Imagine Cup

Important note (to not get confused): The text below (and the future ones) is written in the past tense, because they are text that have to go into a book for school, which you have to write after your internship, giving info about what you did. But I'm writing it piece by piece, because otherwise it will be too much to remember, and a lot less detailed :)

For the second year in row, Microsoft organized the Imagine Cup. This is an international contest with various categories. As a part of my internship, I had to compete in the Visual Gaming and the Information Technology category.

The IT category was about diving into solving real life IT problems. With questions about networks, databases and various servers the content was really diversified.

You get 30 minutes to solve 30 questions, scoring 3 for each correct answer, 0 for a blank answer and -1 for a wrong answer. The first 5 people of a country advanced to the next category, which was the first goal of my internship.

After having spent half an hour taking the quiz, I had to wait a day to get the results, to prevent abuse. My score ended up being a 66/90, placing me at a shared first place in the Belgian competition. My first goal was reached.

The Visual Gaming competition was a coding challenge. In this competition you were given an SDK, which included a 2D-viewer, 3D-viewer, documentation and the required assemblies.

In the VG competition you had to write code for robots in a small game, their brains, or also called, AI. The main things I learned thanks to this competition were algorithm-knowledge, performance issues and logic thinking.

Algorithm knowledge was useful to find optimal actions for the robots, for example, the A* algorithm explained above, helped to find the shortest path. Other algorithms such as Traveling Salesman Problem also had to be solved and implemented to gain a strategic advantage in this game.

Performance was a very important aspect in the VG competition. Because your code had a limited time-window it could run in, it had to be very fast, making sure it stayed inside that window. This was the reason why I implemented a binary heap in the pathfinder, and why I made a lot of performance optimizations, such as preventing boxing and unboxing, storing certain 2-dimensional arrays in a 1-dimensional and cutting back on object initializations.

But knowing how the algorithms work and how to tweak for performance alone didn’t do the trick. The difficulty lies in making it all work together and operating as a big unit, working its way to a victory. That’s where logic thinking came in, to determine what tactics to use, and which algorithms to use.

After having played with this an afternoon I managed to get 1325 points, which was enough to get to Round 2, and to achieve another internship goal. My personal next goal was to try to score as good as possible in the second round.

(Which I will talk about when the second rounds is on its way :p)