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Addendum: A few months after this summary was posted, I was given permission to use some pictures of the robots taken at the event. When I asked how I should credit the person that provided the photos, he told me to say that "one of my goods fans Andrew has provided me with these pictures." Not only does it surprise me that I have fans, but this also implies that there are bad fans of my work, tracking my every move and preparing to kidnap me even as you read this. Anyway, if you'd like to see more robot pictures that Andrew took, you can head over to http://photos.yahoo.com/andrewbot2003 and http://photos.yahoo.com/andrewbot2001. Thanks, Andrew!

Also, while there are new pictures and captions to look at, I have not made any changes to the summary itself. All of the original factual errors remain intact, as I believe in owning up to one's mistakes. Except for the one change I did make because I had gotten info about a builder wrong. I do correct errors I make about the builders. But all of the other mistakes (and there are plenty) are still here.


It was a big weekend for me... for the first time, I was going to see live robot fighting! In person! And the chances were extremely low that Carmen Electra would be in attendance!

On June 28, I traveled down to the 2003 San Diego County Fair (titled "Commotion by the Ocean," narrowly beating out the suggestions "Slaughter by the Water" and "Soporific by the Pacific"). I was not there to look at and smell the many cows in attendance, or even to eat one of the deep-fried Twinkies that there was an unsettlingly long line for. I was there because BotBash was there. Specifically, because BotBash was there with their arena and had invited certain 30- and 60-pound robots to fight one another in it.

I arrived in Del Mar, California (the city in which San Diego chose to hold its own fair), and, after getting lost for only a short amount of time, got myself parked and shuttled to the fairgrounds. Once granted admission (Security person, pointing to a small case I was carrying: "Is that a camera?" Me: "Yes." Security person: "Okay."), and taking a quick look at the midway, I wandered in semi-random directions until I located the general area in which BotBash was to take place. After walking past even more food vendors and a view-obstructing building, I saw a large rectangular box with Lexan walls. I knew that I had found what must be the area I would call home for the next six hours. Especially since there were big signs saying "BotBash" on top of the box.

It was around 11:00, and the competition wasn't scheduled to start until noon. So I wandered by the arena and looked around. I wonder where they're putting the pits... oh! People! Making last-minute adjustments to robots! So if the pits are here, then where... Holy cow, that's Donald Hutson!

Located between the raised seats and the arena were the pits. So when the audience up in the seats wasn't watching a fight, they could simply look over the side and see all of the repairs taking place in the pits. This was very cool.

I'm quite shy in real life, so I slowly walked by the pits, maintaining a minimum distance of ten feet, afraid to say or do anything that might distract the builders. I probably looked like some kind of nervous stalker. As I reached the end of the pits ("That really is Donald Hutson! And there's Jason Bardis!"), the park security put up some chains to keep the audience directly out of the pit area.

Besides the competition, the best thing about the event was the fact that the pits were right there. Anybody wandering by could easily see the robots being worked on. And the chains were at such a distance so that the audience could be kept away when the builders were busy working on robots, but the builders could turn around and take three steps forward to chat with the audience if they wanted to. It was the perfect set-up.

Since I was too scared to approach any builders and since there was still an hour to kill, I wandered around the general vicinity of the fairgrounds. By pure chance, I found the area where Sozbots had placed their display. Inside a sports bar, Sozbots had set up their antweight arena, in which they had placed several robots available for rental. To one side of the arena was a place for the selling of antweight parts. To the other side was a TV showing various news reports done on the organization. I watched the TV for a little while (just a casual observer who's never heard of fighting robots before, certainly not someone who has a web site dedicated to them), then left to make sure I got a good seat for BotBash.

After I returned and paced by the pits a few times (still not daring to talk to anyone, though I attribute part of it to the fact that I had nothing worthwhile to say, since I knew the basics of robotic combat and how each of the competitors probably worked), the security people decided that the audience could sit in the stands. Actually, people were already sitting in the stands, but since the two closest stairways were blocked by the pits, it was only at this point that security figured out how to direct people into the stands.

