Skip to content
Switch branches/tags
Go to file
Add SC2Mapster (SC2Editor and community maps) as a resource for learning SC2 in Starcraft II > What is Starcraft II

PySC2: Import of refs/pull/184/head
PiperOrigin-RevId: 198434594
4 contributors

Users who have contributed to this file

@tewalds @islamelnabarawy @SoyGema @brean
569 lines (446 sloc) 24.9 KB

Environment Table of Contents

StarCraft II

What is StarCraft II

StarCraft II is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game written by Blizzard. It's the successor to StarCraft Broodwar, which is one of the most successful RTS games. StarCraft II is played by millions of people, and has a professional league.

The goal in StarCraft is to build a base, manage an economy, build an army, and destroy your enemies. You control your base and army from a third person perspective, then multi-task and micro-manage your units for maximum effect. StarCraft has 3 distinct races: Terran, Protoss and Zerg, which have different units and strategies.

The game has a single player campaign, though most people play multiplayer on There are built-in bots, but they are fairly weak and predictable, and the stronger ones cheat.

There are many resources online for learning about Starcraft, including, Liquipedia and Wikia. For map making check out SC2Mapster.


Blizzard regularly updates StarCraft II. These updates are roughly monthly, can introduce new features, and often have minor gameplay and balance changes to make the races more even. Replays are tied to the specific version they were generated with.

Game and Action Speed

Being a real-time strategy game means the game runs in real-time. In reality though, the simulation updates 16-22 times per second, depending on your game speed, and all the intermediate rendered frames are just interpolated.

Game speed

Acting through an API allows you to control the clock. Instead of running at 16-22 steps per second, you can step as fast or as slow as you want, when you want. This allows you to run much faster than real-time if the agent is capable, or much slower if the agent needs to pause to spend some time learning. This also means there is never any lag. The max speed depends on the step_mul/render frequency, and the scene complexity/unit count. 10x real-time is not uncommon and can be much higher for simple maps.

APM Calculation

The game calculates and reports APM in a non-obvious way. It isn't obvious how to count the action of moving the camera with edge scrolling, or how many actions is building a building. Here are the rules of how it's actually counted by the game.

There are actually two types reported by the game:

  • Actions Per Minute (APM): counts every action.
  • Effective Actions Per Minute (EPM): filters out actions that have no effect (eg: redundant selections).

Different actions count as different number of actions:

  • Commands with target = 2 (eg: move, attack, build building)
  • Commands with no target = 1 (eg: stop, train unit, unload cargo)
  • Smart = 1 (right click)
  • Selection and control groups = 1
  • Everything else = 0 (eg: camera movement)

The in game replay UI exposes this with two different time intervals: average (average over the entire game so far), and current (average over the last 5 seconds). The API only exposes the average APM.

APM and fairness

Humans can't do one action per frame. They range from 30-500 actions per minute (APM), with 30 being a beginner, 60-100 being average, and professionals being >200 (over 3 per second!). This is trivial compared to what a fast bot is capable of though. With the BWAPI they control units individually and routinely go over 5000 APM accomplishing things that are clearly impossible for humans and considered unfair or even broken. Even without controlling the units individually it would be unfair to be able to act much faster with high precision.

To at least resemble playing fairly it is a good idea to artificially limit the APM. The easy way is to limit how often the agent gets observations and can make an action, and limit it to one action per observation. For example you can do this by only taking every Nth observation, where N is up for debate. A value of 20 is roughly equal to 50 apm while 5 is roughly 200 apm, so that's a reasonable range to play with. A more sophisticated way is to give the agent every observation but limit the number of actions that actually have an effect, forcing it to mainly make no-ops which wouldn't count as actions.

It's probably better to consider all actions as equivalent, including camera movement, since allowing very fast camera movement could allow agents to cheat.

Determinism and Randomness

Starcraft II is mostly deterministic, but it does have some randomness mainly for cosmetic reasons. The two main random elements are weapon speed and update order.

Weapon randomness is essentially how fast a unit can get its next shot off after firing and is between -1 to +2 game steps for almost all units. The idea being that a group of marines may all start firing together, but the minor random +/- for the next shot will make the group look less robotic and prevent them from firing in sync forever. This also means a fair matchup (eg 1v1 marine) will result in a random outcome.

The update order is random and determines the order of events in a given game loop. For example, if you have two High Templar that cast feedback on each other on the same game loop, it will be random which one performs the damage first and wins.

