How do you mentally classify the quality of your games?

I thought about posting this on Discord or the chat here because I was worried this would come off as annoying, but then I realized that if it was annoying here it would probably be annoying anywhere, so just let me know if you don’t like this kind of content.

I’ve made a lot of different games, some of them small, but when I look at my list of games on IFDB, I have them (mostly) clearly divided into ‘tiers of quality’, with pretty sharp cutoffs, and the ordering matches the IFDB order.

I’m going to ignore Cragne Manor because I contributed < 1% of that game (but it is the highest rated game I’m an author on!). I’m also ignoring Never Gives Up Her Dead for now as it just released, but I’d probably put it in the ‘higher quality’ area.

Tier 1

These are games that I feel represent my ‘best effort’. If someone only played one of these games and formed an opinion of my work, I’d be content. Each of them was something I spent a lot of time and polish on and was designed to be popular (as opposed to having a personal artistic version or being quirky).

These are the games:

IFBD screenshot

Tier 2

These are games that I worked a lot on and I feel are pretty good, but each of which has some significant flaw that could reasonably turn off a chunk of players. If someone didn’t like one of these I’d encourage them to try a different game.

These are the games :

IFBD screenshot

Tier 3

These are games that are either short or goofy and which I expect would only appeal to some people. Most of them are Speed-IF. I would still recommend them to some people, but only if I knew they were into it (like the parser trick in If You Only Had One Shot, which is probably the best game in this tier, or a higher tier, due to the great writing of the co-authors).

IFDB Screenshot

Tier 4

These are games I’d expect most people to be disappointed in as it’s either niche/made for one person or incredibly short. I do like my Book of Mormon games but they’re for young children and there’s a bug in one.

IFDB Screenshot

image

So I know this is just navel-gazing and the number one response I could see (other than ‘I don’t care!’) is ‘but Brian, I’ve only made one game, I can’t make categories!’)

But that’s what I’m interested in. Even if you have one game only, what category is it in? ‘Best work?’ ‘Somewhat flawed?’ ‘Has some redeeming qualities?’ or ‘You probably won’t like this?’

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I only have two completed games, but unsurprisingly I have a pretentious framework for them and a bunch of other WIPs/future ideas. It’s ripped off from Graham Greene, who divided his books into “novels” and “entertainments”; some of his novels aren’t very good, and some of his entertainments say big things about the human condition, but the basic division of authorial intent and implied audience resonates with me.

(Yes, “novel” is a bad label for IF, so if this was anything other than an informal internal system I keep in my head, I’d have to come up with another word).

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I notice you omitted which of your two games falls into which category. I know one is more ‘funny’ and the other more ‘serious’; do you consider that you have one in each category?

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Yeah Sting is a “novel”, Eleusinian Miseries is an “entertainment” (hopefully they’re both funny though!)

Edit: and of course Sting is nonfiction so the “novel” label is even less apt :slight_smile:

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Putting a pin in this because I have thoughts, but no time or bandwidth at this exact moment. Is it appropriate to use WIP and pitches to frame out intent as opposed to complete works? (as arguably, I have none at this time)

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Yeah, of course. I think this kind of organization is actually more usefulfor sandbox/unfinished ideas than complete ones since it can help you decide which ones to work on.

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I’ve got like, 23 finished works out (mostly Twines, a handful of TTRPGs, 1 Decker work, 3 Bitsy games, 3 zines, a visual novel using Ren’py.) Shorter stuff, I don’t think anything there is over 30 minutes of playtime at the moment.

I mostly just have my favourites from each of those categories. Other than that they’re just sort of floating around in a vague soup that I don’t think about too much. I have a couple I’m kind of embarrassed about, but the idea of purging them is a little distasteful, so they’re still up. Figure the cringe is just part of developing as a creative…

If I had to narrow it down to the one game of mine someone should play if they’re looking for a best of, then VESPERTINE is it for sure. I think it’s got the highest IFDB rating out of my games that’ve been uploaded onto there, so that tracks?