The stands were not the only place from which people could see the action. They were also welcome to walk around to the other side of the arena, stand a couple of feet away from the wall, and get a good look right inside the box. I never took advantage of this opportunity. I wasn't ready to involuntarily jump backward as far as possible when Rambite comes flying toward my head. Which did happen to the people by the box. It was fun to watch from my perch up above.

After locating a seat on a dirty piece of patio furniture, I was able to get a good view of the arena floor, a large section of pits that weren't as visible to people walking by, and the pre-event builder briefing (quote of the weekend: upon being told that there was a bug in the software, nearly all of the builders, in unison: a very sarcastic "NO!!!"). Pretty soon, noon came.

And went. And there still wasn't any robot fighting. I don't remember why there was a delay. Probably something to do with the arena, which, earlier in the day, had to be moved because it was crushing the ground. So I guess BotBash wasn't originally supposed to take place in this semi-out-of-the-way location. It's too bad they had to move, because I think the location really hurt the potential attendance. I didn't keep track, but I would guess that there were fewer than 50 people waiting for the show to start.

Finally, somewhere around 12:20 or 12:30, things got underway. It was time to begin the day's event: KillBall. Every KillBall game featured four robots and a ball. Each robot would start in a corner. One side of the arena was designated the Alpha Team and the other side was the Delta Team. The object of the game was to get the ball into the opposing team's goal within two minutes. The ball was weighted on one side so it would wobble around the floor when pushed. While the object of the game was to score a goal, there was nothing discouraging the robots from destroying one another, too.

I guess I should explain the arena, shouldn't I? The general shape of the arena is more of a long rectangle than the squares we're used to seeing on TV. Crossing the center of the arena is a 50-pound pendulum that swings by every 20 seconds, shooting flames as it does so (this is more to serve as a hindrance and a spectacle than a way to debilitate a robot. To be sure, every time a new audience would come in and the pendulum would suddenly burst into flames, there was always a collective "Oooh"). On the arena floor, centered within each half, are two pits that drop down for ten seconds and pop back up for five seconds. Lining the perimeter of the arena, to keep the robots in, is a series of pipes raised off the floor a couple of inches. Any robot that goes over the pipes falls out of the arena and onto the ground, out of sight. This "drop zone" is surrounded by the Lexan walls that keep the humans safe. Here, let me draw you a vague diagram:




More or less like that. For KillBall, to keep the ball from flying out of the arena every five seconds, fences were placed at a 45-degree angle over the entirety of the drop zone. Not that this always stopped the ball from getting stuck. And once, it still managed to fall into the drop zone. A new ball was put into play by throwing it at the robots.

Besides the rules governing how often the arena hazards would activate, not much seemed to be enforced during the competition. Determining whether a bot had been incapacitated was pretty much up to the whims of the announcer, who also appeared to be the one timing the match (since the countdown clock frequently didn't work). The event seemed to be more of a relaxed robot get-together instead of a serious competition.

Which was fine, because I still have no idea how the matches were determined. At first, I assumed that robots would be randomly paired into teams, then play as those teams through some kind of double-elimination ladder. After looking up how double-elimination ladders work (and, as I type this, still not entirely sure how to make one on paper), I learned that some kind of point system would be used instead of a ladder. And, as I quickly discovered as the matches progressed, the robots were given a new random partner each time. Clearly, the goal was to present a whole bunch of robots competing rather than a robotic competition.

I fully intended to take notes on all of the matches. The first note I took, however, was, "Which one's which?" When the first match began, all I knew was that the robots were The Jug, Dung Beetle, VD3, and Anorexia. Fortunately for me, I already knew which one VD3 was, because I had seen it in the pits and it had its name written on it. But the others were a mystery. I wasn't even sure which robots were on which team. Here, exactly as I wrote them, are my notes for that first match:

"VD3 goes after _ and kills it. [red wedge] drives under barrier and out of arena. Match is between VD3 and . gets high-centered over pit. VD3 spends a lot of time trying to control the ball. At about :15, VD3 pops , freeing it."

Since neither team scored a goal within two minutes, it went to a judges' decision. Here is what I added to my notes after the decision was announced:

"9-0 for Team Delta. Huh?"

