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A Survey of Real-Time Strategy Game AI Research and Competition in StarCraft

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This paper presents an overview of the existing work on AI for real-time strategy (RTS) games. Specifically, we focus on the work around the game StarCraft, which has emerged in the past few years as the unified test bed for this research. We describe the specific AI challenges posed by RTS games, and overview the solutions that have been explored to address them. Additionally, we also present a summary of the results of the recent StarCraft AI competitions, describing the architectures used by the participants. Finally, we conclude with a discussion emphasizing which problems in the context of RTS game AI have been solved, and which remain open.
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TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 1
A Survey of Real-Time Strategy Game AI
Research and Competition in StarCraft
Santiago Onta˜
n´
on, Gabriel Synnaeve, Alberto Uriarte, Florian Richoux, David Churchill, Mike Preuss
Abstract—This paper presents an overview of the existing work
on AI for real-time strategy (RTS) games. Specifically, we focus
on the work around the game StarCraft, which has emerged in
the past few years as the unified test-bed for this research. We
describe the specific AI challenges posed by RTS games, and
overview the solutions that have been explored to address them.
Additionally, we also present a summary of the results of the
recent StarCraft AI competitions, describing the architectures
used by the participants. Finally, we conclude with a discussion
emphasizing which problems in the context of RTS game AI have
been solved, and which remain open.
Index Terms—Game AI, Real-Time Strategy, StarCraft, Re-
view1
I. INTRODUCTION
THE field of real-time strategy (RTS) game AI has ad-
vanced significantly since Michael Buro’s call for re-
search in this area [1]. Specially, competitions like the “ORTS
RTS Game AI Competition” (held from 2006 to 2009), the
AIIDE StarCraft AI Competition” (held since 2010), and
the “CIG StarCraft RTS AI Competition” (held since 2011)
have motivated the exploration of many AI approaches in the
context of RTS AI. We will list and classify these approaches,
explain their strengths and weaknesses and conclude on what
is left to achieve human-level RTS AI.
Complex dynamic environments, where neither perfect nor
complete information about the current state or about the
dynamics of the environment are available, pose significant
challenges for artificial intelligence. Road traffic, finance, or
weather forecasts are examples of such large, complex, real-
life dynamic environments. RTS games can be seen as a
simplification of one such real-life environment, with simpler
dynamics in a finite and smaller world, although still complex
enough to study some of the key interesting problems like
decision making under uncertainty or real-time adversarial
planning. Finding efficient techniques for tackling these prob-
lems on RTS games can thus benefit other AI disciplines
and application domains, and also have concrete and direct
applications in the ever growing industry of video games.
Santiago Onta˜
n´
on is with the Computer Science Department at Drexel
University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Gabriel Synnaeve is with the Laboratory of Cognitive Science and Psy-
cholinguistics (LSCP) of ENS Ulm in Paris, France.
Alberto Uriarte is with the Computer Science Department at Drexel
University, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Florian Richoux is with the Nantes Atlantic Computer Science Laboratory
(LINA) of the Universit´
e de Nantes, France.
David Churchill is with the Computing Science Department of the Univer-
sity of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
Mike Preuss is with the Department of Computer Science of Technische
Universit¨
at Dortmund, Germany.
This paper aims to provide a one-stop guide on what is
the state of the art in RTS AI, with a particular emphasis
on the work done in StarCraft. It is organized as follows:
Section II introduces RTS games, in particular the game
StarCraft, and their main AI challenges. Section III reviews
the existing work on tackling these challenges in RTS games.
Section IV analyzes several current state of the art RTS game
playing agents (called bots), selected from the participants to
annual StarCraft AI competitions. Section V presents results
of the recent annual competitions held at the AIIDE and CIG
conferences and a StarCraft bot game ladder1. Section VI
compiles open questions in RTS game AI. Finally, the paper
concludes on discussions and perspectives.
II. RE AL -T IME STRATE GY GAMES
Real-time Strategy (RTS) is a sub-genre of strategy games
where players need to build an economy (gathering resources
and building a base) and military power (training units and
researching technologies) in order to defeat their opponents
(destroying their army and base). From a theoretical point of
view, the main differences between RTS games and traditional
board games such as Chess are:
They are simultaneous move games, where more than one
player can issue actions at the same time. Additionally,
these actions are durative, i.e. actions are not instanta-
neous, but take some amount of time to complete.
RTS games are “real-time”, which actually means is that
each player has a very small amount of time to decide the
next move. Compared to Chess, where players may have
several minutes to decide the next action, in StarCraft, the
game executes at 24 frames per second, which means that
players can act as fast as every 42ms, before the game
state changes.
Most RTS games are partially observable: players can
only see the part of the map that has been explored. This
is referred to as the fog-of-war.
Most RTS games are non-deterministic. Some actions
have a chance of success.
And finally, the complexity of these games, both in
terms of state space size and in terms of number of
actions available at each decision cycle is very large. For
example, the state space of Chess is typically estimated to
be around 1050, heads up no-limit Texas holdem poker
around 1080, and Go around 10170 . In comparison, the
state space of StarCraft in a typical map is estimated to
1An extended tournament, which can potentially go on indefinitely.
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 2
be many orders of magnitude larger than any of those, as
discussed in the next section.
For those reasons, standard techniques used for playing
classic board games, such as game tree search, cannot be
directly applied to solve RTS games without the definition
of some level of abstraction, or some other simplification.
Interestingly enough, humans seem to be able to deal with
the complexity of RTS games, and are still vastly superior to
computers in these types of games [2]. For those reasons, a
large spectrum of techniques have been attempted to deal with
this domain, as we will describe below. The remainder of this
section is devoted to describe StarCraft as a research testbed,
and on detailing the open challenges in RTS game AI.
A. StarCraft
StarCraft: Brood War is an immensely popular RTS game
released in 1998 by Blizzard Entertainment. StarCraft is set in
a science-fiction based universe where the player must choose
one of the three races: Terran, Protoss or Zerg. One of the
most remarkable aspects of StarCraft is that the three races
are extremely well balanced:
Terrans provide units that are versatile and flexible giving
a balanced option between Protoss and Zergs.
Protoss units have lengthy and expensive manufacturing
processes, but they are strong and resistant. These con-
ditions make players follow a strategy of quality over
quantity.
Zergs, the insectoid race, units are cheap and weak. They
can be produced fast, encouraging players to overwhelm
their opponents with sheer numbers.
Figure 1 shows a screenshot of StarCraft showing a player
playing the Terran race. In order to win a StarCraft game,
players must first gather resources (minerals and Vespene gas).
As resources become available, players need to allocate them
for creating more buildings (which reinforce the economy, and
allow players to create units or unlock stronger units), research
new technologies (in order to use new unit abilities or improve
the units) and train attack units. Units must be distributed to
accomplish different tasks such as reconnaissance, defense and
attack. While performing all of those tasks, players also need
to strategically understand the geometry of the map at hand,
in order to decide where to place new buildings (concentrate
in a single area, or expand to different areas) or where to
set defensive outposts. Finally, when offensive units of two
players meet, each player must quickly maneuver each of
the units in order to fight a battle, which requires quick and
reactive control of each of the units.
A typical StarCraft map is defined as a rectangular grid,
where the width ×height of the map is measured in the
number of 32 ×32 squares of pixels, also known as build
tiles. However, the resolution of walkable areas is in squares of
8×8pixels, also known as walk tiles. The typical dimensions
for maps range from 64 ×64 to 256 ×256 build tiles. Each
player can control up to 200 units (plus an unlimited number
of buildings). Moreover, each different race contains between
30 to 35 different types of units and buildings, most of them
with a significant number of special abilities. All these factors
Fig. 1. A screenshot of StarCraft: Brood War.
together make StarCraft a significant challenge, in which
humans are still much better than computers. For instance,
in the game ladder iCCup2where users are ranked by their
current point totals (Ebeing the lowest possible rank, and
A+and Olympic being the second highest and highest ranks,
respectively), the best StarCraft AI bots are ranked between D
and D+, where average amateur players are ranked between
C+and B. For comparison, StarCraft professional players are
usually ranked between Aand A+.
From a theoretical point of view, the state space of a
StarCraft game for a given map is enormous. For example,
consider a 128 ×128 map. At any given moment there might
be between 50 to 400 units in the map, each of which might
have a complex internal state (remaining energy and hit-
points, action being executed, etc.). This quickly leads to
an immense number of possible states (way beyond the size
of smaller games, such as Chess or Go). For example, just
considering the location of each unit (with 128 ×128 possible
positions per unit), and 400 units, gives us an initial number
of 16384400 101685. If we add the other factors playing a
role in the game, we obtain even larger numbers.
Another way to measure the complexity of the game is by
looking at the branching factor, b, and the depth of the game,
d, as proposed in [3], with a total game complexity of bd.
In Chess, b35 and d80. In more complex games,
like Go, b30 to 300, and d150 to 200. In order
to determine the branching factor in StarCraft when an AI
plays it, we must have in mind, that the AI can issue actions
simultaneously to as many units in the game as desired. Thus,
considering that, in a typical game, a player controls between
50 to 200 units, the branching factor would be between u50
and u200, where uis the average number of actions each unit
can execute. Estimating the value of uis not easy, since the
number of actions a unit can execute is highly dependent on
the context. Let us make the following assumptions: 1) at most
16 enemy units will be in range of a friendly unit (larger values
are possible, but unlikely), 2) when an AI plays StarCraft,
it only makes sense to consider movement in the 8 cardinal
directions per unit (instead of assuming that the player can
issue a “move” command to anywhere in the map at any point
2http://www.iccup.com/StarCraft/
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 3
in time), 3) for “build” actions, we consider that SCVs (Terran
worker units) only build in their current location (otherwise, if
they need to move, we consider that as first issuing a “move”
action, and then a “build”), and 4) let’s consider only the
Terran race. With those assumptions, units in StarCraft can
execute between 1 (units like “Supply Depots”, whose only
action is to be “idle”) to 43 actions (Terran “Ghosts”), with
typical values around 20 to 30. Now, if we have in mind
that actions have cool-down times, and thus not all units
can execute all of the actions at every frame, we can take a
conservative estimation of about 10 possible actions per unit
per game frame. This results in a conservative estimate for the
branching factor between b[1050,10200 ], only considering
units (ignoring the actions buildings can execute). Now, to
compute d, we simply consider the fact that typical games
last for about 25 minutes, which results in d36000 (25
minutes ×60 seconds ×24 frames per second).
