With everyone stuck at their homes in these trying times, quarantine has put a limit to a lot of the events and activities we could hold. But the fact that most of us spend our days glued to our phones and laptops, opened to us a whole new range of opportunities. A treasure hunt in this lockdown, initially sounded impossible. But TrailHeist, set forth as one such venture. Team Make-A-Ton decided to give this virtual treasure hunt a go. In layman’s terms, very similar to an online treasure hunt, TrailHeist is a ‘Capture the Flag’ (CTF) contest. The player gets to live through a whole adventure, being part of an exciting story. Each player has to seek answers to all the challenges present on the way to the final destination. The fastest player to solve the final challenge, is crowned King of the Heists.
But that wasn’t all to the 48 hour battle. To make things more thrilling, there were three separate tracks in the story line. Three paths that lead the player to the final challenge. And the person who solves the final challenge of any track stays King of the Heists, only as long as another player solves more tracks than the current King. At the end of the game, the winner is the one who solves the final challenge, in the most number of tracks. With a myriad of compelling questions that tested the logical, analytical and technical skills of the participants, the game kept the players gripped throughout the competition.
Players were allowed to register individually. On the day of the event, they were allowed to compete as a lone wolf or in teams of two. Within a week of launching the website, there was a huge rise in registrations, from all over the world. The registrations spanned over four continents, with entries from major institutions and universities like IITs, NITs etc. The event gathered around 300 participants in 200 teams.
The game started off as an idea in Akul Santhosh’s brilliant head. Being a frequent player of online Capture the Flag contests, the field was not new to him. And somehow he found the idea of setting up complex questions to test the abilities of the players strangely appealing. However, for TrailHeist we decided to frame the questions in a way that everyone could participate, irrespective of whether they have a technical background or not. The greatest advantage of being part of such a contest, even for the newbies, is that it helps them sharpen a wide range of skills. The deep exploration, in order to find the solution to even one single challenge, enhances their knowledge in other areas as well. Working on technical and logical problems leverages their reasoning efficiency. Akul gathered the rest of the team, and eventually TrailHeist, presented by CITTIC and Make-A-Ton was born.
This was followed up by the usual challenge of finding sponsors for this event. It would have been a really tough task during this unfavourable time, had it not been for Siddharth Shivkumar — the usual knight in shining armour, for most of our tech-events. TrailHeist, presented by CITTIC and Make-a-Ton, gained the attention of our previous sponsors. Our mails to CloudSploit received positive responses and they offered the winners product licenses. Our partner for the event was Dart, from Agrivator, a revolutionary start-up. We enhanced the prize pool with the addition of Estimote Proximity Beacons kit and Qualcomm Dragonboard as well!
The division of the event to three different tracks necessitated the need for questions covering a span of difficulty levels. With each track unfolding at a different pace, three enthralling scenarios in completely different fields were presented to the players, with each track having a different number of questions, and a fairly distributed scoring scheme. shajaz Hashim, a genius with puzzles, put all his question creation skills into action, and came up with some of the most creative questions and rhetorical riddles that required proper analysis of the clues, in the contest. Suhailr7 , the oncampus cyber security expert, has forever been a dedicated participant of all CTFs. He conjured the grueling technical questions and final challenges. Akul Santhosh also added to this list of challenges with his set of twisted questions that tested the logical abilities of the players.
Now that the questions, game structure and sponsors were all set, our merry band of geniuses looked around and thought there was something missing. And that is where our writers came in. We roped in Farha Salim and Akheela Sherif. With each track unfolding at a different pace and our target demographic in mind, we had to make sure the writing matched our pacing and was accessible to our players.
Staying up through the night plotting the perfect story, weaving our questions into the narrative and balancing the dystopian story lines and the cheerful notifications to our players, brainstorming to frame elusive clues and not to mention the many formal correspondences they juggled, our writers sure had a tonne on their plate. The entire team was brought together on zoom calls, and very often we stayed up all night to plan the competition to the last detail. It took a whole month from the day we began planning, till the day of the competition. After all, there was plenty of stuff to get done! But we rose to the challenge and didn’t forget to find enjoyment along the way.
The website trailheist.makeaton.org was launched on 10th June 2020. As usual the magic hands behind the website belonged to Jithin K Satheesh and Naseem Shah. With their prowess as web developers, it took little time to set up a perfect platform to host the event. And they did a stellar job of that! Afin Jo, the brilliant fire and safety engineer on our team whose unbounded love for tech and quizzes, proved to be of immense value, helped us deploy the CTFD platform for the competition. The scoreboard was set on display for all the participants to see how the games progressed. A number of analytical tools enabled the players to analyse their progress and performance throughout the game.
The competition began at 6pm on the 19th of June 2020. Almost all the registered participants started playing the game from the very beginning. Within a couple of hours after the competition started, there were around 17 teams that maintained the same scores. Team Darthvader kept the top position occupied for 10 hours into the competition. The interesting storyline kept the players hooked to the game. Later on, hours into Day 1 of the event, teams kept overtaking each other, solving challenges from different tracks.
At the end of Day 1, no team had crossed certain difficult challenges in all three tracks. So a few hours into Day 2, hints were released for 1 selected challenge from each track, where the players seemed to be stuck. Within a few hours, Team Scepter4 completed Track A and earned the title King of the Heists. But the game wasn’t over. There were still hours left for the other teams to try and overthrow the king. Anybody who completed the most number of tracks at the end of the competition is declared the winner. As the event neared its final hours, a tight competition followed. There were many other teams with high scores, only minutes away from solving the last challenges in each track. There were teams that completed a whole track after Scepter4 established their reign, as well.
However, Team Scepter4 retained its top position by completing 1 more track, just in time. Having completed 2 tracks, in the final hours of the competition, no one could overthrow Team Scepter4. Sarang S and Athreya Krishna from Saraswathi Vidyaniketan Public School, Kochi, were thus declared winners of TrailHeist 2020. Despite the tight competition, there was 1 track that wasn’t solved by any player.
All the participants who made it to the scoreboard were presented with e-certificates. The winners were each awarded with a cash prize of Rs.4000, Redmi earbuds S, T shirts and goodies by AWS, product license by CloudSploit, Estimote Proximity Beacons Kit and a Qualcomm Dragonboard.
TrailHeist received a lot of positive feedback from the players. The website was active throughout the 48 hours, since there were teams active through the night and day as well. More than 300 participants competed sending 18000 answer requests in total. While there were suggestions to include more hints, we were flooded with responses stating how the participants greatly enjoyed the competition, and eagerly await another season of TrailHeist, which was nothing short of a massive success!