ELF: An Extensive, Lightweight and Flexible Research Platform for Real-time Strategy Games

Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS)


In this paper, we propose ELF, an Extensive, Lightweight and Flexible platform for fundamental reinforcement learning research. Using ELF, we implement a highly customizable real-time strategy (RTS) engine with three game environments (Mini-RTS, Capture the Flag and Tower Defense). Mini-RTS, as a miniature version of StarCraft, captures key game dynamics and runs at 40K frame per-second (FPS) per core on a laptop. When coupled with modern reinforcement learning methods, the system can train a full-game bot against built-in AIs end to-end in one day with 6 CPUs and 1 GPU. In addition, our platform is flexible in terms of environment-agent communication topologies, choices of RL methods, changes in game parameters, and can host existing C/C++-based game environments like ALE [4]. Using ELF, we thoroughly explore training parameters and show that a network with Leaky ReLU [17] and Batch Normalization [11] coupled with long-horizon training and progressive curriculum beats the rule-based built-in AI more than 70% of the time in the full game of Mini-RTS. Strong performance is also achieved on the other two games. In game replays, we show our agents learn interesting strategies. ELF, along with its RL platform, is open sourced at

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