I thought Team Delta built robots like Ronin... I didn't know they were here. Looking back, I now realize that what that means is that the team of robots on the Delta side of the arena had won. Not that I remembered which robots started on the Delta side, or even which side was the Delta side. Presumably, the team of VD3 and Anorexia were the winners. But I sure didn't know that at that point in time.

Near the end of the day, for various reasons, I quit taking notes on the matches. So for my summary of Saturday, I'll write about the matches that I still remember, and also tell you about the robots in attendance.


VD3
Let's start with that first match, in the 30-pound class. VD3's primary weapon is a spinning vertical disk ("VD") that rotates very quickly and frequently damages things. It also has a flamethrower that it uses to look cool and sometimes briefly set itself on fire (at this event, fire weapons were legal).

What I labeled as "red wedge" turns out to be Anorexia. The actual wedge of Anorexia is gray. But it's attached to a red box. The red box is very, very thin (maybe an inch and a half tall, by my guess). The pipes lining the perimeter of the BotBash arena are higher than that off the ground. So Anorexia easily drove underneath them and out of play. For its subsequent playings of KillBall, Anorexia replaced its wedge with a big metal scoop that clearly was much taller than the pipes.

That shape that I drew is The Jug. The Jug is a black robot that is approximately that shape. It gets its body around its opponents (or the ball) and pushes them around.


Dung Beetle, minus most of its hammer
Dung Beetle (represented by the underscore in the above summary) appears to be a thwackbot. It's got the hammer on one side and on the body side, an open indentation (kind of shaped like The Jug) that it can use to get around things. The entire robot looks like an uppercase Y, with the hammer making up the trunk and the wheels located at the tips of the branches. Why I'm describing the letter Y like it's a tree, I'm not sure.


"Fear me!"
For the next 30-pound match, we've got four more robots. Helios is a box with a wedge in the back and a spinning drum in the front. Apparently, this drum goes really fast and kills many opponents. I've heard a lot of talk about how Helios is a robot to be feared, so I'll tell you that Helios is a robot to be feared.


"I'm not Helios"
Breaker is a box with a wedge in the back and a spinning drum in the front. It is quite difficult to tell Helios and Breaker apart (on Sunday, in a fight featuring both of them, the announcer had to ask which one was still moving). Helios has a bigger drum and protective covers over the wheels on the side. That's how I figured out which one is which. Which was faster than the announcer did.


Dozer
Dozer is a box with a pair of lifting arms attached to a scoop. It resembles a bulldozer. Hence the name.

Little Rat's weapon is a spinning bar that barely hovers above the ground (similar to Code:BLACK). That is all that I remember about Little Rat.

For this match, it was Helios and Breaker versus Little Rat and Dozer. My notes tell me, "While the other three fight, [wedge with drum in back] is left with the ball, which it pushes into the goal." Well, great. I have no idea whether I'm referring to Helios or Breaker here. When it was announced that the Delta side won, I even guessed the wrong robots as being on that team in my notes. The exact results of this fight will forever remain shrouded in mystery, except probably to the builders of Helios and Breaker. I'm sure at least one of them remembers who scored the goal.

Next up, we've got Ghetto Blaster and Kilobite versus Twibill Trouble and Vienna Sausage. But there was a frequency conflict, so they left and the next match took place.


Sunflower


Squnkey (sans spikes)


Omega Sword

Now it's Sunflower and Squnkey versus Black 57 and Omega Sword. Sunflower is a wedge-like box (except vertically flattened before the wedge reaches a point) with a thick spinning drum on the less-wedged end. Squnkey (a combination of the words "squid" and "monkey") is a flat box with spikes in the front and back.

Black 57 is a big black wedge. It may or may not have a weapon, I don't know. Omega Sword is a box with a fast lifting arm. Imagine what it would look like if you took the wedges off of Wedge of Doom, then forced the robot to mate with Sallad. The result would be Omega Sword. You can picture the Sallad-like arm with the body of... hey! You're still imagining Wedge of Doom mating with Sallad, aren't you? Stop that!