B. Challenges in RTS Game AI
Early research in AI for RTS games [1] identified the
following six challenges:
Resource management
Decision making under uncertainty
Spatial and temporal reasoning
Collaboration (between multiple AIs)
Opponent modeling and learning
Adversarial real-time planning
While there has been a significant work in many, others
have been untouched (e.g. collaboration). Moreover, recent
research in this area has identified several additional research
challenges, such as how to exploit the massive amounts of
existing domain knowledge (strategies, build-orders, replays,
and so on). Below, we describe current challenges in RTS
Game AI, grouped in six main different areas.
1) Planning: As mentioned above, the size of the state
space in RTS games is much larger than that of traditional
board games such as Chess or Go. Additionally, the number
of actions that can be executed at a given instant of time is also
much larger. Thus, standard adversarial planning approaches,
such as game tree search are not directly applicable. As we
elaborate later, planning in RTS games can be seen as having
multiple levels of abstraction: at a higher level, players need
long-term planning capabilities, in order to develop a strong
economy in the game; at a low level, individual units need to
be moved in coordination to fight battles taking into account
the terrain and the opponent. Techniques that can address these
large planning problems by either sampling, or hierarchical
decomposition do not yet exist.
2) Learning: Given the difficulties in playing RTS games
by directly using adversarial planning techniques, many re-
search groups have turned attention to learning techniques.
We can distinguish three types of learning problems in RTS
games:
Prior learning: How can we exploit available data, such
as existing replays, or information about specific maps for
learning appropriate strategies before hand? A significant
amount of work has gone in this direction.
In-game learning: How can bots deploy online learning
techniques that allow them to improve their game play
while playing a game? These techniques might include
reinforcement learning techniques, but also opponent
modeling. The main problem again is the fact that the
state space is too large and the fact that RTS games are
partially observable.
Inter-game learning: What can be learned from one game
that can be used to increase the chances of victory in the
next game? Some work has used simple game-theoretical
solutions to select amongst a pool of predefined strategies,
but the general problem remains unsolved.
3) Uncertainty: Adversarial planning under uncertainty in
domains of the size of RTS games is still an unsolved chal-
lenge. In RTS games, there are two main kinds of uncertainty.
First, the game is partially observable, and players cannot
observe the whole game map (like in Chess), but need to
scout in order to see what the opponent is doing. This type of
uncertainty can be lowered by good scouting, and knowledge
representation (to infer what is possible given what has been
seen). Second, there is also uncertainty arising from the fact
that the games are adversarial, and a player cannot predict
the actions that the opponent(s) will execute. For this type
of uncertainty, the AI, as the human player, can only build a
sensible model of what the opponent is likely to do.
4) Spatial and Temporal Reasoning: Spatial reasoning is
related to each aspect of terrain exploitation. It is involved
in tasks such as building placement or base expansion. In
the former, the player needs to carefully consider building
positioning into its own bases to both protect them by creating
a wall against invasions and to avoid bad configurations where
large units could be stuck. In base expansion, the player has to
choose good available locations to build a new base, regarding
its own position and opponent’s bases. Finally, spatial reason-
ing is key to tactical reasoning: players need to decide where
to place units for battle, favoring, for instance, engagements
when the opponent’s units are lead into a bottleneck.
Another example of spatial reasoning in StarCraft is that
it is always an advantage to have own units on high ground
while the enemy is on low ground, since units on low ground
have no vision onto the high ground.
Analogously, temporal reasoning is key in tactical or strate-
gic reasoning. For example, timing attacks and retreats to gain
an advantage. At a higher strategic level, players need to rea-
son about when to perform long-term impact economic actions
such as upgrades, building construction, strategy switching,
etc. all taking into account that the effects of these actions are
not immediate, but longer term.
5) Domain Knowledge Exploitation: In traditional board
games such as Chess, researchers have exploited the large
amounts of existing domain knowledge to create good evalu-
ation functions to be used by alpha-beta search algorithms,
extensive opening books, or end-game tables. In the case
of RTS games, it is still unclear how the significantly large
amount of domain knowledge (in the forms or strategy guides,
replays, etc.) can be exploited by bots. Most work in this
area has focused on two main directions: on the one hand,
researchers are finding ways in which to hard-code existing
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 4
strategies into bots, so that bots only need to decide which
strategies to deploy, instead of having to solve the complete
problem of deciding which actions to execute by each individ-
ual unit at each time step. One the other hand, large datasets
of replays have been created [4], [5], from where strategies,
trends or plans have been tried to learn. However, StarCraft
games are quite complex, and how to automatically learn from
such datasets is still an open problem.
6) Task Decomposition: For all the previous reasons, most
existing approaches to play games as StarCraft work by
decomposing the problem of playing an RTS game into a
collection of smaller problems, to be solved independently.
Specifically, a common subdivision is:
Strategy: corresponds to the high-level decision making
process. This is the highest level of abstraction for the
game comprehension. Finding an efficient strategy or
counter-strategy against a given opponent is key in RTS
games, and concerns the whole set of units a player owns.
Tactics: are the implementation of the current strategy.
It implies army and building positioning, movements,
timing, and so on. Tactics concerns a group of units.
Reactive control: is the implementation of tactics. This
consists in moving, targeting, firing, fleeing, hit-and-
run techniques (also knows as “kiting”) during battle.
Reactive control focuses on a specific unit.
Terrain analysis: consists in the analysis of regions com-
posing the map: choke-points, minerals and gas emplace-
ments, low and high walkable grounds, islands, etc.
Intelligence gathering: corresponds to information col-
lected about the opponent. Because of the fog-of-war,
players must regularly send scouts to localize and spy
enemy bases.
In comparison, when humans play StarCraft, they typically
divide their decision making in a very different way. The
StarCraft community typically talks about two tasks:
Micro: is the ability to control units individually (roughly
corresponding to Reactive Control above, and part of
Tactics). A good micro player usually keeps their units
alive over a longer period of time.
Macro: is the ability to produce units and to expand
at the appropriate times to keep your production of
units flowing (roughly corresponding to everything but
Reactive Control and part of Tactics above). A good
macro player usually has the larger army.
The reader can find a good presentation of task decom-
position for AIs playing RTS in [6]. Although the previous
task decomposition is common, a significant challenge is on
designing architectures so that the individual AI techniques
that address each of those tasks can communicate and effec-
tively work together, resolving conflicts, prioritizing resources
between them, etc. Section IV provides an overview of the
task decompositions that state-of-the-art bots use. Moreover,
we would like to point out that the task decomposition above
is not the only possible approach. Some systems, such as
IMAI [7], divide gameplay into much smaller tasks, which are
then assigned resources depending on the expected benefits of
achieving each task.
Strategy
Tactics
Reactive control ~1 sec
~30 sec
~3 min
direct knowledge
Spatial reasoning
player's intentions
partial observations
mean
plan term
Temporal reasoning
mean
number/game
300 APM
10
2
Fig. 2. RTS AI levels of abstraction and theirs properties: uncertainty (coming
from partial observation and from not knowing the intentions of the opponent)
is higher for higher abstraction levels. Timings on the right correspond to an
estimate of the duration of a behavior switch in StarCraft. Spatial and temporal
reasoning are indicated for the levels at which greedy solutions are not enough.
III. EXI ST IN G WO RK O N RTS G AME AI
Systems that play RTS games need to address most, if
not all, the aforementioned problems together. Therefore, it
is hard to classify existing work on RTS AI as addressing the
different problems above. For that reason, we will divide it
according to three levels of abstraction: strategy (which loosely
corresponds to “macro”), tactics and reactive control (which
loosely corresponds to “micro”).
Figure 2 graphically illustrates how strategy, tactics and
reactive control are three points in a continuum scale where
strategy corresponds to decisions making processes that affect
long spans of time (several minutes in the case of StarCraft),
reactive control corresponds to low-level second-by-second
decisions, and tactics sit in the middle. Also, strategic deci-
sions reason about the whole game at once, whereas tactical
or reactive control decisions are localized, and affect only
specific groups of units. Typically, strategic decisions constrain
future tactical decisions, which in turn condition reactive
control. Moreover, information gathered while performing
reactive control, can cause reconsideration of the tactics being
employed; which could trigger further strategic reasoning.
Following this idea, we consider strategy to be everything
related to the technology trees, build-order3, upgrades, and
army composition. It is the most deliberative level, as a player
selects and performs a strategy with future stances (aggressive,
defensive, economy, technology) and tactics in mind. We
consider tactics to be everything related to confrontations
between groups of units. Tactical reasoning involves both
spatial (exploiting the terrain) and temporal (army movements)
reasoning, constrained on the possible types of attacks by the
army composition of the player and their opponent. Finally,
reactive control describes how the player controls individual
units to maximize their efficiency in real-time. The main
difference between tactics and reactive control is that tactical
reasoning typically involves some sort of planning ahead for
3The build-order is the specific sequence in which buildings of different
types will be constructed at the beginning of a game, and completely
determines the long-term strategy of a player.
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 5
some short spans of time, whereas reactive control involves
no planning ahead whatsoever.
For example, after starting a game, a player might decide
to use a rushing strategy (which involves quickly building an
army and sending it to attack as early as possible in the game);
then, when performing the attack use a surrounding tactic,
where the player tries to surround the enemy cutting potential
escape routes; finally, while executing the surrounding tactic,
the player might decide to use reactive control techniques that
command individual units to perform repeated attack and flee
movements, to maximize the efficiency of each of the units
being used in the attack.
A. Strategy
Strategic decision making in real-time domains is still an
open problem. In the context of RTS games is has been
addressed using many AI techniques, like hard-coded ap-
proaches, planning-based approaches, or machine learning-
based approaches. We cover each of these approaches in turn.
Hard-coded approaches have been extensively used in com-
mercial RTS games. The most common ones use finite state
machines (FSM) [8] in order to let the AI author hard-code
the strategy that the AI will employ. The idea behind FSMs is
to decompose the AI behavior into easily manageable states,
such as “attacking”, “gathering resources” or “repairing” and
establish the conditions that trigger transitions between them.