Unit auto-targeting is deterministic, but complicated. It is based on weapon scan distance, threat and assistance. Units will consider any enemies with weapon a higher threat than those without, and enemies that can return fire will be a higher priority than those that can’t return fire. Units that can't return fire (eg a missile turret vs a marine) but that are attacking an allied unit (eg a medivac) will trigger a call for help and increase the priority. A healer raises its priority when it is healing. If two targets have the same priority the nearest one will be chosen.

These sources of randomness can be removed/mitigated by setting a random seed. Replays work by saving the game setup including the random seed, as well as the list of actions by all players, and then playing forward the simulation.

Actions and Observations

Starcraft II has a very rich action and observation space. The game outputs both spatial/visual and structured elements. The structured elements are given because there is a lot of text and numbers which agents aren't expected to learn to read, especially at low resolution. It's also because it's hard to reverse replays back to exactly the same visuals that the human saw.

Important Note:

Spatial observations are in y-major screen coordinate space as (y, x). Actions that require points on the screen or the minimap, however, expect the coordinates as (x, y). The origin (0, 0) is at the top-left corner in both cases.

See the scripted agents for an example of passing a screen coordinate to an action:

    # Spatial observations have the y-coordinate first:
    y, x = (obs.observation["feature_screen"][_PLAYER_RELATIVE] == _PLAYER_NEUTRAL).nonzero()

    # Actions expect x-coordinate first:
    target = [int(x.mean()), int(y.mean())]
    action = actions.FunctionCall.Move_screen("now", target)



RGB Pixels

RGB pixels are available for both the main screen area as well as for the minimap at a resolution of your choice. This uses the same perspective camera as a human would see, but doesn't include all the extra chrome around the screen like the command card, selection box, build queue, etc. They are exposed as rgb_screen and rgb_minimap.

Feature layers

The game also exposes feature layers. They represent roughly the same information as RGB pixels except that the information is decomposed and structured. There are ~25 feature layers broken down between the screen and minimap and exposed as feature_screen and feature_minimap.

The full list is defined in pysc2.lib.features.


The minimap is a low resolution view of the entire map. It gives an overview of everything going on, but with less detail than the screen.

You can specify the resolution of the minimap. Maps range from 32-2562, with common human maps in the 100-2562 range. Humans playing at 1080p get a resolution of ~2502 in the bottom left corner of their screen.

These are the minimap feature layers:

  • height_map: Shows the terrain levels.
  • visibility: Which part of the map are hidden, have been seen or are currently visible.
  • creep: Which parts have zerg creep.
  • camera: Which part of the map are visible in the screen layers.
  • player_id: Who owns the units, with absolute ids.
  • player_relative: Which units are friendly vs hostile. Takes values in [0, 4], denoting [background, self, ally, neutral, enemy] units respectively.
  • selected: Which units are selected.

The screen is a higher resolution view of part of the map.

It is rendered from a top down orthogonal camera, as opposed to a perspective camera that a human would get in a real game. This makes certain visuals harder (eg you can't see elevation by size), but it also makes other things easier (eg units don't change size as they or the camera moves). This also means that the visible area is a rectangular part of the map, as opposed to the more trapezoidal shape in the real game. This means there are bits of the map that an agent can see that humans can't, and vice versa, but it is roughly similar.

A small unit (eg marine or zergling) is ~0.75 game units across. The camera is 24 game units wide. If you specify a screen resolution of 322, that means a unit will be 1 pixel wide, meaning you have very low accuracy of its location. If you have a large group of them you may not be able to tell how many of them you have. A resolution of at least 642 is recommended to be playable.

These are the screen feature layers:

  • height_map: Shows the terrain levels.
  • visibility: Which part of the map are hidden, have been seen or are currently visible.
  • creep: Which parts have zerg creep.
  • power: Which parts have protoss power, only shows your power.
  • player_id: Who owns the units, with absolute ids.
  • player_relative: Which units are friendly vs hostile. Takes values in [0, 4], denoting [background, self, ally, neutral, enemy] units respectively.
  • unit_type: A unit type id, which can be looked up in pysc2/lib/
  • selected: Which units are selected.
  • hit_points: How many hit points the unit has.
  • energy: How much energy the unit has.
  • shields: How much shields the unit has. Only for protoss units.
  • unit_density: How many units are in this pixel.
  • unit_density_aa: An anti-aliased version of unit_density with a maximum of 16 per unit per pixel. This gives you sub-pixel unit location and size. For example if a unit is exactly 1 pixel diameter, unit_density will show it in exactly 1 pixel regardless of where in that pixel it is actually centered. unit_density_aa will instead tell you how much of each pixel is covered by the unit. A unit that is smaller than a pixel and centered in the pixel will give a value less than the max. A unit with diameter 1 centered near the corner of a pixel will give roughly a quarter of its value to each of the 4 pixels it covers. If multiple units cover a pixel their proportion of the pixel covered will be summed, up to a max of 256.