Wow, my notes are actually specific and somewhat detailed for this fight. Great, I'll just copy them: "Squnkey and Black 57 go after the ball. Black 57 smushes Squnkey against rail, Squnkey stuck. Black 57 in pit. Omega Sword lands on Sunflower. Sunflower drives Omega Sword around a lot. Black 57 out of pit, not too active. Sunflower takes Omega Sword into pit. They get out. Omega Sword gets off. Sunflower remembers the ball, pushes it a little, it rolls into goal."


The correct spelling is "Killabyte"
All right, back to the postponed fight. Ghetto Blaster is a box with a weapon of a spinning arm that sticks out of the top. On the ends of the spinning arm are pieces that hang down to spin around the body. Kilobite is, simply, a 30-pound version of Rambite. For the record, I have no idea how the name of the robot is spelled. But since the team also has a robot called "Megabite," I'll assume the spelling is "Kilobite" and not something like "Kill-o-bite."

Twibill Trouble is a kind of a box that has a fancy pair of blades curving around the body. The blades don't move or anything, but they look nifty. Vienna Sausage is a wedge. The wedge is formed with a bunch of metal tubing and no armor. The back is rounded.

Near the start of this match, Kilobite (Kill O'Bite?) smacks the ball, which goes into the pit. Ghetto Blaster gets flipped by Vienna Sausage. Then Kilobite gets flipped somehow (I don't remember in what way). Both of the upside-down spinners get placed in the pit. The ball then goes into that pit, as well. When the pit pops up, Vienna Sausage rescues the ball. Twibill Trouble is stuck under the rail. Vienna Sausage then slowly nudges the ball into a goal. Its own goal. I'm guessing the Vienna Sausage/Twibill Trouble team still got credit for the win. After this fight, the announcer reminded the builders that they are aiming for the goal on the opposite side from which they begin.

Those are the 30-pounders, now it's time for the 60-pounders (a.k.a. lightweights). After the first announced fight got scrapped, it was Thinferno and Binary Finery versus Buttercup and ReticBot.

Thinferno, as you may have guessed by the name, comes from Dr. Inferno Jr. builder Jason Bardis. It's a very thin box. It couldn't have been more than three inches tall. Possibly two inches tall. Its weapon is a hinged wedge coming out of the front. Binary Finery is a box with two arms coming out of the top. The arms rotate around the robot; however, they are independently controlled. Each arm extends outward and turns into a smaller box that rolls along the ground. The boxes roll along the ground because each has a motor-driven wheel inside. Usually, the arms spin around the robot like a slower version of a bar spinner, though they sometimes move in opposite directions to smash into both sides of an opponent at once.


Buttercup
Buttercup is just like Sunflower (same team), except with a different color scheme. ReticBot is a box with a horizontal scoop in the front.

Soon after the beginning of this match, I notice that there are only three bots on the floor. While I had been watching something else, Thinferno easily drove under the pipes and out of the arena. Later, at one point, the ball gets knocked upward and falls behind one of the corner fences, so they throw a new ball into the arena. Eventually, ReticBot gets stuck in front of the goal it was defending. While trying to free ReticBot, Buttercup somehow drives itself into the goal. At the end of two minutes, Binary Finery is the only robot still moving. For most of the match, the ball remained motionless in the corner. The judges give the victory to Binary Finery and Thinferno.

Next, it's Troublemaker and Striker versus Alien Raptor and Ramma Lamma Ding Bot. Troublemaker's body looks kind of like Twibill Trouble's (they're from the same team), except it has a bar with spikes positioned in the front. I have absolutely no recollection of what Striker looks like. None at all. Use your imagination.


Alien Raptor


Ramma Lamma Ding Bot

Alien Raptor bears an amazing resemblance to the owned-by-BattleBots image of Gamma Raptor, except it has two dorsal fins sticking out of the top (that's why it's an alien). Although for KillBall, it has replaced its lifting claws with a big, flat scoop and also removed its alien dorsal fin, maybe for weight reasons or something. Ramma Lamma Ding Bot is a big box with a hinged wedge on its front.

At this point in the KillBall tournament, my notes get more and more vague. All I know about this fight is that Alien Raptor was the first to go for the ball, then a spinner hit the ball and soon got the ball into the goal. So I guess Striker is a spinner of some kind. Okay, work that into whatever you imagined it looking like.

