Thursday, 9 July 2009

RobotWar and the Army of Clones

Back in 1981 Silas Warner created a game for MUSE Software which would go on to spawn an entire army of clones. Silas is probably better know as the author of the legendary Castle Wolfenstein. However it was RobotWar which went on to inspire a whole new genre.

screenshot: RobotWar, the battlefield of the futureSilas developed RobotWar for the PLATO computer system and later ported it to the Apple II for release by MUSE. The game is set at a time in the distant future when war has been declared hazardous to human health. Wars still rage, but the combatants are robots programmed to battle to the death.

RobotWar is played by writing the control program for one of these battle robots. The program controls the movement, radar and gun of the robot. Here's one of the example robots:

;     ROBOT  'SCANNER'
; SEND RADAR PULSE AND FIRE IF AN
; ENEMY IS SPOTTED

SCAN
AIM + 7 TO AIM

CHECK
AIM TO RADAR
IF RADAR > 0 GOTO SCAN
0 - RADAR TO SHOT
GOTO CHECK

Scanner is a simple stationary warrior. The first instruction (at scan) turns the gun 7° clockwise. The next instruction (at check) lines up the radar with the gun. The radar returns a positive number if it detects nothing, otherwise it returns minus the distance to the opponent.

The next line jumps back to scan if the radar returns positive. Otherwise a shell is fired by the penultimate instruction and the next line jumps back to check.

RobotWar earned a strong following in the early 1980's. Computer Gaming World organised annual tournaments and a group of enthusiasts formed the Postal RobotWar Club of America.

RobotWar has inspired a huge number of clones, I'll just mention a select few here:

  • CROBOTS by Tom Poindexter (1985) uses a subset of C
  • P-Robots by David Malmberg (1988) uses a Pascal subset
  • AT-Robots by Ed T Toten (1992) uses assembly language
  • Robocode by Mathew Nelson (2001) uses Java

Robocode is currently the most active. More information is available on the RoboWiki.

Please let me know if you think I've missed an important robot programming game or one of historical note. Also I'd love to hear from you if you have any memories of the above.

5 comments:

  1. You forgot RoboWar! But I forgive you - it was Mac-only for many years. This was one of my favorite games growing up. Right now, strangely enough, the de-facto current version is only available on windows.

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  2. Battlecode is pretty big at my school: http://battlecode.mit.edu/2009/ also done in java.

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  3. Jrobots http://jrobots.sourceforge.net is online since 2000

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  4. I loved all these games. We even had big competitions in the area I lived and the winner got a hundred bucks.
    Them were the good old days of programming...

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  5. I remember how cool this was on the APPLE ][+, which is what the screenshot is from.

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