The game offers a fair amount of structured data which agents aren't expected to read from pixels. Instead these are given as tensors with direct semantic meaning.

General player information

A (11) tensor showing general information.

  • player_id
  • minerals
  • vespene
  • food used (otherwise known as supply)
  • food cap
  • food used by army
  • food used by workers
  • idle worker count
  • army count
  • warp gate count (for protoss)
  • larva count (for zerg)
Control groups

A (10, 2) tensor showing the (unit leader type and count) for each of the 10 control groups. The indices in this tensor are referenced by the control-group action.

Control groups are a way to remember a selection set so that you can recall them easily later.

Single Select

A (7) tensor showing information about a selected unit.

  • unit type
  • player_relative
  • health
  • shields
  • energy
  • transport slot taken if it's in a transport
  • build progress as a percentage if it's still being built
Multi Select

A (n, 7) tensor with the same as single select but for all n selected units. The indices in this tensor are referenced by the select_unit action.


A (n, 7) tensor similar to single select, but for all the units in a transport. The indices in this tensor are referenced by the unload action.

Build Queue

A (n, 7) tensor similar to single select, but for all the units being built by a production building. The indices in this tensor are referenced by the build_queue action.

Available Actions

A (n) tensor listing all the action ids that are available at the time of this observation.

Last Actions

A (n) tensor listing all the action ids that were made successfully since the last observation. An action that was attempted but failed is not included here.

Action Result

A (n) tensor (usually size 1) giving the result of the action. The values are listed in error.proto


A (n) tensor (usually empty, occasionally size 1, max 2) for when you're being attacked in a major way.


The SC2 action space is very big. There are hundreds of possible actions, many of which take a point in either screen or minimap space, and many of which take an additional modifier. If you were to flatten the action space into a single dimension, it'd have millions or even billions of possible actions, most of which aren't valid, and many of which are highly correlated. Therefore, a flat discrete action space is not very appropriate.

Instead, we created function actions that are rich enough to give composability, without the complexity of an arbitrary hierarchy. This is based on the mental model of a C-style function call which can take some arguments of specific types. The full set of valid types and functions are defined in ValidActions in pysc2.lib.actions, and then each observation specifies which of the available function is valid this frame. Each action is a single FunctionCall in pysc2.lib.actions with all its arguments filled.

The full set of types and functions are defined in pysc2.lib.actions. The set of functions is hard coded and limited to just the actions that humans have taken, as seen by a large number of replays. Hard coding the functions means that actions created in custom maps won't be usable until they are added to pysc2.lib.actions.

The semantic meaning of these actions can mainly be found by searching: or starcraft.wikia.

List of actions

To see which actions exist run:

$ python -m pysc2.bin.valid_actions

optionally with --hide_specific, --screen_resolution or --minimap_resolution if you care about the exact values. This prints something similar to:

   0/no_op                       ()
   1/move_camera                 (1/minimap [64, 64])
   2/select_point                (6/select_point_act [4]; 0/screen [84, 84])
   3/select_rect                 (7/select_add [2]; 0/screen [84, 84]; 2/screen2 [84, 84])
   4/select_control_group        (4/control_group_act [5]; 5/control_group_id [10])
   5/select_unit                 (8/select_unit_act [4]; 9/select_unit_id [500])
   6/select_idle_worker          (10/select_worker [4])
   7/select_army                 (7/select_add [2])
   8/select_warp_gates           (7/select_add [2])
   9/select_larva                ()
  10/unload                      (12/unload_id [500])
  11/build_queue                 (11/build_queue_id [10])
  12/Attack_screen               (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
  13/Attack_minimap              (3/queued [2]; 1/minimap [64, 64])
  14/Attack_Attack_screen        (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
  19/Scan_Move_screen            (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
  23/Behavior_CloakOff_quick     (3/queued [2])
  26/Behavior_CloakOn_quick      (3/queued [2])
  42/Build_Barracks_screen       (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
  44/Build_CommandCenter_screen  (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 220/Effect_Repair_screen        (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 221/Effect_Repair_autocast      ()
 264/Harvest_Gather_screen       (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 303/Morph_Lair_quick            (3/queued [2])
 317/Morph_SiegeMode_quick       (3/queued [2])
 322/Morph_Unsiege_quick         (3/queued [2])
 331/Move_screen                 (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 333/Patrol_screen               (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 405/Research_Stimpack_quick     (3/queued [2])
 451/Smart_screen                (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84])
 452/Smart_minimap               (3/queued [2]; 1/minimap [64, 64])
 453/Stop_quick                  (3/queued [2])
 477/Train_Marine_quick          (3/queued [2])
           *** 100s more lines ***

This should be read as: <function id>/<function name>(<type id>/<type name> [<value size>, *]; *).

