Revisiting Gaussian mixture critics in off-policy reinforcement learning: a sample-based approach

Actor-critic algorithms that make use of distributional policy evaluation have frequently been shown to outperform their non-distributional counterparts on many challenging control tasks. Examples of this behavior include the D4PG and DMPO algorithms as compared to DDPG and MPO, respectively [Barth-Maron et al., 2018; Hoffman et al., 2020]. However, both agents rely on the C51 critic for value estimation.One major drawback of the C51 approach is its requirement of prior knowledge about the minimum andmaximum values a policy can attain as well as the number of bins used, which fixes the resolution ofthe distributional estimate. While the DeepMind control suite of tasks utilizes standardized rewards and episode lengths, thus enabling the entire suite to be solved with a single setting of these hyperparameters, this is often not the case. This paper revisits a natural alternative that removes this requirement, namelya mixture of Gaussians, and a simple sample-based loss function to train it in an off-policy regime. We empirically evaluate its performance on a broad range of continuous control tasks and demonstrate that it eliminates the need for these distributional hyperparameters and achieves state-of-the-art performance on a variety of challenging tasks (e.g. the humanoid, dog, quadruped, and manipulator domains). Finallywe provide an implementation in the Acme agent repository.

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