Utilizing Particle Swarms to Optimize Hidamari


Now that Hidamari, my implementation of the game Tetris, had a basic AI that can competently play for 30 minutes to an hour, it was time to optimize it for indefinite play. After a cursory glance through function optimization algorithms, particle swarm optimization appealed to me since it seemed fun to implement, visualize, and easy to parallelize. Correct on all three marks, my particle swarm was able to discover a highly performant static evaluation function for Hidamari which allows it to play up to and beyond 500,000 lines cleared.

The particle swarm algorithm used is about the same as the one that can viewed on wikipedia. Modifications were made to cache the results of the fitness function where possible, and the particles are processed asynchronously between threads rather than serially. This modification means that particles will update their velocity based on incomplete swarm information, since the best global fitness value for the entire swarm may not be discovered before the iteration completes. In practice this turns out to not really be an issue. The additional performance in processing the fitness function in a parallel fashion far outweighs incomplete particle updates. Especially seeing as the fitness function is the game of Hidamari itself, which can require minutes to complete in-memory.

This implementation of APSO allows the caller to specify the number of threads that should divide the work. Each thread is given particles that need to be processed through a priority queue. The queue is sorted by number of iterations tracked on the particle, so particles with the fewest iterations will be prioritized for processing over particles with the most iterations completed. The calling thread also performs work, so there are no idle threads waiting around. Finally, the caller can specify the number of iterations to perform on each particle. If this argument is 0 instead of a positive integer, iterations will be performed until the process is killed externally.

After writing and testing it, I moved the asynchronous particle swarm implementation I wrote into a standalone library. This library comes with a visualization demo, and the download link for the library can be found at the bottom of this article. The visualization runs until the user closes the window. The fitness function for the swarm returns the negative distance between a particle and where the user last clicked on the window. A negative score is used here since particle scores are initialized to negative infinity, and the distance from a particle to the point should be minimized.

APSO Visualization

This APSO function was used with a non-rendering game of Hidamari as the fitness function. The visuals were disabled to allow the AI to simulate the game as fast as possible. The inputs to the fitness function, which were represented as the three dimensional positions of the particles, were the three weights for the static evaluation function heuristics. These weights adjusted how well the AI performed, and the more lines the AI was able to clear in a given game, the higher the score the fitness function returned. To be clear, the return value of the fitness function was exactly the number of lines cleared. This value was capped at 500,000 lines cleared in order to prevent potentially infinite playtime. Once a particle was able to achieve a fitness of 500,000 lines cleared, this was considered a maximum score.

Results of the Swarm Optimizing Hidamari

A fitness of over 500,000 lines cleared could be considered as playing indefinitely, since this amounts to a score of around 500,000,000 points in most Tetris games, where getting 1,000,000 points is considered impressive amongst even very skilled players. The swarm ended up finding multiple weights that allowed the AI to play for 500,000 lines. This was expected as the weights need only be within a certain ratio relative to each other, but what was unexpected was that completely separate ratios of weights were found that worked equally well. Among the successful weights that were produced, I picked to use the following to use:

Heuristic Weight
H0, total column height 0.848058
H1, total column difference 2.304684
H3, total number of holes 1.405450

With these heuristic weights, the AI now performs much better and can play for longer periods of time than my previous weights that were discovered through manual guesswork. Another change that was made to the AI for Hidamari was to evaluate the board for every single piece dropped rather than every two pieces. This allowed for more look-ahead per piece, and the additional computation required is negligible.

These weights were computed with a 200 particle swarm with each particle performing 100 iterations. Even with 4 threads used to parallelize the computation it took days to complete. This was due to the fact that higher fitness scores simply required longer to compute, since a high fitness meant playing Hidamari for a longer period of time. Although the particle swarm was able to find fairly good weights early on into the computation, so much of the duration of the process was simply refining the particles to converge.

Future plans for Hidamari are to include an in-game menu for selecting and tuning the AI, as well as an option to disable it so that the game can be played by the user instead of the AI. As well as solo-play, a versus mode will be introduced allowing play against another player, as well as being able to play against the AI. In order to provide a more realistic versus experience, the AI will have an option to customize how slowly it executes its plan, as well as how many noisy actions should be included in the plan to worsen how well it plays.


If you're interested in running the AI, you can download the source tarball: hidamari.tar.gz, or pull the latest version with git: (Unavailable at this time).

The APSO library is also available for download here: libapso.tar.gz, or able to be pulled with git: (Unavailable at this time).

SDL2 is a requirement for both programs. To run the visualizer, simply run 'make all' and then './apso-tool-vis <number of particles>'. To use the library itself, consult the README.md for instructions.

-Todd Gaunt
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