Commercial approaches also include Hierarchical FSMs, in
which FSMs are composed hierarchically. These hard-coded
approaches have achieved a significant amount of success, and,
as we will discuss later in Section IV, have also been used
in many academic RTS AI research systems. However, these
hard-coded approaches struggle to encode dynamic, adaptive
behaviors, and are easily exploitable by adaptive opponents.
Approaches using planning techniques have also been ex-
plored in the literature. For example Onta˜
n´
on et al. [9]
explored the use of real-time case-based planning (CBP) in
the domain of Wargus (a Warcraft II clone). In their work,
they used human demonstration to learn plans, which are then
composed at run-time in order to form full-fledges strategies
to play the game. In [10] they improve over their previous
CBP approach by using situation assessment for improving the
quality and speed of plan retrieval. Hierarchical Task-Network
(HTN) planning has also been explored with some success
in the context of simpler first-person shooter games [11].
Planning approaches offer more adaptivity of the AI strategy
compared to hard-coded approaches. However, the real-time
constraints of RTS games limit the planning approaches that
can be applied, HTN and case-based planning being the only
ones explored so far. Moreover, none of these approaches
addresses any timing or scheduling issues, which are key in
RTS games. On notable exception is the work of Churchill
and Buro [12], who used planning in order to construct its
economic build-orders, taking into account timing constraints
of the different actions.
Concerning machine learning-based approaches, Weber and
Mateas [4] proposed a data mining approach to strategy pre-
diction and performed supervised learning on labeled StarCraft
replays. Dereszynski et al. [13] used Hidden Markov Models
(HMM) to learn the transition probabilities of sequences
of building construction orders and kept the most probable
ones to produce probabilistic behavior models (in StarCraft).
Synnaeve and Bessi`
ere [14] used the dataset of [4] and
presented a Bayesian semi-supervised model to learn from
replays and predict openings (early game strategies) from
StarCraft replays. The openings are labeled by EM clustering
considering appropriate features. Then, in [15], they presented
an unsupervised learning Bayesian model for tech-tree pre-
diction, still using replays. Finally, evolutionary approaches
to determine priorities of high level tasks were explored by
Young and Hawes in their QUORUM system [16], showing
improvement over static priorities.
Also falling into the machine-learning category, a significant
group of researchers has explored case-based reasoning (CBR)
[17] approaches for strategic decision making. For example
Aha et al. [18] used CBR to perform dynamic plan retrieval
in the Wargus domain. Hsieh and Sun [19] based their work
on Aha et al.’s CBR model [18] and used StarCraft replays
to construct states and building sequences (“build orders”).
Schadd et al. [20] applied a CBR approach to opponent mod-
eling through hierarchically structured models of the opponent
behavior and they applied their work to the Spring RTS game
(a “Total Annihilation” clone). Jaidee et al. [21] study the
use of CBR for automatic goal selection, while playing an
RTS game. These goals will then determine which Q-tables
to be used in a reinforcement learning framework. Finally,
ˇ
Certick´
y et al. [22] used CBR to build their army, based on
the opponent’s army composition, and they pointed out on the
importance of proper scouting for better results.
One final consideration concerning strategy is that RTS
games are typically partially observable. Games like StarCraft
implement the “fog-of-war” idea, which basically means that
a player can only see the areas of the map close to her
own units. Areas of the map away from the field of view
of individual units are not observable. Players need to scout
in order to obtain information about the opponent’s strategy.
The size of the state space in StarCraft prevents solutions
based on POMDPs from being directly applicable, and very
few of the previous approaches deal with this problem. Much
work in RTS game AI assumes perfect information all the
time. For example, in the case of commercial games, most
AI implementations cheat, since the AI can see the complete
game map at all times, while the human player does not. In
order to make the human player believe the AI of these games
does not cheat, sometimes they simulate some scouting tasks
as Bob Fitch described in his AIIDE 2011 keynote for the
WarCraft and StarCraft game series. Even if the StarCraft
AI competition enforces fog-of-war, which means that bots
are forced to work under partial information, little published
research exists on this topic. A notable exception is the work
of Weber et al. [23], who used a particle model with a linear
trajectory update to track opponent units under fog-of-war in
StarCraft. They also produced tactical goals through reactive
planning and goal-driven autonomy [24], [25], finding the
more relevant goal(s) to spawn in unforeseen situations.
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 6
B. Tactics
Tactical reasoning involves reasoning about the different
abilities of the units in a group and about the environment
(terrain) and positions of the different groups of units in order
to gain military advantage in battles. For example, it would
be a very bad tactical decision to send fast, invisible or flying
units (typically expensive) in the first line of fire against slower
heavier units, since they will be wiped out fast. We will divide
the work on tactical reasoning in two parts: terrain analysis and
decision making.
Terrain analysis supplies the AI with structured information
about the map in order to help making decisions. This analysis
is usually performed off-line, in order to save CPU time
during the game. For example, Pottinger [26] described the
BANG engine implemented by Ensemble Studios for the game
Age of Empires II. This engine provides terrain analysis
functionalities to the game using influence maps and areas with
connectivity information. Forbus et al. [27] showed the impor-
tance to have qualitative spatial information for wargames, for
which they used geometric and pathfinding analysis. Hale et
al. [28] presented a 2D geometric navigation mesh generation
method from expanding convex regions from seeds. Finally,
Perkins [29] applied Voronoi decomposition (then pruning) to
detect regions and relevant choke points in RTS maps. This
approach is implemented for StarCraft in the BWTA4library,
used by most state of the art StarCraft bots.
Walling is the act of intentionally placing buildings at the
entrance of your base to block the path and to prevent the
opponent’s units from getting inside. This technique is used
by human StarCraft players to survive early aggression and
earn time to train more units. ˇ
Certick´
y solved this constraint
satisfaction problem using Answer Set Programming (ASP)
[30].
Concerning tactical decision making, many different ap-
proaches have been explored such as machine learning or
game tree search. Hladky and Bulitko [31] benchmarked
hidden semi-Markov models (HSMM) and particle filters for
unit tracking. Although they used first-person shooter (FPS)
games for their experimentation, the results apply to RTS
games as well. They showed that the accuracy of occupancy
maps was improved using movement models (learned from
the player behavior) in HSMM. Kabanza et al. [32] improve
the probabilistic hostile agent task tracker (PHATT [33], a
simulated HMM for plan recognition) by encoding strategies
as HTN, used for plan and intent recognition to find tactical
opportunities. Sharma et al. [34] combined CBR and reinforce-
ment learning to enable reuse of tactical plan components.
Cadena and Garrido [35] used fuzzy CBR (fuzzy case match-
ing) for strategic and tactical planning. [36] combined space
abstraction into regions from [29] and tactical-decision making
by assigning scores (economical, defenses, etc.) to regions and
looking for their correspondences to tactical moves (attacks)
in pro-gamers replays. Finally, Miles [37] created the idea of
IMTrees, a tree where each leaf node is an influence map,
and each intermediate node is a combination operation (sum,
multiplication); Miles used evolutionary algorithms to learn
4http://code.google.com/p/bwta/
IMTrees for each strategic decision in the game involving
spatial reasoning by combining a set of basic influence maps.
Game tree search techniques have also been explored for
tactical decision making. Churchill and Buro [38] presented
the ABCD algorithm (Alpha-Beta Considering Durations), a
game tree search algorithm for tactical battles in RTS games.
Chung et al. [39] applied Monte-Carlo planning to a capture-
the-flag version of Open RTS. Balla and Fern [40] applied
the UCT algorithm (a Monte Carlo Tree Search algorithm) to
tactical assault planning in Wargus. To make game tree search
applicable at this level, abstract game state representations are
used in order to reduce the complexity. Also, abstractions, or
simplifications about the set of possible actions to execute in
a given game state need to be used.
Additionally, scouting is equally important in tactical de-
cision making as in strategic decision making. However, as
mentioned earlier, very little work has been done in this
respect, being that of Weber et al. [23] the only exception.
All previous approaches, including all game tree search ones,
assume complete information.
C. Reactive Control
Reactive control aims at maximizing the effectiveness of
units, including simultaneous control of units of different types
in complex battles on heterogeneous terrain.
Potential fields and influence maps have been found to
be useful techniques for reactive decision making. Some
uses of potential fields in RTS games are: avoiding obsta-
cles (navigation), avoiding opponent fire [41], or staying at
maximum shooting distance [42]. Potential fields have also
been combined with A* path-finding to avoid local traps
[43]. Hagelb¨
ack and Johansson [44] presented a multi-agent
potential fields based bot able to deal with fog-of-war in
the Tankbattle game. Avery et al. [45] and Smith et al.
[46] co-evolved influence map trees for spatial reasoning in
RTS games. Danielsiek et al. [47] used influence maps to
achieve intelligent squad movement to flank the opponent in
a RTS game. Despite their success, a drawback for potential
field-based techniques is the large number of parameters that
has to be tuned in order to achieve the desired behavior.
Approaches for automatically learning such parameters have
been explored, for example, using reinforcement learning [48],
or self-organizing-maps (SOM) [49]. We would like to note
that potential fields are a reactive control technique, and as
such, they do not perform any form of lookahead. As a
consequence, these techniques are prone to make units stuck
in local maxima.
There has been a significant amount of work on using ma-
chine learning techniques for the problem of reactive control.
Bayesian modeling has been applied to inverse fusion of the
sensory inputs of the units [50], which subsumes potential
fields, allowing for integration of tactical goals directly in
micro-management.
Additionally, there have been some interesting uses of
reinforcement learning (RL) [51]: Wender and Watson [52]
evaluated the different major RL algorithms for (decentral-
ized) micro-management, which perform all equally. Marthi
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 7
et al. [53] employ concurrent hierarchical Q-learning (units
Q-functions are combined at the group level) RL to efficiently
control units in a “one robot with multiple effectors” fashion.
