BonzAI! Let the Brawling Begin

BonzAI Brawl 2011 Development Team
BonzAI Brawl 2011 Development Team

If playing video games maniacally for hours seems a little over the top to you, consider Michigan Tech’s BonzAI Brawl.

Teams of dedicated programmers code relentlessly for eight hours straight. Their mission: develop an artificial intelligence (that’s where BonzAI’s AI comes from) that will play a given game and defeat all comers. In other words, they write a program to run another program. And then, with enthusiasm that rivals the most rabid World Cup fanatics, they pit their AIs against each other.

“The goal is to be the last one alive,” said senior Anthony Nixon, leader of the development team that created this year’s challenge. “It was the biggest and, in my unbiased opinion, the best BonzAI Brawl ever.”

Nixon’s development team, nicknamed Team Secret, is part of the Husky Game Development Enterprise, which, with Women in Computing Sciences, or WiCS, has organized the event for the last four years. The Enterprise develops the game, and WiCS handles all the Brawl’s logistics. “The four-person development team worked around the clock since September to produce this year’s challenge,” Nixon said.

“It’s a very fun competition,” said Emily Raffa, a computer and electrical engineering major and the WiCS treasurer. “It’s meant to be enjoyable, and it tests both your programming and your strategy skills.”

BonzAI Brawl isn’t just for elite programmers. “We have a lot of people who don’t do the typical programming competitions,” said Raffa. “We’re not as intimidating. We encourage everyone to play—freshmen, faculty, people from Northern Michigan University. It integrates what you do in class and what you do for fun.”

“One of the grad students who won encouraged his students to participate,” she said. “They worked on their AIs for a week after the competition and then competed in class. That was really cool.”

In the game, teams of aliens, each armed with a mother ship and evil baby fighters, vied for control of the idyllic planet Zendl. “It was awesome,” said Ryan George, an Enterprise member majoring in computer science and computer network and system administration. And BonzAI Brawl is a logical extension of the Game Development Enterprise. “We’re all doing what we love,” he said.

A total of 104 players comprised the 40 teams that assembled April 9 to play the fourth annual BonzAI Brawl. “We hit capacity,” said Raffa. “We’re hoping for a bigger lab next year.”

BonzAI Brawl sponsors are Lasalletech, Consistacom, GE Aviation, Husky Game Development, the investment firm Jackson, the Department of Computer Science, the College Bookshelf and Joey’s Seafood and Grill. The winning team was Tessier-Ashpool S.A., including Benjamin DePew, Paul Bonamy and Bryan Franklin. Members of Team Secret, in addition to Nixon, are Adam Eidelsafy, Luke Lussenden and Weston Rye. The WiCS officers, in addition to Raffa, are Raven Rebb, president; Jacquelyn Burton, vice president; and Emily Mehlenbacher, secretary.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.