FIRST Game Design Challenge 2021 Season

This year, FIRST released two new virtual challenges for FRC as a way for teams to stay safe while still participating and having fun. The Game Design Challenge provides teams the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and use their imagination to create their own FRC game. They will submit short descriptions of their game, an image of the field they create and have an interview with judges. There’s also the opportunity to submit an optional video and supplemental document, both of which are extremely valuable methods of showcasing the game and its design process. Teams around the world will then compete for an opportunity to present their game to the FRC Game Design Team.

Since this is a completely new challenge, you might be struggling with where to start. As cliche as it sounds, the most important thing is to think outside the box. But how does one do that? Guess what? There is no box. Boxes no longer exist! This isn’t Power Up. You and your team need to do something the FIRST community has never seen. Here are a few tips and tricks we believe will help your team create the next FRC game.

Create a Challenge that Allows Robots to be Unique

The coolest aspect of designing robots is they can do almost anything you want them to do. That being said, many competitions seem to focus on only a small portion of those capabilities. You do not want every robot to look the same when you arrive at a competition. Listing out a few things you’d like to showcase is a great starting point for this challenge, either by doing it individually or as a team.

FRC games are exciting when they present a new challenge for teams. For example, in Stronghold from 2016, FIRST introduced a modular field that included obstacles that changed location before every game. Try to create a challenge that has multiple solutions allowing teams to use their own unique perspective to build a robot. This can also serve as a way to help facilitate creative problem-solving in the engineering design process, something that FIRST strives to emphasize.

Some Constraints are Unavoidable

While it is important to make sure you're being creative and not throwing out your team's ideas too quickly, there are some constraints you should keep in mind if you're aiming for the Designer's Award or Concept Award. As a reminder, the Concept Award is awarded to the team with the most realistic and interesting game challenge that incorporates the chain. The Designer's award is similar to the Inspire Award for FTC since it goes to a team who is a strong contender in all other award categories.

FIRST's game field has been the same size for almost two decades so it's most likely they'll be looking for a game that fits inside the standard 27 ft wide x 54 ft long field. Another thing to keep in mind is the number of teams on each alliance and on the field at any time. Six teams, three per alliance, is the standard FIRST has had in their games since before most FIRST students were born. It's important to reflect on the standards FIRST has established over the years or else you might miss an aspect that you need to make your Game Challenge realistic.

Look at the ELEMENT from a completely new angle.

As teams began receiving the kit of parts in the days leading up to kickoff, everyone was perplexed by one item. The chain. After kickoff and the release of the game manual, the chain has become known as the Game Design Challenge ELEMENT. The chain is a crucial part of this year’s brand new Game Design Challenge and you do not want it to be the “weak link” in your presentation.

FIRST clearly wants teams to use the chain in the Game Design Challenge, although it is not required. However, simply including the chain in your game is probably not enough for your team to succeed. The initial thought that comes to mind when thinking of ways to use the chain is to have the robot climb it. While that might be interesting, it is almost certain that teams across the world are thinking the same thing. If you want your team to excel at the Game Design Challenge, you will need to spend some time brainstorming how to use the chain in a unique and engaging way. Once that’s done, you’re well on the way to a successful game design.

Look for a unique way the robots could score points

The point system your team decides to create will make or break your game. Each task the robot does in your game needs a point value based on how difficult it is. A good FRC game is always balanced, meaning the difficulty of a task vs. the time it takes to complete is always proportional. If there is a clear strategy to score the most points, your game will not be fun to play. Try and think of unique ways points can be accumulated or that teams can cooperate, and keep in mind whether the games will be more high-scoring or low-scoring when designing the points system.

FIRST has employed many ways of counting points in the past, some of which were more specific and unique than others. For example, in last year’s FTC Skystone competition, teams could earn extra points by moving the build plate during an autonomous period or parking under the bridge in the center of the field. The main way to earn points, however, was by stacking towers of bricks. In the 2018 FRC season, Power Up, FIRST used time to keep track of points, which was something we had not seen before.

You can see that FIRST likes to have multiple ways of scoring points. It may be a good idea for you to create multiple ways of scoring for your game as well. Besides, coming up with a new way of scoring might be what makes your game unique. Even if it doesn’t, it’ll help you think more critically about every aspect of the game and how it should all work together.

Make the Game Accessible to All Teams

Near the end of your initial design process, you’ll want to make sure you’ve looked at this game from every angle possible. A good way of doing this is to come up with every way of engineering a robot to play this game. Try asking someone, with an outside perspective and who has not been involved in the creation of the game, how they would design their robot. They may think of something you and your team has not even considered.

There will always be a couple of designs that just don’t make sense, but having one design that is superior in every way makes the game a lot less fun to everyone else. Usually this is because the “most superior method” will involve a design that newer teams may not be able to achieve due to financial reasons or lack of experience and skill. Think of different ways to level the playing field. Should there be another way of earning points? Would changing the size requirement allow for more successful designs?

In addition, there need to be objectives for teams of all skill levels. If a rookie team can only get their robot to drive, then there needs to be a way for them to contribute and score points. However, if all the tasks in the game are too easy, veteran teams will be able to dominate, making it no fun for everyone else. By achieving a good mix of various tasks, you also make the game more interesting and accessible to all teams.

Verify that a similar concept has not been used before

For this part, a quick Google search may suffice, or you can comb through the game manuals in FIRST’s online Resource Library. It’s important to make sure that this idea truly is unique, because otherwise, it may look like you’re using someone else’s hard work instead of your own. This doesn’t mean you have to read ALL of the game manuals but maybe watch the animations. The rules emphasize that this game should be creative, unique, and done to the best of your ability.

Since many robotics games do exist, though, there is a chance that your game might be similar to another one. To combat this, it’s a good idea to come up with ways that your game is especially unique and emphasize those during one aspect of your submission or presentation.

Be sure to check out FIRST’s official Game Design Activities for a more detailed guide and tips to get started. Don’t forget to have fun and keep being awesome :)


Sammie Graff

Documentation Subteam Member

Samuel Ray-Alverson

Documentation Subteam Member