Madeira et al. [54] advocate the use of prior domain knowl-
edge to allow faster RL learning and applied their work on a
turn-based strategy game. This is because the action space to
explore is gigantic for real game setups. It requires exploiting
the existing structure of the game in a partial program (or a
partial Markov decision process) and a shape function (or a
heuristic) [53]. Another approach has been proposed by Jaide
and Mu˜
noz-Avila [55] through learning just one Q-function for
each unit type, in order to cut down the search space. Other
approaches that aim at learning the parameters of an underly-
ing model have also been explored. For example Ponsen and
Spronck [56] used evolutionary learning techniques, but face
the same problem of dimensionality. For example, evolutionary
optimization by simulating fights can easily be adapted to
any parameter-dependent micro-management control model,
as shown by [57] which optimizes an AIIDE 2010 micro-
management competition bot.
Finally, approaches based on game tree search are recently
being explored for micro-management. Churchill et al. [58]
presented a variant of alpha-beta search capable of dealing
with simultaneous moves and durative actions, which could
handle reactive control for situations with up to eight versus
eight units.
Other research falling into reactive control has been per-
formed in the field of cognitive science, where Wintermute et
al. [59] have explored human-like attention models (with units
grouping and vision of a unique screen location) for reactive
control.
Finally, although pathfinding does not fall under our previ-
ous definition of reactive control, we include it in this section,
since it is typically performed as a low-level service, not part
of either tactical nor strategical reasoning (although there are
some exceptions, like the tactical pathfinding of Danielsiek et
al. [47]). The most common pathfinding algorithm is A*, but
its big problem is CPU time and memory consumption, hard
to satisfy in a complex, dynamic, real-time environment with
large numbers of units. Even if specialized algorithms, such
as D*-Lite [60] exist, it is most common to use A* combined
with a map simplification technique that generates a simpler
navigation graph to be used for pathfinding. An example of
such technique is Triangulation Reduction A*, that computes
polygonal triangulations on a grid-based map [61]. Consider-
ing movement for groups of units, rather then individual units,
techniques such as steering of flocking behaviors [62] can be
used on top of a path-finding algorithm in order to make whole
groups of units follow a given path. In recent commercial RTS
games like StarCraft 2 or Supreme Commander 2, flocking-
like behaviors are inspired of continuum crowds (“flow field”)
[63]. A comprehensive review about (grid-based) pathfinding
was recently done by Sturtevant [64].
D. Holistic Approaches
Holistic approaches to address RTS AI attempt to address
the whole problem using a single unified method. To the
best of our knowledge, with a few exceptions, such as the
Darmok system [65] (which uses a combination of case-based
reasoning and learning from demonstration) or ALisp [53],
there has not been much work in this direction. The main
reason is that the complexity of RTS games is too large, and
approaches that decompose the problem into smaller, separate,
problems, achieve better results in practice. However, holistic
approaches, based, for example, on Monte Carlo Tree Search,
have only been explored in the context of smaller-scale RTS
games [66]. Techniques that scale up to large RTS games as
StarCraft are still not available.
A related problem is that of integrating reasoning at multi-
ple levels of abstraction. Molineaux et al. [67] showed that
the difficulty of working with multi-scale goals and plans
can be handled directly by case-based reasoning (CBR), via
an integrated RL/CBR algorithm using continuous models.
Reactive planning [24], a decompositional planning similar
to hierarchical task networks [11], allows for plans to be
changed at different granularity levels and so for multi-scale
(hierarchical) goals integration of low-level control. Synnaeve
and Bessi`
ere [50] achieve hierarchical goals (coming from
tactical decisions) integration through the addition of another
sensory input corresponding to the goal’s objective.
IV. STATE OF T HE ART BOTS FOR STAR CRAFT
Thanks to the recent organization of international game AI
competitions focused around the popular StarCraft game (see
Section V), several groups have been working on integrating
many of the techniques described in the previous section into
complete “bots”, capable of playing complete StarCraft games.
In this section we will overview some of the currently available
top bots.
Playing an RTS game involves dealing with all the problems
described above. A few approaches, like CAT [18], Darmok
[65] or ALisp [53] try to deal with the problem in a monolithic
manner, by using a single AI technique. However, none of
those systems aims at achieving near human performance. In
order to achieve human-level performance, RTS AI designers
use a lot of domain knowledge in order to divide the task of
playing the game into a collection of sub-problems, which can
be dealt-with using individual AI techniques.
Figure 3 shows some representative examples of the archi-
tectures used by different bots in the AIIDE and CIG StarCraft
AI competitions (see Section V): BroodwarBotQ [50], Nova
[41], UAlbertaBot [12], Skynet, SPAR, AIUR, and BTHAI
[43]. Each box represents an individual module with a clearly
defined task (only modules with a black background can send
actions directly to StarCraft). Dashed arrows represent data
flow, and solid arrows represent control (when a module can
command another module to perform some task). For example,
we can see how SPAR is divided in two sets of modules:
intelligence and decision making. Intelligence in SPAR has
three modules dedicated to analyze the current situation of
the game. Decision making in SPAR is done through four
hierarchically organized modules, with the higher-level mod-
ule (strategic decision) issuing commands to the next module
(tactical decision), which sends commands to the next module
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 8
Economy
Combat
Combat
Agent
Squad
Agent
Intelligence Decision Making
Threat
Evaluation
Plan
Recognition
Data
Abstraction
Strategic
Decision
Tactical
Decision
Action
Implementation
Reactions
SPAR:
Intelligence
Combat Economy
Goal
Manager
Units
Group
Bayesian
Unit
Map
Manager
Worker
Manager
Bases
Manager
Production
Manager
Construction
Manager
Tech
Estimator
Units
Filter
Arbitrator
BroodwarBotQ:
CombatEconomy
Unit
Agents
Resource
Manager
Upgrade
Manager
Build
Planner
Exploration
Manager
Agent
Manager
Commander
Squads
BTHAI:
Tactics
Control
Strategy
Intelligence
Wall
Tracker
Player
Tracker
Terrain
Analysis
Border
Tracker
Units
Tracker
PylonPower
Tracker
Unit
Information
Base
Tracker
Latency
Tracker
GameProgress
Detection
Task 1
Scout
Manager
Macro
Manager
BlockedPath
Manager
Building
Placer
Resource
Manager
Supply
Manager
Expansion
Manager
Squad
Manager
Task
Manager
BuildOrder
Manager
Task 2
Task n
Skynet:
Intelligence
Combat Economy
Production
Manager
Worker
Manager
Combat
Manager
Building
Manager
Building
Placer
Micro
Manager
Scout
Manager
Micro
Manager
Micro
Manager
Squad
Game
Commander
Strategy
Manager
Information
Manager
Map
Tools
UAlbertaBot:
Economy
Squad
Manager
Squad
Agent
Combat
Agent
Information
Manager
(blackboard)
Worker
Manager
Build
Manager
Production
Manager
Planner
Manager
Strategy
Manager
Nova:
Intelligence
Combat
Defense
Manager
Army
Manager
Under Attack
Manager
Spy
Manager
Scout
Manager
Information
Manager
Worker
Manager
Base
Manager
Construction
Manager
Production
Manager
Spend
Manager
Arbitrator
Mood
Manager
AIUR:
Squad
Agent
Combat
Agent
Fig. 3. Architecture of 7 StarCraft bots obtained by analyzing their source code. Modules with black background sent commands directly to StarCraft,
dashed arrows represent data flow, and solid arrows represent control.
(action implementation), and so on. Only the two lower-level
modules can send actions directly to StarCraft.
On the other hand, bots such as Nova or BroodwarBotQ
(BBQ) only use a hierarchical organization for combat (con-
trolling the attack units), but use a decentralized organization
for the rest of the bot. In Nova and BBQ, there is a collection
of modules that control different aspects of the game (workers,
production, construction, etc.). These modules can all send
actions directly to StarCraft. In Nova those modules coordinate
mostly through writing data in a shared blackboard, and in
BBQ they coordinate only when they have to use a shared
resource (unit) by means of an arbitrator: a bidding market
and broker for settling units control, military and civilian
groups/task forces bid for units proportionally to their use-
fulness and the task importance.
By analyzing the structure of these bots, we can see that
there are two main tools being used in these integration
architectures:
Abstraction: complex tasks can be formulated at different
levels of abstraction. For example, playing an RTS game
can be seen as issuing individual low-level actions to each
of the units in the game, or at a higher level, it can be seen
as deploying a specific strategy (e.g. a “BBS strategy”, or
a “Reaver Drop” strategy). Some bots, reason at multiple
levels of abstraction at the same time, making the task
of playing StarCraft simpler. Assuming that each module
in the architecture of a bot has a goal and determines
some actions to achieve that goal, the actions determined
by higher-level modules are considered as the goals of
the lower level modules. In this way, each module can
focus on reasoning at only one level of abstraction, thus,
making the problem easier.
Divide-and-conquer: playing a complex RTS, such as
StarCraft, requires performing many conceptually differ-
ent tasks, such as gathering resources, attacking, placing
buildings, etc. Assuming each of these tasks can be per-
formed relatively independently and without interference,
we can have one module focusing on each of the tasks
independently, thus making the problem easier.
If we imagine the different tasks to perform in a complex
RTS game in a two-dimensional plane, where the vertical axis
represents abstraction, and the horizontal axis represents the
different aspects of the game (combat, resource gathering,
etc.), abstraction can be seen as dividing the space with
horizontal lines, whereas divide-and-conquer divides the space
using vertical lines.
Different bots use different combinations of these two tools.
Looking back at Figure 3, we can see the following use of
abstraction and divide-in-conquer in the bots:
BroodwarBotQ5: uses abstraction for combat, and divide-
and-conquer for economy and intelligence gathering. To
avoid conflicts between modules (since the individual
5http://github.com/SnippyHolloW/BroodwarBotQ
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 9
tasks of each of the modules are not completely inde-
pendent), BBQ uses an arbitrator.
Nova6: is similar in design as BroodwarBotQ, and uses
abstraction for combat, and divide-and-conquer for econ-
omy. The differences are that Nova does not have an
arbitrator to resolve conflicts, but has a higher-level
module (strategy manager), which posts information to
the blackboard that the rest of modules follow (thus,
making use of abstraction).
UAlbertaBot7: also uses abstraction in combat like the
previous two bots. But it also uses it in economy: as
can be seen, the production manager sends commands
to the building manager, who is in charge of producing
the buildings. This bot also uses divide-and-conquer, and
tasks like scouting and resource gathering are managed
by separate, independent modules.
