How To Build A Robot

Although watching other people's robots destroy each other in the Arena is fun for a while, the truly addictive part of RoboWar is the design of original robots. Fortunately, the language used to program robots, known as RoboTalk, is simple and straightforward.

Having a few commands mastered is not the only stage in robot design. The equipment given to a robot limits its potential greatly. For instance, a robot with a flimsy amount of armor is not made to charge madly around the arena and spray bullets with reckless abandon. And a 'bot with a slower processor speed is not going to have a complex finesse-oriented strategy.

With the hardware limitations, it becomes evident that some planning is necessary. A robot that has been planned is more likely to work than one that was thrown together hastily. The planning can be divided into two major factors: offense and defense.

The style of offense to be used is mostly regulated by two factors: energy and armaments. A robot that fires slow-moving missiles could end up hurting itself seriously if it moves very fast. And a robot with a low energy level cannot fire shots with as much energy as a high-energy robot.

Offense

Offense is an easier task than defense. All that is required for a basic offense is scanning for targets and firing off shots. A robot has many options for what it will fire at enemies:

  1. Normal Bullets -- Fast, hard-hitting and cheap.
  2. Explosive bullets -- Just as fast as bullets but with twice the power and a blast radius
  3. Missiles -- Although they are much slower than bullets, they are very powerful and not very expensive. Especially effective at short range.
  4. Hellbores -- These do no actual damage to their targets, but drain the shield level to zero. When used in combination with bullets or missiles, they can be devastating.
  5. Mines -- Stationary, but very powerful. Landmines are difficult to use as it is impossible to guarantee that the enemy will hit them before you do.
  6. Stunners -- Stasis capsules that do no damage to the armor or shields of targets. They freeze the enemy in place for an amount of time that varies with energy invested. While frozen, robots cannot execute instructions, move, shoot or do anything else.
  7. Tacnukes -- These weapons are very powerful, but risky to use. Covering roughly 10% of the arena, their blasts are set off directly underneath the robot that fired them. The user is advised to move away quickly.
  8. Rubber bullets -- These cost absolutely nothing to use, and do a miniscule amount of damage to enemies. Only useful as "scare shots."

More accurate weapon information can be found in Appendix A in the Hardware section.

There are many options to choose from, and as a result there is much diversity in robot design. A good basic weapon for simple robots is the normal bullet, and the first example robots in this tutorial will be armed with these.

The same limitations that apply to processor speed, energy and damage also apply to weaponry. With the exception of rubber bullets, all the weapons here cost points in the hardware store. Thus it is wise to choose weapons that your robot can use to their fullest potential!

Defense

Defense, as defined in RoboWar, refers to "any behaviors that a robot uses to keep itself alive until it is the only survivor in the arena". It is the foundation of strong offense. If a robot sits still and is destroyed before being able to shoot, it does not matter if it was armed with a nuclear missile. After being eliminated, there is no chance of it scoring kills on other robots.

Robots have a number of options for keeping themselves alive while they sling shots at their enemies. The most basic are:

  1. Armor -- The "Damage" buttons in the Hardware Store control how much abuse a robot's chassis can take before core meltdown. The highest rating, 150, can handle a lot of shots. But if a robot has damage of 60 or less, it must also rely on other survival strategies.
  2. Shields -- Through use of shielding, a robot can actually absorb damage through its energy banks (which recharge), as opposed to its damage (which cannot recharge). Energy is put into shields, which decay gradually unless maintained. The "Shield Max" buttons in the Hardware Store give the options for shielding as 100, 50, 25 and Zilch. This does not refer to the maximum amount of energy that can be stored in shields. But if the shield level is above the robot's shield limit, it will decay four times as fast as when the shields are within the limit.
  3. Movement -- The most obvious way to avoid being damaged is to move out of the way of shots. No robot can take infinite abuse, even with high shields and damage. So dodging shots or moving in a confusing pattern can help keep a robot alive even in the fiercest crossfires.

Through intelligent use of the three defensive measures, a robot can be designed that not only stays alive, but has energy left over to pound enemies into submission.

The Components of a Robot

Robots do not consist of only hardware and a strategy. They also involve code. A robot's code is the equivalent of its brain. It executes this code, instruction by instruction, at a rate determined by its processor speed. Well written code uses as few instructions as possible, in order to allow faster "thinking".

Even the code by itself is useless. Robots need a way for the code to sense and react to surroundings. A robot can at any time detect many things about its environment:

All robots have a turret, which holds both the sensors (for robots and bullets) and the gun. Shots are fired in the direction the turret is pointing. Also, robots are only seen directly in the aim of the turret. Thus a robot can be detected and fired on easily.

The turret is not a specific target that can be fired at, nor can it be destroyed in the course of battle. It also has no connection to direction of movement. Robots can move in any direction, regardless of turret aim.

With this knowledge of robot design, it is now time to go to the first example robot: a gun turret.