Back up to the fight that was scrapped earlier: Terror and SOL versus Y-chromosome 0.9 and First Abe Lincoln on the Moon. Ow, my fingers. I think we need a rule that says the name of your robot can't be longer than 12 characters.


SOL (without its top armor)
Terror is shaped like an elongated stop sign when you view it from above. It has a pneumatically-powered lifting arm, from what I overheard the builder tell one of the news reporters at the event. SOL (pronounced by the announcer as the synonym for "sun" and not as an abbreviation) is a very flat, long wedge with a long, thin spinning drum in the back.


Y-chromosome 0.9 shows its underbelly


First Abe Lincoln on the Moon

Y-chromosome 0.9's body is shaped like an uppercase Y that looks exactly the same when viewed from any of three directions (i.e., it has three lines of symmetry). Its weapon, located under the body, is a spinning bar that nearly scrapes the ground. The robot uses omnidirectional wheels for movement. If you don't know what omnidirectional wheels are, I'm going to have to tell you to look it up on your own, because there's no way I would be able to describe them. Trying to figure out how they work makes my head hurt.

First Abe Lincoln on the Moon bears an amazing resemblance to Herr GepoŁnden.

Here's the summary of the match, directly from my notes:

"SOL is the only one interested in the ball. Abe Lincoln comes over to defend once in a while. Y-Chromosome stays in the corner. Terror is unsure of what to do. Delta wins, whichever team that is."

After this match, the event took its first break. They had originally planned to take half-hour breaks at 1:30, 3:30, and then end at 5:30, at the direction of the fair officials. They never came close to hitting those times. I didn't care, since I was sticking around for the full event, but that may have confused people who came over at around, say, 2:00, and were told they'd have to wait twenty minutes for the next fight to take place.

While the break progressed, the techno band providing music for the event, Hardwire, played. Very loudly. You know, I really didn't anticipate needing earplugs as an audience member.

I left the stands and decided to wander back and forth past the pits again. For the most part, I stayed by the pits that were the farthest away from the speakers. Anybody trying to hold a conversation had to shout to be heard. While I was wandering, still apprehensive about saying hello to any builders (for fear of bothering them when I had nothing to say or, worse, gushing like an annoying fanboy), I received a sticker from Team Critter. For that sticker, they receive a mention in this summary.

Back to the event. And back to the 30-pound robots, even though there are four 60-pounders that we have yet to see. This is where my notes really get vague. All I know about the next fight is that VD3 somehow managed to toss Sunflower out of the ring with its spinning disk, then started destroying "other" (that's as specific as my notes get on that). The Jug works at moving the ball. And near the end of the fight, VD3 gets flipped somehow, flips itself upright off of the rail, then can't drive. Who won? Who were the teams? I don't know.

My notes for the following fight are incredibly vague. Apparently I didn't recognize any of the robots, as the only one I mention by name is Dozer, who pushed the ball into the goal. The highlight of the match appears to be when the ball went into the pit and three robots waited around the perimeter of the pit for it to pop up so they could get the ball. In the meantime, a robot pushed another robot into the pit. I'm sure it would be entertaining if I saw it again and knew what I was talking about.

I didn't even bother with notes on the next match.

Then Kilobite killed Black 57 and itself in one blow. Anorexia eventually scored a goal.


Pig Sticker


Rambyte (KillBall configuration)

Then they went back to the 60-pound class and the three robots that we had not yet seen in action. In addition to Alien Raptor, we have Pig Sticker, from Zack Bieber of El Diablo fame. It's a box with a series of tubing that it uses as a quick lifting arm. For the KillBall tournament, a scoop was placed on the lifting arm.

There's also Rambite. Rambite bears an amazing resemblance to... um, Rambite. Wait a minute, actually, it doesn't. When we last saw Rambite on "BattleBots," it had a bar spinner. But now it's a full-body spinner (as is Kilobite, if you're wondering). Rambite also has a Ziggo-like bar sticking out of the top that it uses for direction. For KillBall, it attached a separate bar that bends over the top of the spinning shell and curves downward, forming into a U-shape that can be used to control the ball.