Skynet8: makes extensive use of both abstraction and
divide-and-conquer. We can see a high level module
that issues commands to a series of tactics modules.
The collection of tactic modules queue tasks (that are
analogous to the abstract actions used in SPAR). Each
different task has a specific low level module that knows
how to execute it. Thus, Skynet uses a 3 layered abstrac-
tion hierarchy, and uses divide-and-conquer in all levels
except the highest.
SPAR9: only uses abstraction. Its high-level module deter-
mines the strategy to use, and the tactical decision module
divides it into a collection of abstract actions, that are
executed by the lower-level modules.
AIUR10: is mainly divide-and-conquer oriented, with a
slight abstraction on economy due to a SpendManager
deciding how to spend and share resources among Base,
Production and Construction Managers. At the beginning
of a game, the MoodManager initializes a “mood” which
will influence both tactics and strategy. Combat is divided
into three independent managers: the Defense Manager,
controlling military units when there is nothing special,
the Under Attack Manager, activated when the opponent
is attacking our bases, and the Army Manager, taking
control of units when it is time to attack, following a
timing given by the current mood. This bot does not
manage however any kind of reactive controls so far.
BTHAI11: uses a two-tier abstraction hierarchy, where a
collection of high-level modules command a collection
of lower-level agents in charge of each of the units. At
the high-level, BTHAI uses divide-and-conquer, having
multiple high-level modules issuing commands to the
lower-level units.
Additionally, except for BTHAI, all other agents use divide-
and-conquer at a higher-level bot design and divide all the
modules into two or three categories: intelligence gathering
and decision making (sometimes divided into combat and
6http://nova.wolfwork.com/
7http://code.google.com/p/ualbertabot/
8http://code.google.com/p/skynetbot/
9http://www.planiart.usherbrooke.ca/projects/spar/
10http://code.google.com/p/aiurproject/
11http://code.google.com/p/bthai/
economy).
Some bots using divide-and-conquer, assume that each of
the modules can act independently and that their actions
can be executed without interference. BBQ, UAlbertaBot
and AIUR, however use an arbitrator (Game Commander’
in UAlbertaBot) that makes sure that modules do not send
contradictory orders to the same unit. However, very little
bots handle the problem of how to coordinate resource usage
amongst modules, for instance BTHAI uses a first-come-first-
serve policy for spending resources, the first module that
requests resources is the one that gets them. Nova and Skynet
are exceptions, and implement some rudimentary prioritization
based on the high level strategy. Following available resources
and timing, AIUR’s Spend Manager orders Base, Production
and Construction Managers what they have to build/produce.
It also orders to start tech research and upgrades. The idea
here is not to let the different managers allocate the resources
they want, but to do the opposite, that is: finding how the AI
can spend the available money.
One interesting aspect of the seven bots described above
is that, while all of them (except AIUR) are reactive at the
lower level (reactive control), most if not all of them, are
scripted at the highest level of abstraction. BTHAI reads
build and squad formations from a predefined script, Nova’s
Strategy Manager is a predefined finite-state machine, BBQ’s
construction manager reads the build order from a prede-
fined script, and Skynet’s BuildOrder Manager is basically
a predefined script. Such scripts describe the strategy that the
bots will use, however, such strategy is always fixed. One
could see this pre-scripting as if each bot defined a “high-
level programming language” to describe StarCraft strategies,
and the bots themselves are just interpreters of such strategy.
Compared to current approaches for Chess or Go, this scripting
seems a rigid and inflexible, but responds to the much higher
complexity of the StarCraft game. An interesting exception
to that is UAlbertaBot, which uses a search algorithm in
the Production Manager to find near-optimal build orders.
Another interesting case is AIUR, that uses a Mood Manager
to randomly pick a mood among six (cheese, rush, aggressive,
defensive, macro, fast expand), which will influence the build
order, strategy and tactics.
In conclusion, we can see that there are two basic tools
that can be used in an integration architecture: abstraction
and divide-and-conquer, which are widely used by the existing
StarCraft bots. For space reasons, we do not include an ex-
haustive comparison of the architectures of all the participating
bots. Some other bots have been documented by their authors,
such as SCAIL [68] or QUORUM [16]. Let us now focus on
their performance.
V. REC EN T STARCRA FT AI COMPETITIONS
This section reviews the results of the recent international
competitions on AI for StarCraft. These competitions, typi-
cally co-located with scientific conferences, have been possible
thanks to the existence of the Brood War Application Program-
ming Interface (BWAPI)12, which enables replacing the human
12http://code.google.com/p/bwapi/
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 10
player interface with C++ code. The following subsections
summarize the results of all the StarCraft AI competitions held
at the AIIDE (Artificial Intelligence for Interactive Digital En-
tertainment) and CIG (Computational Intelligence in Games)
conferences during the past years. Additionally we analyze the
statistics from the StarCraft Bot Ladder, where the best bots
play against each other continuously over time.
A. AIIDE
Started in 2010, the AIIDE StarCraft AI Competition13
is the most well known and longest running StarCraft AI
Competition in the world. Each year, AI bots are submitted by
competitors to do battle within the retail version of StarCraft:
Brood War, with prizes supplied by Blizzard Entertainment.
The first competition in 2010 was organized and run by Ben
Weber in the Expressive Intelligence Studio at University of
California, Santa Cruz14. 26 total submissions were received
from around the world. As this was the first year of the
competition, and little infrastructure had been created, each
game of the tournament was run manually on two laptop
computers and monitored by hand to record the results. Also,
no persistent data was kept for bots to learn about opponents
between matches.
The 2010 competition had 4 different tournament categories
in which to compete. Tournament 1 was a flat-terrain unit
micro-management battle consisting of four separate unit
composition games. Of the six competitors, FreSCBot won
the competition with Sherbrooke coming in 2nd place. Tour-
nament 2 was another micro-focused game with non-trivial
terrain. Two competitors submitted for this category, with
FreSCBot once again coming in 1st by beating Sherbrooke.
Tournament 3 was a tech-limited StarCraft game on a single
known map with no fog-of-war enforced. Players were only
allowed to choose the Protoss race, with no late game units
allowed. 8 bots faced off in this double-elimination tournament
with MimicBot taking first place over Botnik in the final. As
this was a perfect information variant of StarCraft, MimicBot
adopted a strategy of “mimic its opponent’s build order,
gaining an economic advantage whenever possible” which
worked quite well.
Tournament 4 was the complete game of StarCraft: Brood
War with fog-of-war enforced. The tournament was run with
a random pairing double-elimination format with each match
being best of 5 games. Competitors could play as any of the
three races, with the only limitations in gameplay being those
that were considered “cheating” in the StarCraft community. A
map pool of 5 well-known professional maps were announced
to competitors in advance, with a random map being chosen
for each game.
Results are shown in Table I. The team that won was Over-
mind15, from University of California, Berkeley. Using the
Zerg race, their strategy was to defend early aggression with
zergling units while amassing mutalisk units, which they used
to contain and eventually defeat their opponents. The mutalisk
13http://www.StarCraftAICompetition.com
14http://eis.ucsc.edu/StarCraftAICompetition
15http://overmind.cs.berkeley.edu
TABLE I
RAN KIN G OF T HE T HRE E BE ST B OTS O F THE AIIDE 2010 C OM PE TIT IO N
Position Bot
1 Overmind
2 Krasi0
3 Chronos
is a very fast and agile flying unit which is able to attack
while moving with no drawback, which makes them quite a
powerful unit when controlled by a computer. Overmind used a
potential-field based micro-management system to guide their
mutalisks, which led them to victory. Krasi0 came in 2nd
place with a standard defensive Terran opening strategy that
transitioned into “mech” play in the late game.
In 2011 the University of Alberta hosted the competition,
with organization by Michael Buro and David Churchill16.
Due to a lack of entrants in tournament categories 1-3 in
the 2010 competition, it was decided that only the full game
category would be played in the 2011 competition. Another
important change in the 2011 competition was the introduction
of automated tournament-managing software running StarCraft
games simultaneously on 20 computers, allowing a total of
1170 games to be played in far less time than the 108 games
of the 2010 competition. This increase in games played also
allowed the tournament to switch to a round-robin format,
eliminating the “luck” factor of the pairings inherent in bracket
style tournaments. The bot that achieved the highest win
percentage over the course of the competition would be
determined the winner. Also, the competition became open-
source, in an effort not only to prevent possible cheating, but to
promote healthy competition in future tournaments by giving
newcomers and easier entry point by basing their design off
of previous bots.
In the end, Skynet won the competition with its solid Protoss
play (results are summarized in Table II). The bot executed
one of a small set of strategies randomly at the start of the
match based on the map and the race of the opponent. Skynet
would then amass a medium to large sized army and expand
before moving out to attack. Good use of Dragoon (powerful
ranged ground unit with clumsy movement) range and kiting
micro-management allowed it to hold off the early aggression
of other bots such as UAlbertaBot, which came in 2nd.
UAlbertaBot used an early zealot-rush strategy to take
advantage of the power of early game Protoss units. It would
send out the first zealots that were made and immediately
attack the enemy base, using a unit counting heuristic to
determine whether or retreat or keep pushing. Of note is that
16https://skatgame.net/mburo/sc2011/
TABLE II
RES ULTS O F THE FI VE B ES T BOT S OF TH E AIIDE 2011 COMPETITION
Position Bot Win %
1 Skynet 88.9%
2 UAlbertaBot 79.4%
3 AIUR 70.3%
4 ItayUndermind 65.8%
5 EISBot 60.6%
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 11
Fig. 4. Evolution of the win percentage of each bot participating in the
AIIDE 2012 competition
UAlbertaBot used an online planning algorithm to construct
all of its economic build-orders [12], as no hard-coded build
orders were used.
AIUR also chose Protoss, with a strategy that was in
between Skynet and UAlbertaBot in terms of attack timings.
At that time, AIUR chose one mood among five (leading to
slightly different strategies and tactics) at the beginning of a
game and kept it until the end. These five moods were:
Rush: where the bot tries early attacks, and have good
probabilities to send the two or three first Zealots (basic
contact attack ground unit) to harass the opponent.
Aggressive: where we have less chance to perform ha-
rasses with the first Zealots, and the first attack is usually
a bit delayed with regard to the Rush mood.