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Finished vs not finished. I suppose not finished could include never going to be finished, morphed into/merged with another idea, and hopefully will get finished. This applies to more than just games.

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I think it’s hard to categorize things. I know that with Repeat the Ending and the two works in progress (one is 10k words and the other is 38k), I tend toward perfectionism. I don’t think that’s beneficial, but it’s who I am. In terms of your criteria @mathbrush I think I will always try to make tier 1 games. I’m very self-critical, so I don’t ever see myself creating things on a whim or under severe time constraints, unless it’s super compact. Haiku compact, I mean. I tried to make a petit morte game and it was just silly how impossible that was for me. I can’t do that, I don’t think, ever.

I’m not saying I achieve perfection! That’s not what perfectionism is. I just wouldn’t ever release anything I didn’t love unreservedly or that I had significant concerns with. I wouldn’t release anything that I didn’t feel was complete. I would be miserable thinking about it and couldn’t let it go. That’s not who I am. It’s mostly unproductive pressure; I don’t think perfectionism and quality have a 1:1 relationship.

I don’t personally distinguish art and entertainment, or at least not in terms of the questions in the OP. For me, there’s just as much at stake in my cute little game about a cat as there was in RTE or in the upcoming “cave game.”

My stuff isn’t for everyone for anyone. So, perhaps I intend something as a Tier 1 but some receive it as a Tier 4. I see a lot of negative comments here and around about tactics that happen to be used in Repeat the Ending (to be clear, these are general comments, not comments directed at Repeat the Ending specifically). That’s ok, not everything is going to work for everybody.

I guess if I categorize my efforts, I think about them in terms of narrative design or structure. Repeat the Ending is structured around paratext, criticism, and self-expression. I’m not saying what it means or says, mind you. That’s a structure. The cat game has a YA, gee-whiz feel that the CYOA and adventure stories I loved as a kid had. The cave game, well, it’s built around a rather famous text adventure game. I like to think about building things and how building enables the saying of things. The rest is just having something to say.

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Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but I would tend to think it’s easier to make a perfect short piece than a perfect huge one. Eg a really tight short story where every word is in its place vs a sprawling novel with the same property.

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Sure, that’s true. One of the reasons I liked writing sonnets so much in the old poetry days is that the form enforces brevity. A poem can fail if it falls in love with itself, with the sound of itself.

But this isn’t about finding a low bar to clear. I didn’t mean to imply that. That’s not why I write IF.

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I didn’t know how to answer this question until I saw this reply and realized it’s what I think, too.

I have ones I like better than other ones, but I’m not sure at all if that corresponds to quality. I tend to be the worst possible judge of my own creative endeavors. I have a huge shelf of shame in the studio where I put the things that seem to me like they’re emblazoned with a giant F MINUS. But Tom took a few of them and put them out for sale at a fair WITHOUT MY PERMISSION and they, um, all sold, whereas the ones I displayed because I thought they were “good” didn’t.

How can you know what’s good or not good when it’s yours? Did Emily Short get partway through CM and think, “Hot damn, this is great!” Has anyone ever felt that way? I never have, with anything.

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The question of whether something you made is good or not when it’s yours is an interesting one. I think that a ‘good game’ for me really depends on whether I’m valuing the artistic or more cathartic qualities in stuff I make.

Some games, I focus more heavily on trying to make the prose beautiful- the same way I might sit and pick at poetry I’ve written to make the words work in service of whatever the image or feeling I’m trying to invoke is. I don’t write poetry by hand, even though I draft prose by hand sometimes, (mostly anyways, with the exception of After the Accident, which was first scribbled in a journal from a teenage diary) because I revise and cross out and rephrase and rearrange and really butcher and hack away at poems so much. It would be a disaster in handwriting.

