Dec 01, 2008 - Claremont, Calif. - More than 500 Harvey Mudd College (HMC) students, along with alumni and professors, took first place in Tech Tournament '08, an online strategy game that pitted them against eight other technical schools across the country and in Mexico. -- Story by Gia Scafidi Leiva
Beating out Caltech, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, New Jersey's Science & Technology University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stevens Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Mexico's Tecnológico de Monterrey, the HMC team took home the grand prize of two BUGbundles—hardware devices with a LCD screen, accelerometer, 2-megapixel camera and GPS capabilities—donated by the company BUGbundles, which sponsored the competition.
"The game has been a great activity for the school, both internally and externally," said Tyler Wolf '09, one of the HMC team commanders. "Around here, it has brought together a lot of people who otherwise would not interact much. For example, as a commander, I met several freshman from other dorms who wanted to help out."
In addition, Wolf added, "Many of the people we were playing against started the game having never heard of HMC. They referred to us as HMU in the beginning, assuming Harvey Mudd was short for Harvey Mudd University. By the end, however, I think a lot of the other students came away from the experience with a newfound respect for HMC students. We are a tiny school, yet, through our coordination, some diplomacy, and a lot of ingenuity, we were able to take down such huge schools as MIT and Tec de Monterrey."
For 42 straight days, the cyberbattle raged on, each school trying to ultimately be the last team standing.
Every day, players logged in and followed their commanders’ orders to either defend their territory, move to other areas or attack opponents. Commanders were elected to write out battle plans, and players could vote out people who they suspected of spying.
"The commanders, especially Tyler, showed great creativity and cunning in crafting a winning strategy," said Elizabeth "Z" Sweedyk, associate professor of computer science who participated in the game. "But it would have all been for naught without the support of so many of our students."
"HMC did a great job of coming together over this game," added Wolf, who commanded the HMC troops with Christopher DeBoever '10, Nathan Jones '10 and Emily Fujimoto '11. "We got 69 percent of the school to participate, as well as a few alumni and professors."
Together, the team excelled at coordination, analysis and reconnaissance.
Since the in-game chatroom could be easily compromised by spies, one HMC student built an online forum that was only accessible from on campus. The team collaboratively strategized using the forum without the risk of opponents spying on their plans.
Several students also wrote computer programs to simulate battles, enabling the commanders to make better decisions. The programs told the commanders the degree of certainty involved in any attack.
Then, there were those students who painstakingly recorded data every single day and performed statistical analysis on them.
"From this we were able to track the participation levels for each team in the game, and observe trends," explained Wolf, a computer science major. "For instance, we observed that separating one of a team's territory away from the rest of their empire resulted in a drastic reduction in participation. Presumably, the players who were cut off from their team became demoralized and stopped playing. This observation informed our strategizing, and we were able to use the same tactic to great success many more times."
During spring semester 2007, all off HMC's dorms competed in a similar online competition amongst themselves, with Case Dorm taking home the grand prize of a $200 barbeque grill, provided by the Dean of Students Office. But this was the first time the college community had participated in such a game against other schools.
"The way the students worked together was remarkable," said Zachary Dodds, associate professor of computer science, the other professor who was part of the HMC team. "I think it's fair to say that it could happen only at Mudd. Indeed, the result seems to say just that."
More than 500 Harvey Mudd College (HMC) students, along with alumni and professors, took first place in Tech Tournament '08, an online strategy game that pitted them against eight other technical schools across the country and in Mexico.
-- Story by Gia Scafidi Leiva