Macro: where the AI do not try any early attacks and
focus a bit more on its economy before attacking.
Defense: where the AI “turtles” and wait to have a
consequent army before running an attack.
Fast expand: where the first building constructed it a base
expansion, for a very economical-oriented game.
Notice that build orders are not fully hard-coded since they
can be altered by AIUR’s Spend Manager.
Of note in these results was that a rock-paper-scissors effect
happened among the top 3 finishers. Of the 30 rounds, Skynet
beat UAlbertaBot 26 times, UAlbertaBot beat AIUR 29 times,
and AIUR beat Skynet 19 times. Another notable result is that
Overmind did not choose to compete despite winning the 2010
competition. After the competition, many bot programmers
(including the Overmind team) realized that their 2010 strategy
was quite easily defeated by early game rushing strategies,
and so they submitted a Terran bot instead, called Undermind,
which finished in 7th.
After the competition was over, a man vs. machine match
was held between the winner (Skynet) and an ex-professional
StarCraft player named Oriol Vinyals. Oriol was a competitor
in the 2001 World Cyber Games StarCraft competition, and
though he had been out of practice for a few years was still
quite a good player. The match was arranged to see how well
StarCraft AI bots had progressed and to see if they could
actually beat a decent human opponent.
For the best-of-three match, Oriol chose his races randomly
and ended up beating Skynet in a 2-0. In the first match, Oriol
TABLE III
RES ULTS O F THE FI VE B ES T BOT S OF TH E AIIDE 2012 COMPETITION
Position Bot Win %
1 Skynet 84.4%
2 AIUR 72.2%
3 UAlbertaBot 68.6%
4 BroodwarBotQ 59.1%
5 AdjutantBot 52.8%
played Zerg vs. Skynet’s Protoss on Python, a four player
map. Oriol chose to start with a fast expansion strategy and
transition into two base mutalisk production. Skynet chose
to rush with a few early zealots, which was luckily the best
possible choice given Oriol’s strategy. Skynet’s initial attack
destroyed Oriol’s early defenses, and nearly won the game
in the first few minutes, however it then proceeded to send
zealots to attack one at a time rather than group up its units
before moving in, which allowed Oriol to catch up. Once
Oriol produced his mutalisks, Skynet did not produce sufficient
air defenses and Oriol quickly destroyed Skynet’s base. In
the second game, Oril played Terran, again on Python. After
holding off early Dragoon pressure from Skynet, Oriol moved
out with a few marines, medics and tanks. Skynet tried to
defend with its army of Dragoons, however due to poor unit
targeting decisions it started to attack useless medics after the
marines had died, rather than the tanks. Oriol overcame the
Dragoon army and was victorious. Later analysis of the match
concluded that Skynet, while dominant over the other bots,
was unable to properly adapt and transition into a mid-game
strategy in game one once its early pressure failed, and in
game two made a key blunder in unit targeting which cost it
the game. Humans were still in command.
The University of Alberta also hosted the 2012 competition,
with the major difference from the 2011 competition being the
addition of persistent storage. Bots could now write informa-
tion to disk during a match, and then read the information
during other matches, allowing them to adjust strategies based
on previous results. 6 of the 10 entrants used this feature to
aid in strategy selection, including the top 4 finishers. More
improvements to the tournament environment also meant that
a total of 4240 games could now be played in the same time
period. Results are shown in Table III.
Skynet once again won the competition with its solid
Protoss build orders and good Dragoon kiting. AIUR and
UAlbertaBot switched positions from the previous year to
come 2nd and 3rd respectively. Both AIUR and UAlbertaBot
used data stored from the results of previous games to select
a strategy for future matches. UAlbertaBot did this using the
UCB [69] algorithm, while AIUR used a uniform distribution
to choose its mood before altering this distribution after
some games against the same opponent to favor efficient
strategies, achieving similar results than UAlbertaBot. Notice
that, compared to AIIDE 2011, AIUR proposes a new mood,
Cheese, implementing a Photon Cannon rush strategy in order
to surprise the opponent and to finish the game as soon as
possible. The effect of this strategy selection process can be
seen Figure 4 which shows bot win percentages over time.
While the earlier rounds of the tournament fluctuated wildly
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 12
in results, eventually the results converged to their final values.
One of the main reasons for this is due to the bots learning
which strategies to use as the tournament progressed.
The 2012 man vs. machine match again used the winner
of the competition (Skynet), who played against Mike Lange,
also known as Bakuryu. At the time of the match, Bakuryu
was an A- ranked Zerg player on ICCup, and known as one
of the best non-Korean Zerg players in the world. Bakuryu
was considered much stronger than Oriol at the time that the
match was played, and the results showed that this was true.
In the first game of the best-of-three, Bakuryu made Skynet
look quite silly by running around inside Skynet’s base with a
small number of zerglings while Skynet’s zealots and half of
its worked chased then in vain. After killing off several probes
and buying enough time to set up his expansion, he cleaned
up Skynet’s army with a flying army of mutalisks. In the
second game, Bakuryu contained Skynet inside its base with
a group of zerglings positioned within Skynet’s expansion.
Skynet then constructed several Dark Templar and along with
some Dragoons and Zealots attacked into Bakuryu’s expansion
which was heavily defended, and was crushed almost instantly,
allowing Bakuryu’s zergling force to finish off the Protoss
base.
In this match it was shown that the true weakness of state
of the art StarCraft AI systems was that humans are very
adept at recognizing scripted behaviors and exploiting them
to the fullest. A human player in Skynet’s position in the first
game would have realized he was being taken advantage of
and adapted his strategy accordingly, however the inability
to put the local context (Bakuryu kiting his units around his
base) into the larger context of the game (that this would
delay Skynet until reinforcements arrived) and then the lack
of strategy change to fix the situation led to an easy victory
for the human. These problems remain as some of the main
challenges in RTS AI today: to both recognize the strategy and
intent of an opponent’s actions, and how to effectively adapt
your own strategy to overcome them.
All results, videos, and replays from the AIIDE Star-
Craft AI Competition can be found in http://www.
StarCraftAICompetition.com.
B. CIG
An initial attempt to run a StarCraft tournament at the
Computational Intelligence in Games conference (CIG 2010)
suffered from technical problems. These mainly stemmed
from the desire to use evolved, largely untested maps which
proved to look interesting but made the submitted bots and
the Brood War Terrain Analyzer (BWTA) provided with the
BWAPI interface crash so frequently that it would have been
unjustifiable to announce a winner.
At CIG 2011, the tournament was therefore run with a
(secret) selection of maps used in league play, which can be
regarded as the most important difference to the AIIDE tourna-
ment that employed a known list of maps. The competition was
organized by Tobias Mahlmann and Mike Preuss and attracted
10 bots. In addition to the ones discussed in previous sections
(UAlbertaBot, Skynet, AIUR, Nova, BroodwarBotQ, BTHAI),
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
80%
90%
Win Percentage
BTHAI
SCAIL
Nova
BroodwarBotQ
Adjutant
Xelnaga
UAlbertaBot
Skynet
Icebot
AIUR
Bot Win Percentage Over Time
Fig. 5. Evolution of the win percentage of each bot participating in the CIG
2012 competition
the set also contained LSAI, Xelnaga, Protoss Beast Jelly, and
EvoBot, these are shortly described in the following:
LSAI (Zerg): utilizes a heavily modified BWSAL17 to
divide management of the units to different modules that
communicate via a centralized information module. It works
using a simple reactive strategy to try and survive early game
attacks and macro up to a larger attack force and maintain
map control.
Xelnaga (Protoss): is a modification of the AIUR bot
that chooses the Dark Templar Opening in order to destroy
the enemy base before defenses against invisible units are
available.
Protoss Beast Jelly (Protoss): always goes for a 5-gate
Zealot rush, supported by an effective harvesting strategy
named power-mining (2 probes are assigned to every mineral
patch, thereby needing 18 probes for 100% saturation in a
normal map, prior to expanding). Gas is not mined as it is not
needed for constructing Zealots.
EvoBot (Terran): employs an evolutionary algorithm
for obtaining rational unit combinations and influence map
techniques for deciding the strategic locations. Note that this
bot was submitted in a very early version, with many of its
designed features not yet fully ready.
1) First Round: As the CIG competition games were exe-
cuted manually due to a lack of available software (the AIIDE
program was not yet available at that time), the organizers
separated the ten entries into two brackets. In each bracket of
5 bots, a round-robin tournament was held with 10 repetitions
per pairing, resulting in 40 games per bot. The 5 maps chosen
for the first round were selected from the pool of well-known
league play maps found on the Internet: (2)MatchPoint 1.3,
(4)Fighting Spirit 1.3,iCCup Destination 1.1,iCCup Gaia,
and iCCup Great Barrier Reef. Each bot pairing played on
every map twice, with switched starting positions.
The two top bots of every bracket qualified for the fi-
nal round. Table IV summarizes the results. Note that as
BroodwarBotQ and BTHAI have the same number of wins,
their direct encounter was evaluated which accounted 6:4
for the BroodwarBotQ. The bots going into the final were
17https://code.google.com/p/bwsal/
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 13
TABLE IV
RES ULTS O F THE FI RS T ROU ND AT CIG 2011, HELD IN TWO BRACKETS. QUAL IFI ED F OR TH E FINA L ROU ND : UAL BE RTABOT AN D SKYNET (FRO M A),
XEL NAGA A ND BRO ODWAR BOTQ ( FRO M B, THE LATTER BY COMPARING DIRECT ENCOUNTERS WITH BTHAI OF WHICH 6:4 W ERE W ON )
Bracket A
Position Crashes Games Bot Win %
A1 0 40 UAlbertaBot 82.5%
A2 1 40 Skynet 77.5%
A3 2 40 AIUR 60.0%
A4 1 40 Nova 20.0%
A5 0 40 LSAI 10.0%
Bracket B
Position Crashes Games Bot Win %
B1 12 40 Xelnaga 62.5%
B2 3 40 BroodwarBotQ 57.5%
B3 0 40 BTHAI 57.5%
B4 17 40 Protoss Beast Jelly 42.5%
B5 0 40 EvoBot 30.0%
thus UAlbertaBot, Skynet (from bracket A) and Xelnaga and
BroodwarBotQ (from bracket B). All qualified bots play the
Protoss faction. Most bots proved pretty stable, only Xelnaga
and Protoss Beast Jelly crashed relatively often (each in more
than a quarter of the games). Crashing of course resulted in an
instant win for the other bot. In some cases, neither bot was
able to finish the other off completely, so that they went into
a passive state. We manually ended such games after around
15 minutes and assigned victory to the bot that had obtained
more points as indicated on the end game screen.
