By James O’Sullivan, June 2014
The eight finalist teams in Hello World Open, the first-ever coding world championship, survived qualification rounds that included 4,000 coders representing 92 countries. We enter an onscreen world where artificial intelligence pilots race cars around a twisting, turning track.
Organised by Finnish creative technology company Reaktor and mobile game developer Supercell (of Clash of Clans fame), the competition culminated on June 10, 2014 in Helsinki, also live-streamed around the world. As popular as it is, the contest shows off just a cross-section of a huge global coding community. A Polish team called Need for C won the championship.
We looked in during the qualifying rounds of the first Hello World Open. Hosted online, the rounds are divided into regions: the Americas; Asia Pacific; and Europe and Africa, along with a wildcard round. Excitement builds on the leader board, as races move from track to track, with varying levels of difficulty and weather to negotiate.
Tiny cars race around the screen, some skidding off the track, others skilfully negotiating the curves and straightaways of the race. Participants from various corners of the globe have taken up the challenge of creating artificial intelligence (AI) for a race car.
However, unlike the highly rendered games of our era, the graphics are primitive and bare-boned, recalling the likes of Pac-Man and Pong from the embryonic days of the games industry.
Hello World Open’s origins can be traced back to Reaktor’s staff camps. During one particular trip in 2012, employees were tasked with the challenge of coding AI for a Pong paddle.
“At the end of the competition these AIs played tennis,” recalls Reaktor’s Ville Valtonen, the main organiser of Hello World Open. “When the staff came back to office and showed it to rest of the company, people started cheering for these paddles the same way they would for John McEnroe or Boris Becker playing tennis.”
They immediately knew they were on to something.
Soon the Finnish Coding Championship was born and over 200 teams signed up, numbering some 500 people. Unlike other coding championships, here was a competition that combined the technical skill of coding with the live spectacle of a sporting event staged before a large crowd. The sky – or in this case the world – was the limit.
Hello World Open’s qualification rounds saw the competition shaved down to eight teams over the course of four days. At the main event in Helsinki, the finalists from Finland, Brazil, Poland, Russia and Slovakia competed in front of a crowd for prizes of up to 5,000 euros.
“I’m very excited!” exclaims finalist Valetin Konovalov of Russia, who races under the name FireEdge. “The competition has definitely been very challenging. The different car behaviours make races very interesting and unpredictable, and that’s a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, two trios of coders from Brazil also headed north to strut their stuff.
“We had a great time developing our carrinho [cart], as we like to call it,” says Thiago Garcia, part of the Working Minds trio. “The race engine is so amazing and addictive that we spent hours and hours finding a better way to go faster. For those who like a good challenge, this is where you want to be.”
“The qualifying rounds were intense,” says Diogo Holanda, a member of the three-man team ITArama. “We all have full-time jobs, so the little free time we had was spent on it.”
“I’ve also heard great things about Finnish tech companies and startups,” says Holanda’s teammate, Luca Mattos Möller. “Organising a competition like this is a huge incentive for the local coding community, and will definitely increase Finland’s prestige in the global coding community.”
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