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The Importance of the Right Numbers

Wow… back-to-back greats posts from Ted Vessenes on his blog, Brainworks. In this one, he writes about a concept very close to my heart – that of mathematical balancing. In the post, Getting it Just Right he mentions two types of parameters – sensitive and insensitive numbers. From the post:

A sensitive number is extremely hard to tweak, because you won’t see the right behavior until you get things “just right”. If the value doesn’t encode the right concept, then that “just right” state won’t exist, but you’ll never know that. You’ll just see how all kinds of different values don’t work in different ways.

And an insensitive number generally just has an impact when it crosses an important boundary (for example, driving 56 instead of 55, or your gas tank being 0% full instead of 1% full). There’s often no indication where this interesting numerical boundary might be.

I mentioned on a comment I posted there that I wished he had written that a few weeks ago. The ideas he presents map very well into a couple of my recent columns over at AIGameDev. One, on Chaos Theory and Emergent Behavior hits a similar nerve as far as tiny changes having big ramifications. The other was about intelligent-looking errors. Both are applications of trying to get those parameters into the ever-elusive “sweet spot” – both in the short term (believability) and the long term (stability). I would have liked to quote him on those columns.

I’m definitely keeping an eye on Ted’s blog from now on!

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