2) Final Round: The final round was played in a similar
mode as each of the first round brackets, using another set of 5
previously unknown maps: iCCup lost temple 2.4,iCCup rush
hour 3.1,iCCup swordinthemoon 2.1,iCCup yellow 1.1, and
La Mancha 1.1. Letting each pairing play on each map twice
again with switching starting positions resulted in 30 games
per bot. The final results are displayed in table V, indicating
Skynet as winner and UAlbertaBot as runner-up, being almost
equally strong, and the two other bots as clearly inferior. The
competition setup, documentation and results can be found
in18.
For CIG 2012, the AIIDE tournament software was em-
18http://ls11- www.cs.tu-dortmund.de/rts-competition/StarCraft- cig2011
TABLE V
RES ULTS O F THE CIG 2011 COMPETITION
Position Crashes Games Bot Win %
1 0 30 Skynet 86.7%
2 0 30 UAlbertaBot 73.3%
3 3 30 Xelnaga 36.7%
4 2 30 BroodwarBotQ 3.3%
TABLE VI
RES ULTS O F THE CIG 2012 C OM PE TIT IO N.
Position Bot Win %
1 Skynet 78.3%
2 UAlbertaBot 65.2%
3 AIUR 60.4%
4 Adjutant 58.6%
5 Nova 52.4%
ployed, leading to a total of 4050 games played in 90 rounds
of round robin. As 6 different maps were used, this means that
each bot played every other on every map 15 times. As in the
AIIDE competition, writing to and reading from a bot specific
directory was enabled, however, due to technical reasons, this
feature was constrained to the computer (of 6) the game was
actually run on. We can therefore assume that this feature
was of minor use for the CIG competition. The only other
difference to the AIIDE competition was that the used maps
were not made available to the competitors in advance.
These maps came in two flavors, namely three 3-player
maps: Athena-II,Neo Moon Glaive,Tears of the Moon, and
three 6-player maps: Legacy,River of Light, and The Huntress
1.1. We shall note that some bots consistently crashed on
one of the originally considered maps which has thus been
replaced. This is surprising as all maps are well known league
play maps or have been provided with the StarCraft Brood
War distribution itself. Setup, replays and results for the CIG
2012 competition can be found here19.
The overall results are displayed in table VI, and the win
rate evolution over time in figure 5. These are quite consistent
with the results of the AIIDE 2012 competition, so that we can
19http://ls11- www.cs.tu-dortmund.de/rts-competition/StarCraft- cig2012
wins against this bot
this bot
Xelnaga
UAlbertaBot
Skynet
SCAIL
Nova
Icebot
BroodwarBotQ
BTHAI
Adjutant
AIUR
AIUR
Adjutant
BTHAI
BroodwarBotQ
Icebot
Nova
SCAIL
Skynet
UAlbertaBot
Xelnaga
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
wins against this bot
this bot
Xelnaga
UAlbertaBot
Skynet
SCAIL
Nova
Icebot
BroodwarBotQ
BTHAI
Adjutant
AIUR
AIUR
Adjutant
BTHAI
BroodwarBotQ
Icebot
Nova
SCAIL
Skynet
UAlbertaBot
Xelnaga
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
wins against this bot
this bot
Xelnaga
UAlbertaBot
Skynet
SCAIL
Nova
Icebot
BroodwarBotQ
BTHAI
Adjutant
AIUR
AIUR
Adjutant
BTHAI
BroodwarBotQ
Icebot
Nova
SCAIL
Skynet
UAlbertaBot
Xelnaga
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
Fig. 6. Win percentages of CIG 2012 competition, from left to right: 3-player maps only, 6-player maps only, all maps. Read from line to column, bot in row
wins given fraction of games against bot in column. For some bots, we find interesting differences, e.g. Xelnaga gets worse on 6-player maps, UAlbertaBot
gets better. Only Xelnaga can reliably beat Skynet, but only on 3-player maps
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 14
ELO Rating
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
3000
Feb 1 Mar 1 Apr 1 May 1 Jun1
Aiur
Nova
krasi0
BroodwarBotQ
EISBot
SPAR
Undermind
Skynet
Aiur_2
Overmind
krasi0_2
UAlbertaBot
StarshipTroopers
Date
StarCraft Bot Ladder
Fig. 7. Bot’s Elo Rating from February 1, 2012 to June 20, 2012
ELO Rating
1400
1800
2200
2600
2800
Sep 1 Oct 1 Nov 1 Dec 1 Jan 1
Aiur
UAlbertaBot
Skynet
KillerBot
KillerBot_2
gaudaBot
2000
1600
2400
Nova
krasi0
Ximp
Date
StarCraft Bot Ladder
Fig. 8. Bot’s Elo Rating from September 1, 2012 to January 10, 2013
conclude that the best bots are not very dependent on knowing
the maps beforehand. However, the bot vs. bot win rates as
displayed in figure 6 show some interesting trends. On the
maps with more possible start points, some bots do better than
others, namely SCAIL, Adjutant, Nova, and UAlbertaBot, the
latter probably due to its very efficient scouting routine. Some
bots however suffer from the increased uncertainty about the
enemies’ position, namely Xelnaga and BroodwarBotQ.
As already observed before in the previously described
competitions, there are also bots who consistently beat top
ranked bots but have severe problems against lower ranked
bots. E.g., Xelnaga is especially strong against Skynet on the
3-player maps (about 70% wins). Reviewing the replays led
to the assumption that Xelnaga usually tries to attack Skynet’s
probes with a dark templar strategy, and often succeeds.
Nova does very well against the UAlbertaBot, and the replays
show that it sometimes succeeds to lure the probes into its
own base, where they get killed, leading to severe resource
problems. However, we cannot tell how often this happens
as this would require to review every single replay between
the 2 bots. Summarizing, most bots seem to have improved,
which becomes clear if the nearly unchanged BTHAI bot is
taken as a baseline. In 2011, it won more than half of its
qualifying games, in 2012 it came out last with around 20%
wins. However, designing a bot in order to beat a top bot (as
for Xelnaga with Skynet) leads to a very restricted strategy
that often leads to failure if playing against different bots.
Note that in the direct encounter between Xelnaga and AIUR,
its ancestor, Xelnaga looses consistently.
Nevertheless, from the observations we made during the
tournament, we can draw the conclusion that the available bots
are still very constrained. No bot in the competition played
the Zerg race, which is surprising as the AIIDE 2010 winner
(Overmind) did so. Presumably, implementing a good Zerg
strategy is more demanding than implementing one for the
Protoss or Terran races. Many bots consistently crashed when
playing against a random race built-in bot for testing, and
also did so when the map size was changed from 128 ×128
to any other. Furthermore, every single bot sometimes failed
to finish off an already beaten opponent, such that the game
had to be stopped after a previously determined maximum
time. It also seems that most of the current bots are not very
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 15
good at adapting their strategy to the one of their opponent
during a game, or at least (via the read/write procedure of
game information) within a series of games.
C. StarCraft Bot Ladder
The StarCraft Bot Ladder is a website20 where bot versus
bot matches are automatized, and are running all the time. This
ladder is a great resource for creating data sets (all the game
replays are available) and statistics. For bot ranking, the ladder
uses an Elo rating system suitable for calculating the relative
skill level of a bot in two-player games. In the Elo system
each player has a numerical rating that gets incremented
or decremented some points after each game. The amount
of points depends on the difference in the ratings of the
players. A player will gain more points by beating a higher-
rated player than by beating a lower-rated player. This kind
of rating system is widely used in games like chess. This
bot ladder compiles different versions of bots from the main
worldwide competitions (like AIIDE, CIG or SSCAI21), even
some independent or “under construction” bots. Therefore, it
is a very good resource to test the performance of new bots
against the current state of the art in StarCraft bots before
participating in the official competitions.
Figure 7 shows the Elo rating of the bots in the ladder during
the first half year of 2012. The ranking is practically equal than
the AIIDE 2011 competition, showing the lack of adaptability
of the current bots. We can notice these more extremely in
Figure 8 for the second half year of 2012. During this period
new bots were introduced in the ladder. We can observe how
the first version of KillerBot made a huge impact on Skynet
ranking and finally, the second version of KillerBot quickly
became the best bot for more than one month (again we can
see how the rest of the bots aren’t able to adapt and the ranking
doesn’t change so much). And finally, in January, the Ximp bot
appears with a new strategy that overcomes the rest of the bots.
Both KillerBot and Ximp use hard-coded strategies without
any kind of adaptation capabilities. However, they implement
strategies that no other bot has a counter for, and thus manage
to win a very large percentage of games. This points out, once
again, that one of the major open challenges in RTS game AI
is how achieving adaptive strategies, that can recognize the
opponent’s intentions, and select an adequate response.
D. Adaptation Analysis
One of the major conclusions from the results of the
StarCraft competitions is the lack of adaptation of bots. Some
switch between different build-orders, but do not fully adapt
their strategy. No bot is capable of observing the opponent
and autonomously synthesize a good plan from scratch to
counter the opponent strategy. In this section we analyzed this
claim quantitatively using the tools of [14]. We analyzed the
replays from the 2011 and 2012 AIIDE competitions (shown
in Figures 9 and 10 respectively). We analyzed the way bots
choose their openings depending on which other bot they are
20http://bots- stats.krasi0.com
21http://sscaitournament.com
playing against. Given that there is no dominant strategy in
StarCraft, and that it is necessary to see what the opponent
is doing in order to determine the best opening, we would
expect bots to change their openings depending on which other
bot they are playing (since each bot uses a different strategy,
or set of strategies). Using clustering, we identified the most
common openings in all the replays from the 2011 and 2012
competitions (each one shown with a different color in the
figures). No data is shown for the ItayUnvermind bot, since
its opening did not match significantly with any of the ones
used in our study (extracted from humans pro-gamers).
