June 09, 2018

A UX Design Puzzle For Fans of SimTower

SimTower was an elevator simulation game.

OK, it actually had other things in it, not just elevators. But the elevators were the heart of it—they were the most engaging part of the gameplay, with the most complex game mechanics—and, more than anything else, it was mastery of the elevator design that would bring a player success in SimTower.

I played SimTower a lot when I was younger. Read more...

May 28, 2018

Shared interests vs. collective interests

Suppose that I, a college student, found a student organization—a chapter of Students Against a Democratic Society, perhaps. At the first meeting of SADS, we get to talking, and discover, to everyone’s delight, that all ten of us are fans of Star Trek.

This is a shared interest. Read more...

May 06, 2018

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Incentives and rewards

This is the second in a series of posts about lessons from my experiences in World of Warcraft. I’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time—in forum comments, in IRC conversations, etc.—and this series is my attempt to make it all a bit more legible. I’ve added footnotes to explain some of the jargon, but if anything remains incomprehensible, let me know in the comments.

Previous post in series: Goodhart’s law.


“How do we split the loot?”

That was one of the biggest challenges of raiding in World of Warcraft.Read more...

May 03, 2018

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from World of Warcraft: Goodhart’s law

This is the first in a series of posts about lessons from my experiences in World of Warcraft. I’ve been talking about this stuff for a long time—in forum comments, in IRC conversations, etc.—and this series is my attempt to make it all a bit more legible. I’ve added footnotes to explain some of the jargon, but if anything remains incomprehensible, let me know in the comments.


World of Warcraft, especially WoW raiding1, is very much a game of numbers and details.

At first, in the very early days of WoW, people didn’t necessarily appreciate this very well, nor did they have any good way to use that fact even if they did appreciate it. (And—this bit is a tangent, but an interesting one—a lot of superstitions arose about how game mechanics worked, which abilities had which effects, what caused bosses2 to do this or that, etc.—all the usual human responses to complex phenomena where discerning causation is hard.)

And, more importantly and on-topic, there was no really good way to sift the good players from the bad; nor to improve one’s own performance. Read more...

April 10, 2018

Five cheesecake tips

Five quick tips for perfect cheesecakes:

Room temperature ingredients

Cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, eggs, and so on—all of these should be allowed to come up to room temperature, before mixing them to make the cheesecake batter. Read more...

April 09, 2018

Traps in tabletop RPGs

Why traps?

Traps often seem like they exist to do the following:

  1. Force the players to say "we check for traps" (or convince/threaten their DM into accepting "we are constantly and always checking for traps!" as a valid "standard operating procedure").
  2. Slow down the party's progress, due to constantly and always checking for traps. (This allows the DM to make more wandering monster checks, thus affording more opportunities to cackle with sadistic glee when the party is jumped by a … <rolls d20> … "no encounter".)
  3. Punish players who don't do #1, by inflicting gruesome injury on their characters, and forcing the party cleric to spend valuable spell slots to heal them.
  4. Force someone in the party (inevitably, the hapless rogue) to spend ranks on Disable Device (the other use of the skill—opening locks—is fully subsumed by the knock spell, rendering rogues useless, although of course they were already useless, right?).
  5. Reduce the party's successful negotiation of the fearsome dungeon hazards known as traps—those intricate brainchildren of the dungeon creator's fiendish intellect—to simple, unadorned die rolls (Disable Device again). How good are you at rolling high numbers on a d20? Pretty good? Great, you can advance through the dungeon. Not so good? Sorry, you have to keep rolling until you roll a high number. But if you roll low enough, something terrible may happen to your character!

Some of the above is true, some of the time. Sometimes it's not. But it usually feels true. Why? Read more...

March 22, 2018

Key lime pie and the methods of rationality

This post is about two things: public epistemology, and pie.

(Yes, there is a recipe for Key lime pie, down near the end of the post. You can skip to the recipe if that’s all you’re here for!) Read more...

March 12, 2018

Black & white cookies of Dyker Heights

This is the third in my series of posts about black & white cookies. Today, I headed to Dyker Heights to visit six bakeries: Grandma’s, Gold Star, Mona Lisa, and the Tasty Pastry Shoppe on 13th Avenue (a.k.a. Dyker Heights Boulevard), St. Anthony’s Bakery on Fort Hamilton Parkway, and the other Mona Lisa Bakery location, on 86th Street (where I’d been a number of times before; I was curious to see whether the two locations differed in quality). Read more...

January 24, 2018

Black & white cookies of Borough Park

This is a follow-up to my previous post, Black & white cookies of Midwood. Today—continuing my search for the perfect black & white cookie—I headed to Borough Park, to visit four bakeries: Shlomy’s Bake Shoppe, Korn Bakery, and Gross Bake Shop on 16th Avenue, and Weiss Bakery on 13th Avenue. Read more...

January 17, 2018

Black & white cookies of Midwood

The black and white cookie: so familiar to New Yorkers, so unknown elsewhere. But who makes the best one? I drove down to Midwood to visit five bakeries (Meir’s, Isaac’s, and Ostrovitsky’s on Avenue J; “Kosher Bakery” and Weiss Bakery on Avenue M) and find out. Read more...