It takes multiple revision passes, which I hardly ever do for my prose- the tighter constraint of a poem makes each word have to work that much harder to earn its place on the page. VESPERTINE is an example of a game I’ve made where the beauty, or the aesthetic qualities, of a game were more strongly emphasized in deciding if it was a good enough game for me to be happy putting it out there. I like it. I’m really proud of the writing in it, and I’m happy that I’ve written something that I think is beautiful to read. Even if there are a few lines where I wince, or the flow feels a bit awkward. For the most part, though, I’m happy with it, because the prose is pretty enough for me.

On the other hand, I have games where instead, the value in it to me, is the catharsis it brings in making the piece. Its a sort of self exorcism. In making it, it can stop nibbling away at my thoughts like a silly mouse in a pantry, and there’s a big sigh of relief in the emotional processing that inherently goes through the work of creating it.

A lot of my games are like this, especially the ones that deal with particularly troubling subject matter.

Sweetpea’s father and his struggle with alcoholism draws from my own experiences of growing up with an alcoholic, and the fear and uncertainty of being a child unsure of how to grapple with that unpredictable element. how do i love you? is a representation of abusive relationships I’ve been in- all of the events are true to life, (actually related to the SpringThing competition that had me joining this community and IFDB awards Brian ran!) though the details of identity have been obscured and amalgamated for people’s privacy. (They’re pretty identifiable to the people in question, though. My friends were surprised at how quickly they could figure out who was meant to represent them.) In it, all of the dialogue from the abusive boyfriend are things I have had thrown at me before from a romantic partner. (Thankfully, the dialogue from the protagonist catcrumb’s friends also echo the people I am lucky enough to be friends with today.)

It’s not always gloom and doom- the love i have known is a tribute to said friends and the love we have for one another, featuring direct quotes from (again, anonymized to everyone but them) people I cherish. THE FRONT BOTTOMS ARE WHY I AM ALIVE is a celebration and tribute to the band that is, as the title puts it- their music has gotten me through the worst parts of my life, and I’m grateful for it.

For those games, the beauty of the prose matters a lot less. Especially in more chatlog, or dialogue heavy pieces. Real people talking is kind of hideously clunky, and awkward, and a bit on the nose sometimes. There are definitely passages which could be cut out to improve a work, areas where I could smooth out transitions or flesh out passages or add more choices or any number of improvements. Sweetpea has a bizarre looping glitch because I made it without any understanding of, or use of variables. The UI is pretty hideous. It’s a flawed work. There’s typography issues in text placement, there’s a bumbled word that’s really obvious in the Decker piece, there’s not really much of a narrative in some of these and it’s definitely not carefully thought out or planned, more of word vomiting onto a colourful page.

And that’s like, fine. Some of them are ugly. There are definitely things I’d change, if I weren’t always rabbiting off in search of a new project. The value in those pieces to me, as in defining if they’re good enough or not, isn’t in how polished or beautiful the language is. It’s in that they were extremely cathartic to make. I felt better after making them. They were useful to process painful, difficult emotions- and often, games I consider ‘good enough’ on this metric are the ones that really resonate with other people and their personal experiences, as the comments on how do i love you? showed me. I’ve had people reach out privately to thank me for how I handled addiction and abusive relationships because it made them feel seen- and that’s a really special, wonderful thing to me: that human connection of being seen and feeling understood.

I think it’d be really hard for me to write a piece that I felt was good enough by both metrics. I don’t think that I have, yet. I don’t really know if I want to? But broadly speaking, I’m pretty happy with games I’ve made that were either meant to be good at being beautiful, or good at being cathartic.

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I guess one other axis of measurement would be surprise. Not audience surprise, but my own experience of surprise. One of the things that motivates me in writing is that I don’t really know the specifics of how the thing gets from one point to the next. I might know what the points are, but not how they connect.

