DeepMind and Blizzard open StarCraft II as an AI research environment

A screenshot of Starcraft II a real-time strategy game where players control human or alien armies.    
   Image Blizzard

The two firms have released SC2LE, which is described as a set of tools that Blizzard and DeepMind hope will accelerate AI research using the real-time strategy game.

Starcraft II has been a target for Alphabet's DeepMind AI research for a while now - the UK AI company took on Blizzard's sci-fi strategy game starting a year ago, and announced plans to create an open AI research environment based on the game to make it possible for others to contribute to the effort of creating a virtual agent who can best the top human StarCraft players in the world.

StarCraft and its sequel are prime stomping ground for AI due to several reasons; the gameplay is a multi-faceted, drawn-out affair, and requires long-term goal-setting and decision-making in order to truly succeed, as well as good memory, since only part of the map is visible at any given time.

"For example, while the objective of the game is to beat the opponent, the player must also carry out and balance a number of sub-goals, such as gathering resources or building structures", the DeepMind team explained.

There are around 100 million possible actions in a game of StarCraft, they added, whereas in Atari games - which DeepMind has also used for AI research - there are only 300 basic actions. The PySC2 toolset essentially breaks that game down into layers, which the AI hooked into the machine learning API can translate to input and output for risk and reward scenarios, analyze long-term effects, and generally play around with to learn the game, thus growing its cognitive arsenal by applying and synthesizing everything it has learned. Starcraft II, while on the surface a more simple game, has so many variances in information from moment to moment that it is a far greater challenge for any A.I. that hasn't been programmed specifically to play it within certain parameters. The company said new breakthroughs in machine learning would be required for its software agents to master the game.

"Our initial investigations show that our agents perform well on these mini games". DeepMind has published a number of research papers that hint it may be closing in on creating software capable of numerous tasks, such as prioritising goals, long-term planning, and memory that any system will need to play Starcraft IIsuccessfully.

DeepMind announced today that it is releasing the Starcraft II Learning Environment (SC2LE), a toolset that makes it easy for AI developers to use Starcraft II to test their AI. There are multiple components inside the SC2LE toolkit including a machine learning API that was developed by Blizzard. This ensures that there is a large quantity of replay data to learn from - as well as a large quantity of extremely talented opponents for AI agents.

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