It's got me thinking as to when a game really becomes interesting, both for me as the creator, and potentially for other people. Fair warning: this turned out to be a bit of a rambling post really, maybe serving more as a place to collect my thoughts than anything else, but perhaps it offers some insight into my 'creative process', such as it is. And hey, it's written now, so up it goes :)
Everything starts with an idea of some kind, even if it's basically stealing a concept from somewhere else and doing your own take on it. Obviously this is interesting for me as a creator, and it can be fun to discuss ideas with friends, but it's not solid enough to go further than that. There are millions of great ideas out there, ranging from simple to impossible, and it can sometimes be tricky to tell where yours is on the spectrum, until you knuckle down and start on...
2) The Plan
If you're in a commercial setting, this involves stuff like design documents. For me and the games I work on for fun, it sometimes involves a half-assed Word document with some bullet-pointed thoughts and rough overall concept stuff, but often just means collecting thoughts in my head until I convince myself that it might actually work and I might be able to actually create it (plenty of game concepts fail at this stage, and I've tried to become more cutthroat here, since it's all too easy to come up with a really strong concept that deep down you just know you can't get to a playable state in a reasonable length of time).
This stage is unlikely to be interesting to anyone who isn't actively involved in the design process. It might be interesting to read about after the product is done, and it can be fascinating to see how a game changes from the initial proposition to the finished form, and why, but unless you've got a particularly unusual problem or ingenious solution to something I doubt people are going to care. It's always fun for me since I haven't committed to anything yet - it's easy to bail out with no real loss. It can be sad to give up on a strong idea as unworkable so early on, but better than figuring it out while trying to put together...
3) The Prototype
I would apply the term 'prototype' only loosely to most of my stuff. It has a professional ring to it which makes me think of a well planned concept produced to the point where you have all the key elements and a working gameplay loop in place. You know, like a real prototype. What I do is try to get to a state where I can interact with the game in some slightly entertaining way as soon as possible. Doesn't matter if I know I'm going to have to rework some stuff due to how the overall game concept requires things to work together, I want to have something to toy with, even if it's just some menus I can pick things from to make numbers change.
Then I continue adding features until I think there's enough content to be worth polishing and releasing, or until I get bored. Guess which one happens more often! This stage is where I get conflicted about making a post - it's where I start to get real feedback from playing my game, and I can start to see where I've made mistakes or what parts work exactly as I hoped they would. But it's still going to look ugly and may well be incomprehensible to anyone who isn't me. It's not interesting to laboriously go through and try to explain every detail about how the game works and what all those tiny unclear sprites represent, which means that screenshots aren't going to offer much. I love text, but a wall of it isn't always very appealing (this post may well be a case in point). Nonetheless, I believe there definitely can be something worth writing about here.
Generally my personal interest fluctuates between being excited and rather unmotivated, depending on how easy whatever feature I'm working on turns out to be. This is the stage where I find out for sure if my plan is something I can really implement or if it's just too complex - or if it's something I could do, but it's going to take weeks of hard work to get to even a basically playable state, let alone to...
4) The Alpha/Beta
This is where I'd place the stuff I have on my Games page. It's playable and you can get a sense of the game, but it's either largely unpolished or without properly defined win states or progression. It's at the 80% part of the 80/20 rule - I've done the easy (and generally fun) part that takes 20% of the time and gets me a playable game with all the cool features I want. But to go further, I need to start on the 80% of time for polishing and fixing all the little bugs and problems. That's the part where I should clean up the UI and make it look really nice, and where I should fix all the odd bugs that I know how to work around and ignore automatically, but which will make the game less fun for a new player. Despite all the issues, it is very playable without needing anyone there to hold your hand or explain idiosyncrasies, and certainly worth a blog post about.
5) Finished Product
I've not reached this point with anything I've made yet. This would be something I'd want to try and spread word about to get some people playing, or even consider selling if it was professional looking enough (e.g. if I paid someone to do proper art) and the concept was novel enough.
Since most of my games only reach stage 3, I think a semi-regular roundup (monthly?) going over the various projects I've started and abandoned might be a good way to handle it. They might not be individually interesting enough to warrant a post of their own, but taken together it'll be a nice overview of where my thoughts have been.