IFDB page: Guard Duty
Final placement: 36th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition
Wow, now that’s really too bad. As with The Water Bird, I knew that there was a fatal bug in Guard Duty before I started playing it. I didn’t know what that bug was. Turns out the game crashes as soon as you take inventory. This crash occurs with both Frotz and Jzip. It doesn’t occur with Evin Robertson’s Nitfol interpreter, though that interpreter will spit a lot of errors at you during crash-worthy occasions unless you turn on its “ignore” function. So that gave me a decision to make. Do I rate the game based on its ability to function under my traditional interpreters of choice, or do I download a new interpreter, set it to ignore all errors, and play through the game (or as much as can be played) that way?
I chose the former. Here is my reasoning: I try to judge all the competition games on a level playing field, as much as possible. When I played The Water Bird, I played the version that I downloaded on October 1, fatal bug included. If the author had released a bugfix version, I wouldn’t have used it, because one part of the challenge of the competition, as I see it, is to release the best game possible by the assigned deadline. If I play a version that comes out after the deadline, that version would have an advantage over all the other games whose authors could have fixed post-deadline bugs, but who didn’t do so because they’re following the rules.
A similar logic applies to interpreter-specific bugs. To my way of thinking, a bug that shows up in any interpreter (as long as it’s not the interpreter’s fault) is a bug that ought to be factored into the game’s rating. Even if it’s possible to jigger an interpreter so that it will look like the bug doesn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that the bug is gone. Part of an author’s job is to test the game thoroughly enough that its bugs get fixed before the game is released. If this doesn’t happen, the bug should be factored into the game’s rating. I already wrote my screed on how games that haven’t been bug-checked or proofread shouldn’t be entered into the competition, and there’s no point repeating it here. It’s really too bad, though, because like The Water Bird, Guard Duty showed a lot of potential before it crashed and burned.
Unlike the bug in The Water Bird, however, Guard Duty‘s bug is of a nature that I felt it made the whole game unplayable, not just a portion of it. For that reason, I didn’t feel justified in giving the game any rating higher than 1. I hope that in remembering Guard Duty, authors will think twice about entering a game into the competition before it’s ready. It’s really not worth it.