UT students battle algorithims in Terminal Live coding competition

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Students from universities across Texas design AI algorithms to battle in a tower defense game during the Terminal coding competition held in the AT&T conference center on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Four teams split the first place $25,000 cash prize.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

Battling each other through computers, about 100 students competed in an on-campus coding competition Saturday to win up to $25,000 in cash prizes.

As part of the competition, students develop algorithms which automate plays within the custom tower defense game Terminal. The event, known as Terminal Live, was hosted by Correlation One at the AT&T Conference Center, Correlation One software engineer Ryan McPartlin said.

Prakhar Singh, a computer science graduate student, electrical and computer engineering junior Kunal Jain and computer science sophomore Rithvik Saravanan won the first place prize of $12,000. The top four teams split the $25,000 prize money, said Alex Klufas, Correlation One business development manager.

After practicing the game, the three students split up the responsibilities of programming their attack and defense, Saravanan said.

“Prakhar did most of the defensive work,” Saravanan said. “Kunal (made) the (application programming interface) functions that we both use, and I did most of the offense. At the end, we just put it together and see how well we did.”

To win, students compete against computer opponents in the early rounds, and the top eight teams eventually compete against each other until one team is left standing. 

“There’s some things that the code is better at than a human,” McPartlin said. “The unique challenge in Terminal is that you’re trying to create an algorithm that looks at the game state and then makes decisions based on the game state.”

Klufas said Correlation One, a New York-based tech company, has hosted software engineering competitions like Terminal for three and a half years. Correlation One’s partner for this competition, market maker company Citadel Securities, uses the event as a recruiting opportunity, Klufas said.

“We bring in people who are interested in solving problems,” Klufas said. “(Citadel Securities) use this as an opportunity to attract new talent to their organization.”

The pool of competitors also included students from Rice University and Texas A&M, Klufas said.

“Students have been hand-selected for this competition,” Klufas said. “We’ve selected the top 100 students from our pool of about 250 UT, Rice and A&M students that have applied to this competition.”

Singh, Jain and Saravanan said none of them were expecting to win. Jain said he is planning to use the winnings to buy a new computer.

“I didn’t expect much out of it, but it turned out well,” Saravanan said.