Some examples:

  • 1/move_camera (1/minimap [64, 64]) is the move_camera function (id 1), which takes one argument named minimap (id 1) which requires two ints each in the range [0, 64) which represent the coordinates on the minimap.
  • 331/Move_screen (3/queued [2]; 0/screen [84, 84]) is the Move_screen function (id 331) which takes two arguments: queued (id 3) which is a bool and signifies whether this action should happen now or after previous actions, and screen (id 0) which takes two ints each in the range [0, 84) which represent a pixel on the screen.

The function names should be unique, stable and meaningful. The function and type ids are the index into the list of functions and types.

The types are a predefined list of argument types that can be used in a function call. The exact definitions are in pysc2.lib.actions.TYPES

Action categories

A Morph action transform a unit to a different unit, at least according to the unit_type in the observation. For example Morph_Lair_quick morphs a hatchery to a lair; Morph_SiegeMode_quick and Morph_Unsiege_quick morphs a siege tank between tank and siege mode. An Effect is a single effect, rarely cancelable. A Behavior can be turned on and off but doesn't change the unit type.

General vs Specific actions

StarCraft II speaks in terms of abilities. Sometimes a single concept that can be done by many units is implemented as a single ability (eg Move, Halt, Patrol), and sometimes as many abilities (eg Attack, Burrow, Cancel, Lift/Land). Burrow is a simple example where each zerg unit that can burrow has its own ability (BurrowDown_Drone, BurrowDown_Zergling, etc). Exposing those individually would make the action space even more complicated, and make it hard to burrow a whole army at once given a limited APM, so we added a concept of general abilities that merge all of the specific abilities that would happen together or using the same key in the game UI. If you give the specific ability (eg BurrowDown_Zergling) it'll only affect the specific units that support that ability (eg Zerglings), while if you give the corresponding general ability (BurrowDown) it'll affect all units that support it.

Attack is a non-obvious case of this. There is Attack, which is the general ability that corresponds to what the UI does, but under the hood that actually executes Attack_Attack for offensive units, Scan_Move for support units like medivacs that can't attack but should come along as if they can, Attack_AttackBuilding for defensive buildings (eg missile turret) and Attack_Redirect for bunkers to tell their loaded units to attack.

For now only the general actions are exposed through the environment api so only the general actions should be returned in the available actions observation.

In pysc2.lib.actions.FUNCTIONS specific functions have an additional parameter that references the general parameter.

Example usage

Take a look at the random agent for an example of how to consume ValidActions and fill FunctionCalls.

The following snippet shows how to print a human-readable list of available actions:

    from pysc2.lib import actions

    for action in obs.observation.available_actions:

RL Environment

The main SC2 environment is at pysc2.env.sc2_env, with the action and observation space defined in pysc2.lib.features.

The most important argument is map_name, which is how to find the map. Find the names by using pysc2.bin.map_list or by looking in pysc2/maps/*.py.

players lets your specify the number and type of players. At the moment only one or two players are supported. Give it a list of sc2_env.Agent or sc2_env.Bot objects, specifying the race and difficulty. Specifying two agents will start up two instances of SC2 which communicate between themselves, and consume double the memory and cpu as playing single player.

agent_interface_format lets you specify the observation and action interface to be used by each agent. feature_dimensions and rgb_dimensions let you specify the resolution of the spatial observations. Higher resolution obviously gives higher location precision, at the cost of larger observations as well as a larger action space, and slower rendering time.

If you ask for both feature and rgb observations you'll need to specify the action space that you want to use. This lets you act in one while learning from the other.

step_mul let's you skip observations and actions. For example a step_mul of 16 means that the environment gets stepped forward 16 times in between the actions of the agent (16 steps = 1 second of game time). It is equivalent to ignoring certain observations and not sending actions on those frames, except it also speeds up the environment since it doesn't need to render the skipped frames.

save_replay_episodes and replay_dir specify how often to save replays and where to save them.

Use the to have your agent interact with the environment.

Environment wrappers

There is one pre-made environment wrapper:

  • available_actions_printer: Prints each available action as it is seen.


There are a couple basic agents.

  • random_agent: Just plays randomly, shows how to make valid moves.
  • scripted_agent: These are scripted for a single mini game.