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Critique Guidlines

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Guidelines on How to Gives a Critique (and How to Receive Them, Too)

Community thrives when it has found a healthy balance of emotion. It can survive for some time on happiness alone, as well as on self-satisfaction, even on collective bullying or mockery... but in such conditions, it cannot develop. Groups of people who remain forever content (never taking chances), forever self-dignified, or forever ridiculing, can only digress. If we as a community wish to be great, and to thrive, then we must learn (or at least be willing to learn) to do two things: to considerately critique and to humbly take criticism.

Why do this? Because only those who build each other up and allow others to help build them up create stable bridges leading to success. If you want to grow your talents and better your hobby, then prepare to share your work and words as others share their work and words with you.


On Giving Constructive Criticism:

In order for this forum to achieve success in growing its community, its individual contributors, then people who post (and even peruse) must feel safe exploring, sharing, and inquiring. In order to achieve this sense of security, all active participants must be aware of how to navigate one of the trickiest and paradoxical things in all of human communication. Yes, I'm talking about critiques.

It's odd that something which causes much stress and sometimes a little hurt (and usually a lot of work) in the end helps us become better at whatever we're practicing. Yet, all masters of their trades have undergone this process at one point or another, and all beginners must accept this if they wish to improve their talents. Bearing this in mind:
  1. Before you even begin, consider why you're giving constructive criticism. Ask yourself: “Why am I going to spend the next hour playing through this stranger's/newbie's/(un)popular game?” If there is any sort of schadenfreude or love of tearing apart or automatic negative bias involved, don't even bother.

  2. Try your best to gauge where this person is coming from. From the way their post is worded, it may be obvious you're dealing with a younger or inexperienced individual. People are at different stages in their social lives, mental development, education, relationships, emotional cycles, game-making abilities, fill in the blank. It may seem, whether you're an expert or a newbie, that a poorly pieced together mini-game serves no purpose to you or the community, but to that person their artistic hopes or dreams may be leaning on it. Don't kick the walking stick – take their hand and guide them through your thoughts.

  3. Be as thorough as you can be, and as nice as you can manage. Include things you liked as well as things you would suggest tweaking. Eliminate any stand-alone statements that you would take as vague if you were reading (ex. “Your sprites are weird”, “The story was confusing”). Use the passive voice (“this was bad” instead of “you did this badly”). Be sure you're explaining things thoroughly, as well as framing things thoughtfully; not only point out what's wrong, but also how to fix it. Remember: people seeking honest criticism aren't always seeking bluntness.

  4. Be honest. No one in this community is going to get better if you just say everything is amazing. You may think you're being nice and building confidence if you tell a poor designer that his work is just perfect, but you're doing him/her a disservice, depriving them of the chance to hear ways to improve their art to better their next project. In reality, it actually doesn't matter if you think someone's game you play is, in fact, quite amazing; critiquing involves a very strict process of unbiased fault-finding and perspective-sharing. Even if it's minute details, giving the creator something to work on means so much more than just saying “Nice work, I liked it.”

  5. Take your time. An hour-long, rushed review with missing components and incomplete thoughts is worth much, much less than a week-long play test, contemplation, and thoughtful wording. Helping on artist with sincere effort means so much more to that one individual than five short, half-hearted reviews to a handful. Take some time after playing to think, and even take some time after writing a review to mull it over.


On Receiving Constructive Criticism:


As mentioned before, critiquing is a very paradoxical system. Someone brings forward their work in order to hear how to improve it, gets advice, and then leaves to tweak or build something better. In essence, you're making yourself vulnerable (exposing weaknesses) in the eyes of your fellow creators and artists in order to improve (get stronger). No matter what, the majority of the time people hear criticism it's immediately taken as a kind of attack. For constructive criticism, though, this could not be any farther from the truth.

Just as people have issues posting critiques, whether in wording their thoughts or observing their approach, so do people have issues with reading and understanding critiques. Some have a tendency to take things very personally. Others only read the positive notes and ignore anything else included. Some are so disillusioned that they think their work is perfect and that all feedback given that they disagree with is obviously wrong. Not all things that are hard to read come from a hard heart. Bearing this in mind:
  1. Before you begin reading critiques, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Expecting horrible reviews will only set your mind up to block out “mean”-sounding suggestions. Similarly, assuming you'll just get rave reviews means you'll take the things to improve upon as silly, meaningless comments. You must gird yourself for comments that are encouraging and that are instructive. Remember, nothing is perfect, not even your work, no matter how much time you spend on it. Similarly, not everyone likes one single thing, so there will be people who don't agree with your tastes.

  2. Constructive criticism is a process. DO NOT give up because someone said something negative about your project. If someone didn't care for an event, thought a character was silly or didn't understand something in the story, it is not the end of the world! Instead, what just happened is you have received feedback that, when acted upon, will result in your game being that much better! And isn't that what this forum is about, building and tweaking, improving and achieving?

  3. Take everything seriously. No matter how small a detail may seem, that detail meant so much to your critic that they spent energy to type it out and word it for your clear understanding. Any small glitch or inconsistency is significant in game making. The best stories and systems don't have holes or gaps in logic within them, do they?

  4. Express gratitude. One amazing way to gain some perspective on what others do for you, especially in these forums, is to stop and thinking about how much time someone must have spent on their review of your work. If you have an hour-long game, someone may have spent as much as (if not more than) 3 hours on play testing, and another half hour or so writing out their thoughts. That's a significant portion of a day. Four hours is half of a night's sleep. Thank whoever spends time giving good feedback with heart-felt sincerity.

  5. Ask questions. If something is unclear, or people are using words that are so new to you they seem like another language, do not hesitate to reply. Specify what isn't coming across as completely clear, and be sure not to make it about the critic; make it about their words. You may feel embarrassed, but trust me: it's worth it to clarify than to assume. Pretending to “get it” and wander on is far less effective than second-checking directions.

Constructive Criticism Template:

TITLE
[My Rating: (If project is finished)/10]


ENCOURAGEMENT:
  • your choice of full sentences or general bullet-point comments

  • short and sweet is best as more helpful notes would fill less space

  • be as specific as possible, and focus on the work itself rather than the artist or “their choices”

  • list a favorite character, defining event, what got you sucked into the gameplay, etc.

SUGGESTIONS:
  • remember to also keep short and sweet, but also to maintain specificity

  • stay away from criticizing tastes and the person; focus on gameplay mechanics and/or game-specific details

  • it is harder to write more and be nicer than to be blunt and mean... carefully consider your wording; it's okay to not like something!

  • know that there are some people who just don't “get it (criticism)”, so it's not your fault if a person blows up in response to your kindness (refer them to this post or to an admin)
SUMMARY:

It's okay to reiterate thoughts; this is the closing statement where you want to make sure that the creator remembers to work specifically on a certain skill or point in the game. Note any large positives that you want to stick with the artist, and encourage them to keep on getting better and, if appropriate, that you'd like to see more!
 
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