I'm one of the guys running the Ms. Pac-Man vs Ghosts competition, mainly working in the website.
What's with academics and Java?
This competition is run just by two: a postdoc and a phd student. Obviously we're not working on this full time (this is just a hobby), and we don't have the time nor the knowledge to open the competition to 20 programming languages between the two of us. In other words, we don't have the power of the aichallenge in servers or number of people. In fact, we just have one server at the moment for running the games! Plus the website hosted in Heroku. If more people wanted to help us we would be more than happy to allow more programming languages for the next iteration of the competition (this is run 2-3 times a year).
We decided to use just one programming language. I don't love Java, I don't hate it neither, but unfortunately is probably the most popular language in most universities and this is an academic competition (IEEE conference), so this is why we chose it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most universities now start teaching Python and Java, and Python is much slower than Java (not that Java is fast, but is not as slow as Python, and in this kind of games tree search speed is important), so this is why we went with Java. However, by looking at the rankings of the aichallenge, I can see that C/C++ might have been a better option! I don't know if that's because C/C++ is more popular in the aichallenge, or because the best programmers do C/C++ and ended up in top of the rankings.
Would it kill them to allow java bytecode submissions?
You're right! JRuby, Jython, Scala, Clojure would be easy to integrate! But again, we don't have too much time right now to add new stuff. But if anyone wants to help you are more than welcome!
Anyway, they definitely need a better visualizer.
But c'mon guys, the algorithm and the heuristics are more important in this type of competitions, don't be Java haters and submit a controller!
BTW, when is the next aichallenge? Do you guys know the game that will be used?