Keywords: reinforcement learning, language understanding, text-based games
Abstract: Text adventure games present unique challenges to reinforcement learning methods due to their combinatorially large action spaces and sparse rewards. The interplay of these two factors is particularly demanding because large action spaces require extensive exploration, while sparse rewards provide limited feedback. This work proposes to tackle the explore-vs-exploit dilemma using a multi-stage approach that explicitly disentangles these two strategies within each episode. Our algorithm, called eXploit-Then-eXplore (XTX), begins each episode using an exploitation policy that imitates a set of promising trajectories from the past, and then switches over to an exploration policy aimed at discovering novel actions that lead to unseen state spaces. This policy decomposition allows us to combine global decisions about which parts of the game space to return to with curiosity-based local exploration in that space, motivated by how a human may approach these games. Our method significantly outperforms prior approaches by 27% and 11% average normalized score over 12 games from the Jericho benchmark (Hausknecht et al., 2020) in both deterministic and stochastic settings, respectively. On the game of Zork1, in particular, XTX obtains a score of 103, more than a 2x improvement over prior methods, and pushes past several known bottlenecks in the game that have plagued previous state-of-the-art methods.
One-sentence Summary: We propose a multi-stage approach to playing text games that improves the score on Zork1 from around 40 to 103.
Supplementary Material: zip