I had a response for this last night but realized it wasn’t really answering the question. The TLDR is “be nice, say thanks, don’t go overboard.” Which you probably sort of guessed, but I think some context is worth it. And hopefully not too self-indulgent. It might still not really be answering your question.
Some of my best post-comp suggestions are from people who say “did you consider/have time for X?” Sometimes I’ll even say no and give reasons and then later find holes in those reasons.
I guess there are a few ways to do it.
- “thanks for this! It was awesome. Here is a playthrough if you’re looking to tweak stuff for post-comp” or “hey, I have a transcript that may suggest minor stuff for a maintenance release, but if you have a cool new project that’s awesome too.”
- if the author has a public feedback thread, especially one for bug reports, post that on there. Good programmers (not necessarily technical superstars, but good ones) don’t like to see bug reports at first but learn to deal. 4x4 Archipelago has one and I’m worried I really dumped a lot on it. This also applies for source control repositories.
- maybe give a nonbinding offer for them to say, hey, if you need a tester in the future, I’d like to give time if I can.
I know both sides of the coin of outright praise or qualified praise can feel sticky, but speaking as someone who got a bug report last year for my 2012 Comp entry, it definitely motivated me to Fix Things for that and the sequel! I still need to get the final release out, but that’s on me. Unexpected nice things are nice.
I certainly got a small boost from reading that Victor Gijsbers found some themes in my 2020 effort, which I’m proud of, but I’m aware it wasn’t perfect & was probably too long. I didn’t even see his review, and I still haven’t, but it was a boost. All things in good faith help.
So I just have a boiler-plate blueprint. “Thanks for game X. Part Y felt completely new, part Z was a cool spin on something played out, and part W combined two things in a really cool way.” One thing I avoid is using too many superlatives, or saying “Well, you’re better than writer X,” but I think you know that, too.
Things like this feel like they should work 90% of the time at least but we still cringe at “what if they don’t.” That’s tough to fight, but I think JJ Guest’s observation stands. There are people I’m glad contacted me. Maybe it was just for a typo, or maybe it was for something I couldn’t believe I missed. Whether we’ve kept in touch, we’ve each helped each other be better, and that’s cool. It won’t happen all the time. Maybe not even half. But–even though I wish it’d happened even more–it should happen enough.