Pro-Pain
And finally, we have a new robot from Donald Hutson (if you don't know who he is, then you haven't been paying enough attention to robotic combat). Pro-Pain has a primary weapon of a lifting mechanism. It's all made out of metal tubing... um, I don't know how to describe it. The robot kind of looks like the base of Tazbot but without the armor and instead painted yellow and orange, if that means anything. Anyway, in addition to the lifting mechanism, Pro-Pain is also designed to shoot flames from the front of the robot. So, in theory, it can lift an opponent, then roast its underbelly while it's stranded on the arm. However, the flamethrower never quite worked for the tournament, so Pro-Pain relied solely on the lifting arm.

All I know about the actual fight is that Alien Raptor scored a goal while Rambite tore two wheels off of Pig Sticker and the scoop off of Alien Raptor. After the fight ended, Pro-Pain went and pushed all of the other robots around. Rambite (who had spun down) and Pro-Pain had some fun pushing each other. Then the builders had to go in and retrieve their robots.

At this point, I decided to quit taking notes on every fight and just sat back and watched (actually, I was standing, as someone had taken the dirty patio chair I had found). I don't have any more notes about any of the featherweights. So we'll just pretend that somewhere around here came the second break, for the purpose of continuing the narrative.


Announcer-face-robot-thing
Once again, I wandered down to look at the pits (I really don't know why; I certainly didn't expect to see anything new). This time, I got up the courage to ask a builder what the name of his robot was, since I still hadn't figured it out. Having broken the ice, so to speak, I wandered over to the Zack Bieber pit area (slightly further away from the music) to ask about the machine he had brought that was sitting next to his pit table. It had big tank treads and was sprouting a mechanical arm that was attached to a flat-screen monitor. Clearly, it was not meant to fight. He explained that the idea was to attach a wireless camera under the announcer's face, then drive the robot around while the announcer's face was displayed on the monitor. They implemented it late the next day.

As I was about to leave, Zack was prompted to give me his business card for his web site, www.themachinelab.com, where he sells robot platforms (bodies) that you can purchase and then add weapons to in order to create your own robot. I should build my own robot, he suggested.

(Footnote: I never know how to refer to the builders after first mentioning them on these pages. "Zack" sounds too casual, but "Mr. Bieber" sounds strangely stilted for such an informal summary. And repeatedly saying "Zack Bieber" just plain looks weird. I apologize to any builders that may read this if I am causing offense in any way.)

Then the action started up again. Among the highlights were the match where Rambite tore one of the tires off of Pro-Pain, causing it to drive in circles and eventually give up. And the fight where after Thinferno drove out of the arena for the third time in a row, "Terror stops for no reason. Troublemaker and Pro-Pain have some trouble with the ball. Pro-Pain clasps it and drives it in." Pro-Pain can also use its lifting arm to clasp, like SABotage. That looked cool.

After the fighting had concluded for the day, I went down to the pits on a mission: I was going to talk to Donald Hutson, gosh darn it. I even had an intelligent question to ask him. Soon, I got his attention and got to ask him why so many of his robots had wheels at acute angles to the ground. He listed at least three good reasons, and then I gushed a little (just a little, honest) about how his robots are so fun to watch as they multitask. He admitted that he wasn't too happy with how his flamethrower turned out. He then had to get back to putting his tools and things away. My point is, I got to talk with Donald Hutson! Eee! I don't know if the builders see themselves as celebrities, and I try to be cool about it most of the time, but please allow me this one occasion to act like a giggling idiot. Thank you.

Okay, back to normal. By this point in time, I had a bad headache (I think it was because of the music being so loud), but I wanted to check the Sozbots area again to see how the rentals were going. When I got there, they weren't. From what the woman operating the cash register implied, the majority of the rentals had taken place earlier in the day. During the BotBash tournament? Anyway, she (and the builders discussing antweight parts that went over my head) suggested that I build my own robot. I then realized: Only the people that are selling robot parts want me to build my own robot. Of course, if people knew what the quality of my robot would be like, then everybody who wanted an easy victory would be suggesting that I build my own robot.

I went home and tried to sleep off my headache.

Wow, this is really long already. I still have an entire second day to go through. And on Sunday, I did take extensive notes. I'd better split this thing into two parts before the scroll bar reaches the width of a dime.


Onto page two!