Skip to content
This repository has been archived by the owner. It is now read-only.
Go to file


Failed to load latest commit information.
Latest commit message
Commit time

This repository has been deprecated in favor of the Retro ( library. See our Retro Contest ( blog post for detalis.


The codebase implements a starter agent that can solve a number of universe environments. It contains a basic implementation of the A3C algorithm, adapted for real-time environments.


Getting Started

conda create --name universe-starter-agent python=3.5
source activate universe-starter-agent

brew install tmux htop cmake golang libjpeg-turbo      # On Linux use sudo apt-get install -y tmux htop cmake golang libjpeg-dev

pip install "gym[atari]"
pip install universe
pip install six
pip install tensorflow
conda install -y -c opencv3
conda install -y numpy
conda install -y scipy

Add the following to your .bashrc so that you'll have the correct environment when the script spawns new bash shells source activate universe-starter-agent

Atari Pong

python --num-workers 2 --env-id PongDeterministic-v3 --log-dir /tmp/pong

The command above will train an agent on Atari Pong using ALE simulator. It will see two workers that will be learning in parallel (--num-workers flag) and will output intermediate results into given directory.

The code will launch the following processes:

  • worker-0 - a process that runs policy gradient
  • worker-1 - a process identical to process-1, that uses different random noise from the environment
  • ps - the parameter server, which synchronizes the parameters among the different workers
  • tb - a tensorboard process for convenient display of the statistics of learning

Once you start the training process, it will create a tmux session with a window for each of these processes. You can connect to them by typing tmux a in the console. Once in the tmux session, you can see all your windows with ctrl-b w. To switch to window number 0, type: ctrl-b 0. Look up tmux documentation for more commands.

To access TensorBoard to see various monitoring metrics of the agent, open http://localhost:12345/ in a browser.

Using 16 workers, the agent should be able to solve PongDeterministic-v3 (not VNC) within 30 minutes (often less) on an m4.10xlarge instance. Using 32 workers, the agent is able to solve the same environment in 10 minutes on an m4.16xlarge instance. If you run this experiment on a high-end MacBook Pro, the above job will take just under 2 hours to solve Pong.

Add '--visualise' toggle if you want to visualise the worker using env.render() as follows:

python --num-workers 2 --env-id PongDeterministic-v3 --log-dir /tmp/pong --visualise


For best performance, it is recommended for the number of workers to not exceed available number of CPU cores.

You can stop the experiment with tmux kill-session command.

Playing games over remote desktop

The main difference with the previous experiment is that now we are going to play the game through VNC protocol. The VNC environments are hosted on the EC2 cloud and have an interface that's different from a conventional Atari Gym environment; luckily, with the help of several wrappers (which are used within file) the experience should be similar to the agent as if it was played locally. The problem itself is more difficult because the observations and actions are delayed due to the latency induced by the network.

More interestingly, you can also peek at what the agent is doing with a VNCViewer.

Note that the default behavior of is to start the remotes on a local machine. Take a look at for documentation on managing your remotes. Pass additional -r flag to point to pre-existing instances.

VNC Pong

python --num-workers 2 --env-id gym-core.PongDeterministic-v3 --log-dir /tmp/vncpong

Peeking into the agent's environment with TurboVNC

You can use your system viewer as open vnc://localhost:5900 (or open vnc://${docker_ip}:5900) or connect TurboVNC to that ip/port. VNC password is "openai".


Important caveats

One of the novel challenges in using Universe environments is that they operate in real time, and in addition, it takes time for the environment to transmit the observation to the agent. This time creates a lag: where the greater the lag, the harder it is to solve environment with today's RL algorithms. Thus, to get the best possible results it is necessary to reduce the lag, which can be achieved by having both the environments and the agent live on the same high-speed computer network. So for example, if you have a fast local network, you could host the environments on one set of machines, and the agent on another machine that can speak to the environments with low latency. Alternatively, you can run the environments and the agent on the same EC2/Azure region. Other configurations tend to have greater lag.

To keep track of your lag, look for the phrase reaction_time in stderr. If you run both the agent and the environment on nearby machines on the cloud, your reaction_time should be as low as 40ms. The reaction_time statistic is printed to stderr because we wrap our environment with the Logger wrapper, as done in here.

Generally speaking, environments that are most affected by lag are games that place a lot of emphasis on reaction time. For example, this agent is able to solve VNC Pong (gym-core.PongDeterministic-v3) in under 2 hours when both the agent and the environment are co-located on the cloud, but this agent had difficulty solving VNC Pong when the environment was on the cloud while the agent was not. This issue affects environments that place great emphasis on reaction time.

A note on tuning

This implementation has been tuned to do well on VNC Pong, and we do not guarantee its performance on other tasks. It is meant as a starting point.

Playing flash games

You may run the following command to launch the agent on the game Neon Race:

python --num-workers 2 --env-id flashgames.NeonRace-v0 --log-dir /tmp/neonrace

What agent sees when playing Neon Race (you can connect to this view via note above) neon

Getting 80% of the maximal score takes between 1 and 2 hours with 16 workers, and getting to 100% of the score takes about 12 hours. Also, flash games are run at 5fps by default, so it should be possible to productively use 16 workers on a machine with 8 (and possibly even 4) cores.

Next steps

Now that you have seen an example agent, develop agents of your own. We hope that you will find doing so to be an exciting and an enjoyable task.


A starter agent that can solve a number of universe environments.




No releases published


You can’t perform that action at this time.