So in terms of evaluating my own work, just personally and not really in terms of critical criteria, I tend to best like writing in which I surprise myself. “Where did that idea come from?” or “how in the world did I think of that?” I love it when I don’t know. It’s a mystery! So I’ll look at something I’ve done, and if I feel surprise, I get a lot of joy out of it. I mean, sometimes you have all of these ideas, and you spend a lot of time, and it comes together, and it’s surprising. How could that have come together?

With anything I’ve made, whether it was academics or creative writing or now this, I think the feeling of surprise is best of all. Part of me is never satisfied, and that’s too bad, really, but making things, that’s one of the few ways to surprise oneself. I really get a charge out of that.

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I wouldn’t say eg short stories are a low bar. I’m a big fan of short stories, and they can convey feeling and complex ideas often better than long novels. Recently I read The Things They Carried collection, and just started a collection by Ursula le Guin. It is amazing what a short story can do sometimes.

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This book has some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in it.

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This is what I’m responding to. You seem to be implying an easier path to perfection, unless I misunderstand. I prefer reading short stories over novels. I’m not making any sort of comment about the merits of short works.

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I really don’t know what to think of the quality of my own games. The main way I sort them in my mind is “super tiny” and “more substantial”, although everything I’ve made so far is quite short. I’m also a perfectionist, but sometimes I just get sick of working on a project (or hit the jam deadline or whatever), so I go ahead and publish it anyway even knowing it’s flawed. And sometimes games that I’m not 100% happy with still get received quite well, which makes me feel better about them.

I guess overall I could categorize my games as “ones I’m 100% happy with”, “ones I’m pretty happy with despite knowing they have a few issues,” and “ones I’m more ambivalent about.”

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I wrote a bunch of stuff when I was fairly young, then got my first Real Job with an absolutely hellish commute and took a six-year hiatus, then came back after I changed jobs. So the main divide for me is between my pre-hiatus and post-hiatus work, the former group being borderline juvenilia that I’m very embarrassed by. Everything Is Catching on Fire and Wedding Day are pretty OK, but I can’t look at the rest of it. The humor was stupid, the attempts to be serious were a muddled mess, and my game design/structure was very, very bad (part of which was that I kept trying to do things that parser games weren’t well-suited for). Sometimes I think about rewriting Hauntings, probably as a Twine game, because I think it has some kernels of good ideas in it and is potentially salvageable, but as it currently is I’m just like “ugh, please don’t look at it.”

The newer stuff I feel… mostly better about? Like Amanda, I never really feel great about my own work and am not a good judge of how other people are going to react to it. But even if the flaws are very apparent to me whenever I look at my more recent games, I’m not, like, wincing at the idea of anyone playing them.

I can classify it further as “this more or less represents my best effort” vs. “due to circumstances this wasn’t everything it could’ve been”, but I think the latter category mostly consists of Something Blue and Starbreakers, and the former is just there because of the 4-hour time constraint (whereas the latter was the result of a time management fuckup). Lady Thalia 2 was also there on release, but I did fix it later.

Starbreakers is also the one I’d say is least characteristic of my work in general both in writing style (because Encorm wrote most of it) and in gameplay (that was me trying to get out of my comfort zone, with, uh, mixed results), so if someone didn’t like it I’d feel like it was reasonable to suggest that they try a different game. Maybe that’s also true of Someone Else’s Story, just because it’s part of the whole Goncharov thing and I tried to make it work as a standalone but I don’t know if it really does, so conceivably someone could dislike it just because they don’t know or don’t care for the meme, even if gameplay-wise it’s very similar to most of my other recent work.

Edit: To be clear (because otherwise this seems kind of mean), when I cowrite with Encorm, I always think her contributions are fantastic. It’s just the parts I wrote, or the aspects of the design that I came up with, that I’m never happy with. (She’s well aware of this, having had to put up with a lot of insecurity from me on this front, but I wouldn’t want anyone else to get the wrong impression.)

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Is this because they’re objectively better, or because you’re tougher now, having done it a while, and are just more comfortable with the fact that there aren’t any perfect works?

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