I know being able to trade works with other IFComp authors for testing helps a lot. Like was pointed out above, we can’t see our own bugs no matter how hard we try, and also I found it makes me worry less about competition. If I won’t be winning, I can be a (relatively) small part of a game that does well. It still gives me nice kick when some small feature I suggest is pointed out in a review.
I also agree about walkthroughs being more than just typing in a string of commands. Give the player a chance to say “Oh, yeah, I could’ve seen that!” I’m pleased with my flowchart walkthrough from last year, and I want to use the format again.
Also I’ve learned and enjoyed a lot from all the post-comp work I’ve done on my games. I recommend it to others, as it’s fun to make should’ve into things you are doing or did.
And yes, don’t pre-censor yourself by worrying in advance what people may think. I did so, and tried too hard to avoid things without going after what I really wanted to do. And I wound up, well, having to make a post-comp release or two.
I also encourage people not sure if they’re ready to test another game. It’s rewarding to see that you enjoy a game even with bugs, which doesn’t mean they should be ignored, but it gets rid of some of the perfectionism, and it helps you realize that a trade of ideas can work.
I also think giving clear instructions to testers is a big help. Make sure their time is being used well. Let them know it’s okay if they’re baffled somewhere, or even if they don’t get far, and give yourself the time to straighten out a puzzle/scenario into what it needs to be. And, yes, get testers with different styles. Walkthrough-bashers and people who concentrate on introductions. If possible, give them commands to jump to what might be their favorite places. They’re doing you a favor!
I also like keeping a log of bugs that are changed, just to boost my spirits that I am indeed fixing things. Some testers find it useful and fun to see, yeah, I contributed to that and tipped off a new idea.
It’s so tough to sort out bugs vs small holes. I don’t think you want to put a game off for a year because there’s a small plot hole. And I think reviewers will be more forgiving of plot holes than bugs, even if a bug turned out to be esoteric. I tend to be forgiving of bugs because I know how easy they are to make and it’s cool to figure why they happened, but most people don’t roll like that.
Also, be prepared to lop off one big idea you’d really like to have fit in but didn’t have time to implement fully. It might even be something that helped you start the game, but you may have to perform triage a week before on something that just doesn’t work. The bright side is, it may be something you can dump in post-release.
I do think that playing the game or doing something every day is valuable, simply because you will get sick of trying the safe-and-known stuff that’s not going to break any more. On balance I’d say people’s suggestions have helped me improve games a lot more than if I’d held them.
Also yes the author’s forum is very valuable for trading bugs, hints for preparation, and so forth. But it’s best to see what you can do beforehand.
I’ve wrote something like this in different forms before so I hope it’s not too rehashed or reheated, but there are some things worth saying again and again.
Oh: the big things for Inform programmers? Don’t just run the debug build (F5 on Windows). Build: build for release regularly, to make sure the thing compiles. That will prevent nasty shocks a few days before release. The debug build is not the release build!
Also, you can/should have a walkthrough testing script or two, and it’s worth reading the transcript to tease out any big bugs. Twine authors, I imagine you have something similar, and if not, it should be coming soon, because Twine does have the use base to support it now.