoboCo charm by covering the logo in metal plating and adding in the RoboCo arm from RoboCo’s logo. 

FGRC21 Logo

I also took a lot of inspiration from Twitch when designing the layout of the livestreams but used RoboCo colors and font to make everything look unique. One of the biggest things both Josh Bartels and I wanted to make sure of was that the visuals and narrative flowed seamlessly, so we looked to sports content like the Olympics and even ESPN broadcasts to help figure out the tone and transition elements we wanted. I also made sure that, when designing the thumbnails for each video, that I used elements specific to each challenge (i.e. a robot holding a sandwich for the Qualifiers thumbnail) to further differentiate segments of the competition from one another. 

Stream Layout for FGRC21

However, probably the biggest challenge and most important part of the design process was figuring out how to showcase each team’s robots in an exciting and individualistic way. To do this, Josh and I came up with a design in After Effects that includes the team’s robot, its name, their country, and their country’s flag. 

What’s interesting about this design in particular is that we had to have the RoboCo development team build a green screen room for us! Once we received the robot file from FIRST Global, I would download the file, import the robot into RoboCo and then take it into this green screen room where it would automatically rotate. I would then import the captured clip into After Effects, add the robot name and the team name, and add the team’s flag to the background to give it that personalized, awesome look!

Putting The Designs in Motion 

On top of designing a new logo and website, we also had to put together three livestreams. The mastermind behind those livestreams is Josh Bartels, a name you may have heard on this devblog before. Not only does Josh produce all the videos and music for RoboCo, he also produces music and videos for all the other games we have going on at Filament Games! Having just celebrated his ten year anniversary at the company this year, we’re convinced that there isn’t a single video or audio challenge that Josh can’t tackle and, what’s even more impressive, is that Josh produced, edited, and composed all the music for FGRC21 while also taking care of a newborn baby!

To learn more about how Josh goes about making music specifically, we highly encourage you to check out his breakdown below of how he composed FGRC21’s main theme. You can also check out the YouTube playlist containing all of FGRC21’s livestreams here

Getting RoboCo Ready

Team Cambodia Scoring Breakdown from FGRC21

In addition to all the work done by Tracey and Josh, RoboCo’s development team also had to get the game ready for deployment. Not only did they add a first pass on robot painting and QA test the game for this milestone, they also had to propose a scoring system for the FGRC21 that was balanced, aligned to FIRST Global standards, and easy-to-understand. To speak more on how that scoring system came to be, here’s devblog staple and Lead Game Designer Luke Jayapalan:

We started from the elements that the game already scores: the main and sub objectives central to each challenge, as well as the time the robot took to complete the objectives, the total cost of the parts used to build that robot, and a penalty deduction for any property damage or unhappy humans. We left this score unchanged so that participants could reference their in-game score and apply this toward their FGRC21 score.

We expected participants in the FGRC21 would want to really show off their skills and make more versatile bots than might happen in a typical single-player setting. So we decided to award additional points for completing the secret objectives in each challenge. In the single-player game, secrets are fun things you can discover that unlock cosmetic rewards, but they aren’t necessarily things you’d want to do over and over again. So we left them out of the single-player score to avoid creating that expectation and making the gameplay too grindy. But for FGRC21, it made more sense to include them, so we started with the participant’s in-game score, and we added 500 points for each secret completed in the same run.

We also knew that evaluating robots in a purely quantitative way will never yield as interesting a result as bringing in some qualitative measures. So FIRST Global provided a panel of judges who could score each bot up to 2500 points in each of three categories: Mechanics, Innovation, and Aesthetics. These scores helped reward important qualities that are difficult for a computer to measure like, “Has significant effort been applied to the robot’s aesthetics with remarkable results?”

The overall scoring model worked well for FGRC21 and supported a good range of strategies. But we learned for next time that it probably wasn’t that important to stick to the single-player mode’s time-to-score conversion. When we do this again, we’re excited to give all participants the same time limit (similar to how FIRST® LEGO® League is run), because then we can put replays side-by-side with each other and make the broadcast even more exciting!

And that’s just a small look into everything that went on behind-the-scenes of FGRC21! In addition to Tracey, Josh, and RoboCo development team, we also have to give a huge round of applause to Filament Games’ Dan White, Brandon Pittser, Alex Stone, and Jennifer Javornik for organizing everything as well as FIRST Global’s Stephanie Slezycki and Khadijah Bagais for their enormous contributions to designing and running the event, facilitating our conversations with participants, and expanding our social media presence. We’re so excited to produce more competitions in the future and can’t wait to get more young people involved in the world of digital robotics! 

If you want the chance to be a part of the next FIRST Global RoboCo Competition, make sure to check our FIRST Global’s website to learn more. If you missed FGRC21 and are curious about the results, visit our website or read our recap of the event here. Next week, Luke Jayapalan returns to talk about the cello and violin duet in our Silicon Sonata challenge, so get your cello bow ready!

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