Specifically, we identified the following openings (for a bet-
ter comprehension of strategies, buildings or units of StarCraft,
we refer the reader to Teamliquid’s wiki22):
Protoss openings:
two gates: Build two Gateways and keep training
Zealots (basic contact attack ground unit), this is the
quickest way to apply pressure.
fast dt: Produce Dark Templars (technologically ad-
vanced stealth ground unit) as soon as possible,
sacrificing early game power for a technological
advance, hard-countered by detectors technology.
templar: Train High Templars (technologically ad-
vanced zone attack unit) as fast as possible, same as
above, less deadly but is less easily countered.
speedzeal: Train Zealots and research attack and
speed upgrades as soon as possible, some early game
power transitioning into late game tech.
corsair: Produce Corsairs (air-air flying unit) as
soon as possible and then transition into training
Dark Templars (safe from Zerg’s flying detectors
thanks to Corsairs), Reavers (ground artillery unit)
or Dragoons. Weak early game.
nony: Build three Gateways and massive training of
Dragoons. Slower than two gates but still some early
game (ranged) power.
reaver drop: Train Reavers as soon as possible to be
able to do drops (air transport of artillery units).
Terran openings:
bio: Produce a large army of Marines (basic ranged
ground unit) and Medics (can heal biological units).
Quickest way to apply pressure.
rax fe: Take the closest “natural expansion” as soon
as possible. This provides a big economic boost in
the mid game by sacrificing some early game power.
two facto: Build two Factories and keep producing
Tanks (ground artillery unit). Vulnerable while build-
ing up to it and then very powerful on ground.
vultures: Produce mainly Vultures (fast ground
ranged unit, excels against small units) and research
mines. Quicker to reach (technologically) and build
than tanks, can transition into tanks.
air: Produce Wraiths (ranged flying units) as soon
as possible for an air attack. Vulnerable to anti-air
openings or quick rushes.
22http://wiki.teamliquid.net/starcraft/Category:Strategies
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 16
drop: Train Dropships (flying transports) as soon as
possible to be able to do (mostly tanks or marines)
drops, leveraging efficient tactics.
Zerg openings:
speedlings: Train Zerlings (basic cheap, fast, ground
contact attack unit) and research speed upgrade as
soon as possible. Quickest way to apply pressure.
fast mutas: Produce mainly Mutalisks (ranged flying
units). Vulnerable in the early game while gathering
gas and researching the technology.
mutas: Expand two times for a stronger economy
before massive training of Mutalisks. Slower but
more powerful build-up than above.
lurkers: Train Lurkers (ground, stealth artillery unit)
as soon as possible to benefit from their (advanced
technology) zone attack and cloak ability.
hydras: Massive production of Hydralisks (ground
ranged unit). Much quicker to reach technologically
than Lurkers and can transition into them.
As the figures show, the top three ranked bots in the
competition (Skynet, Aiur and UalbertaBot) do not change
their strategy at all depending on their opponent. For example,
the Skynet bot (both in 2011 and 2012), always uses the same
opening (two gates), except when playing a Terran opponent,
when it uses nony. This reflects the trend that the performance
of bots is still more dependent on carefully handcrafted
and non-adaptive behaviors, than on on-line decision making
procedures. This is so, since most of the problems that need
to be solved in order to implement such procedures are still
open.
VI. OP EN QUESTIONS IN RTS GAME AI
As illustrated in this paper, there is a set of problems in RTS
game AI that could be considered mostly solved, of for which
we have very good solutions. One example of such problems
is pathfinding (mostly solved) or low-scale micro-management
(for which we have good solutions). However, there are many
other problems for which this is not the case. For example,
there is no current StarCraft bot that can come up with its
own tactical moves, such as “unit drops” in response to an
observed opponent strategy. Some bots do drops, but only if
this is hard-coded; no bot has the capability of reasoning about
the current situation, synthesize a tactical move that involves
a “unit drop”, and determine that this move is the best one
in the current situation. This is related to the lack of real-
time adversarial planning techniques that scale up to the size
required for RTS games.
We present here a list of problems that are currently
unsolved, grouped in various categories.
Learning and adaptation:
Adaptation to opponent strategy: observing the oppo-
nent strategy, and synthesizing an adequate counter
strategy. Current bots switch between predefined
strategies based on hard-coded preconditions, or
based on the performance of each predefined strat-
egy against an opponent in previous games, but no
current bot creates new strategies (like Chess or Go
playing programs do).
Learning from experience in RTS games: how can
we make a bot that improves performance over time?
Some current bots learn which strategy (out of a
predefined set of strategies) is best against a given
opponent, but how can we devise learning strategies
that can perform more general learning? This has
been achieved in classical board games, such as
Chess [70], in the context of game-tree search (by
learning the evaluation function). But it’s unclear
how to do it in RTS games.
Learning from observation (from demonstration, or
from observing the opponent) in RTS games: how
can we learn by observing the game play of other
players? Can we devise algorithms that can auto-
matically extract strategies from observation, and
later apply them? There has been some work in this
direction [65], but it is very far from being mature.
Planning:
Adversarial planning under real-time constraints:
although some solutions for small-scale real-time
planning have been recently proposed (such as [58],
based on alpha-beta game-tree search), the problem
of large-scale adversarial planning under real-time
constraints is still open.
Adversarial planning under uncertainty of partially-
observable domains: how can we adapt adversarial
planning techniques for dealing with uncertainty?
This problem has been widely studied in the context
of simple games such as back-gammon [71], or
Poker [72]. However, the techniques developed for
those domains do not scale to RTS-game scenarios.
Adversarial planning with resources: similarly, even
if there exist planning algorithms that handle re-
sources (like GRT-R [73]), they cannot scale up to
the size of problems needed for RTS games like
StarCraft.
Integration: Multi-scale planning/reasoning: as de-
scribed in this paper, all the bots developed for the
StarCraft AI competitions decompose the problem of
playing an RTS game into smaller sub-problems, and then
solutions for each of those sub-problems are integrated in
to a common architecture to play the game. However,
the integration of each of the modules in a unified
architecture is still an open problem. For example, how
can decisions made at high-level modules be integrated
with decisions made at lower-level modules?
Domain Knowledge: We know how to incorporate
some aspects of domain knowledge (e.g. build orders)
into RTS game playing agents. But, in general, how
to incorporate some forms of domain knowledge into
algorithms for RTS games is still an open problem. For
example, standard techniques to encode strategies for
other forms of games, like Behavior Trees, are hard to
deploy in RTS games. Is it possible to devise techniques
that can automatically mine the existing collections of
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 17
Fig. 9. Distribution of different openings performed by the different bots participating in the AIIDE 2011 competition. For each bot match-up, the colors
show the proportion of times that the column bot used a particular opening against the row bot.
Fig. 10. Distribution of different openings performed by the different bots participating in the AIIDE 2012 competition. For each bot match-up, the colors
show the proportion of times that the column bot used a particular opening against the row bot.
domain knowledge for an RTS game like StarCraft, and
incorporate it into the bot? An initial exploration of this
idea was carried out by Branavan et al. [74].
VII. CONCLUSIONS
As the list in the previous section indicates, Real-Time
Strategy games are an excellent testbed for AI techniques,
which pose a very large list of open problems. As Section
V has shown, the current top performing programs to play
RTS games such as StarCraft still rely mainly on hard-coded
strategies. It is still possible to perform strongly, or even win,
one of these competitions simply by finding a hard-coded
strategy that no other bot has a predefined counter-strategy
for. Additionally, good human players are still clearly superior
to the best computer programs. From an industry point of
view, one additional challenge is to make bots more believable
to play against, and thus, more fun for human players (this
includes, for example, doing scouting, instead of cheating and
having full information of the game state).
One of the main goals of this paper is to provide a
centralized and unified overview to the research being done
in the area of RTS game AI. To that end, in this paper
we have highlighted the existing challenges in RTS games,
from an AI point of view, and surveyed the recent advances
towards addressing these challenges with a focus on StarCraft
(which has emerged as a unified test-bed). Given that playing
TCIAIG VOL. X, NO. Y, MONTH YEAR 18
an RTS game is a very challenging task, researchers tend to
divide such task into smaller tasks, which can be individually
addressed by AI techniques. We have also surveyed the
different task subdivisions used in some of the top StarCraft-
playing programs, highlighting advantages and disadvantages.
Additionally, we have presented an analysis of the results of
the different StarCraft AI competitions, highlighting strengths
and weaknesses of each of the bots. Finally, we have closed
the paper with a list of specific open research questions for
future research.
Real-time strategy games encompass many interesting and
complex sub-problems that are closely related not only to
other fields of AI research, but to real-world problems as
well. For example, optimizing assembly line operations in fac-
tories is akin to performing build-order optimizations. Troop
positioning in military conflicts involves the same spatial and
tactical reasoning used in RTS games. Robot navigation in
unknown environments requires real-time path-finding and
decision making to avoid hitting obstacles. All of these issues
mentioned in this paper must are being tackled by the real-
time strategy game AI community, and in doing so we will not
only be improving techniques for writing tournament-winning
bots, but for advance the state of the art for many other fields
as well.
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RTS games - such as StarCraft by Blizzard Entertainment and Command and Conquer by Electronic Arts - are popular video games that can be described as real-time war simulations in which players delegate units under their command to gather resources, build structures, combat and support units, scout opponent locations, and attack. The winner of an RTS game usually is the player or team that destroys the opponents' structures first. Unlike abstract board games like chess and go, moves in RTS games are executed simultaneously at a rate of at least eight frames per second. In addition, individual moves in RTS games can consist of issuing simultaneous orders to hundreds of units at any given time. If this wasn't creating enough complexity already, RTS game maps are also usually large and states are only partially observable, with vision restricted to small areas around friendly units and structures. Complexity by itself, of course, is not a convincing motivation for studying RTS games and building AI systems for them. What makes them attractive research subjects is the fact that, despite the perceived complexity, humans are able to outplay machines by means of spatial and temporal reasoning, long-range adversarial planning and plan recognition, state inference, and opponent modeling, which - we hypothesize - are enabled by powerful hierarchical state and action abstractions. Copyright © 2012, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. All rights reserved.
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