PRAGUE — The University of Calgary got its competitive juices flowing Wednesday night by winning an international programming face-off on the eve of the Association of Computing Machinery’s 2004 World Finals.
The Calgary team emerged
victorious in the Java Challenge, an optional event that requires students to write components to a chunk of code running a video game. This year, the game was Code Ruler, which has players battling for control of a Medieval kingdom. Matches consist of up to six “”rulers”” competing with each other by ordering knights to capture the peasants, knights and castles of their rivals or by ordering their peasants to claim land. Students were given several hours Wednesday to program how their characters in the game would move and interact with those of opposing teams.
Calgary won the challenge with a final score of 30,558, a wide margin over its closest competitor the University of Illinois, which came in second with 17,201 points. Sixty-seven of the 73 teams competing in the World Finals this week participated in the Java Challenge.
The actual competition in the video game was pre-recorded prior to the broadcast of the Java Challenge Tuesday evening. The replay was brought to an abrupt halt in the semi-finals when the system crashed and the audience was left with the “”blue screen of death.”” In the end, organizers had to jump ahead to the final round without showing how the final 18 teams got there.
Tim deBoer, team lead for the deployment and publishing of tools in IBM’s WebSphere Studio, helped design Code Ruler for the Java Challenge. He said the score is based in part on how efficiently each team deploys its peasants and knights and captures land. “”Many of these students don’t know Java,”” he said. “”But it allows us to give them greater exposure to Eclipse as a way of working with the code.”” Eclipse is a project spearheaded by IBM to provide a universal toolset for software development. IBM is the official sponsor of the ACM World Finals.
On Wednesday all the teams will gather in Prague’s old municipal hall, Obecni Dum, where they will be given a series of about eight programming problems, which they will have to solve within a five-hour period. Other Canadian teams competing at the World Finals include the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
Sonny Chan, a University of Calgary computer science student and one of the team members, said preparing for the event involves at least one five-hour practice session each week, a considerable commitment on top of his course load.
“”It’s sucking up a lot of my time. Some projects have definitely suffered,”” he admitted, “”but I really enjoy this. In some ways it’s better than what we actually do in school.””
Chan, along with teammate Kelly Poon, will be spending this summer at the IBM’s Toronto software lab as part of the firm’s Extreme Blue Internship Program. While Poon will be working on a DB2 project to optimize multiple database queries, Chan said he will be part of a team bringing together the best features of Tivoli and products from Rational, which IBM acquired last year.
Unlike other teams, which are chosen based on how students fare in an internal competition, University of Calgary coach Jim Parker said he keeps an eye out for the brightest talent and hand-picks the best of the best.
“”I’ve been fairly autocratic,”” he said. “”(With internal competitions) you get people who know each other, who are friends with each other, but what you want are people who will complement each other’s strengths.””
Poon said the team sends the most challenging math problems to teammate Alex Fink, while Chan handles graph problems and she takes the dynamic programming load. Most of the team members said they are still figuring out what they want to do with their careers, but Poon said the ACM World Finals have been a big help to her studies.
“”It makes the classes seem easy,”” she said. “”(Other students) don’t practice programming 10 hours a week.””
Last year’s Java Challenge game, a car race called CodeRally, was later made available for download by IBM.