The Joys of Editing

Those of you seeking inspiration and motivation during the trials of your editing process should turn away now. This is not a perky, upbeat review of the process. Rather, it is a truthful examination of the pains and realities of something incredibly unpleasant. 
One would think the actual creation of the game, painstaking playtesting, and writing of the rules would be the worse part of the process. After all, to adequately play test and evaluate rules can take years of trial and error. It would seem this is the worse part of the process. Editing should be a simple matter of review spelling errors and correcting grammatical mistakes. Right?

Wrong. It is a dreadful line-by-line review of your writing completed during breaks, hours after children went to bed, stretches of time between getting home from work, walking the dogs, and going to bed. It is tedious, time consuming, and miserable. Making it worse, it can't be done by the writer(s) but must be overseen by the writer(s). 

Why? you might ask.

Turns out when a person writes a large piece of work, looks at it, modifies it, and re-reads it too many times they no longer see the written word. Instead, they see the intended expression. In other words, you no longer see what you wrote but see what you intended to say. And it makes for horrible mistakes.

During the first production of Tortured Earth, we edited the work ourselves. A mutual friend and my wife helped with the editing. Turns out Artice and I were useless during the process. We overlooked several obvious spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and repeated sections because we had looked at the work so many times we were blind to the mistakes. My wife and friend helping edit didn't catch the mechanical errors because they were not gamers. True to practically all first printings, it went to press ripe with errors.

One source of errors involved how Artice and I edited the original document. Using Microsoft Word, we activated the markup and edited the document. When Artice finished with a document, I would review it and accept the changes. Sounds like a pretty good system. Not really. This only forced me to pay attention to the changes he made. A lot of errors slipped through the cracks because I was not paying attention to anything other than the changed parts. Artice made the same mistakes on the documents I sent him. 

Making matters worse, we worked on the manuscript together. We both saw what we intended to say, not what was written.

During the second edition editing, the process is a little more thorough. Kevin and I meet in Google Meet and use screen sharing. Changed sections on the document from last viewing are highlighted in bright yellow. We go through the document line-by-line, editing as we go - two sets of eyes are on the same document at all times. During this process, we make sure the game mechanics for each component are in line with other sections of the document. Grammar, spelling, and mechanics are verified on a line-by-line basis and, once approved, changed back to white. 

It is amazing how many times I've had to say, "But the intention was for this to happen. . ." or worse, "That no longer applies because we removed/altered/fixed this component". Unfortunately, these events seem to occur once I begin to feel comfortable with the work and think, "After this point, it should be perfect." It NEVER is!

Anyone attempting to develop a game should always expect to spend at least half the time spent developing the game to editing the final product. Please understand what I am saying: we spent four years testing and developing Tortured Earth. We should have spent about 2 years editing it. Instead, we spent 9 months - and the mistakes show. Mechanically, the product works well for the world settings for which we like to design stories. However, the presentation of the written work shows the amateur's attempt.

One of the benefits of having teams or groups of people working on the same product is the number of eyes on the document during the editing process. Although having a huge number of people does not insure a document free of mistakes, it does help limit the number of major mistakes making it to press. Even large companies having multiple teams working on game development will release systems ripe in typos, mechanical errors, and formatting mistakes. 

Despite the mistakes made in the first printing, I still take pride in the system we created. The game mechanics are sound and in the end, I can say I published a game I really enjoy playing. The true measure of completion must always be: Are you proud of what you have created? 

Many would-be-developers get caught up in the editing and revision process. They fall into this endless loop of editing to perfection. Ultimately, good ideas go to waste because they never reach the perfection their creators envision but cannot achieve.

At some point, the decision must be made to go to press. If the editing process goes on too long, the team stands a risk of losing interest or members. If it is brought to an early completion, the final product runs the risk of entering publication in too rough a state. Perfectionist may find this part of the process unbearable and often distance themselves from the project. The business minded often want to push the project ahead at too fast and will withdraw if the project extends for too long a period. 

The worse part of the editing process is deciding when to publish. It is this breaking point which will cause the greatest conflict within a small game company - and the dividing line is always the same: Hurry up and get the product out there versus Edit to perfection to make the best first impression. Unfortunately, the only real solution is compromise. Both sides have to agree to meet in the middle and both sides have to agree to hold true to the final deadline. 

The only real advice I have to give is this: 

Dear Risk-Taker: Learn patience and try to see (with an open mind!) the mistakes Mr(s). Perfectionist is trying to fix. Yes, it means more time. You haven't quit your day job yet, so it's not so pressing you can't give it a little more time.

Dear Perfectionist: It will never be perfect. It's okay. You're doing this to have fun. If you are too bothered by it, use a pen name. No one will ever know.

As someone having been through the process, it sucks. However, once the product is finally in print, there is a sense of relief. Marketing and product reviewing can begin.

A topic for another day. . .

If you are checking out this post for the first time, you may access our website by clicking here: Tortured Earth Website

If you are interested in the creature development process, you may submit your own creatures by filling out the following form. We will review the forms before publishing the creatures to the website. Creature Creation Form


  1. This is absolutely true. My first game, Renaissance: The Rebirth did not receive enough editing or play testing by people outside the original group so after it was printed and I went to run at a convention 6 months later, I discovered several places where mechanics were referenced that no longer existed in the book.

    I'm doing a much better job editing my current game but it's also taking a lot longer.

    1. Jason,

      I have to admit, of the two personalities described in my blog, I am the impatient one. Possibly the biggest flub happened when I opened the book and realized an entire chapter was outdated. I still had the updated file as a pdf on my hard drive. I somehow sent the wrong version to the printers.

      Like you, I'm taking my time with the editing of this version.

      Other flubs weren't so much in game mechanics as they were in formatting and spelling. Sections repeated in a couple of spots, typos throughout, etc. Now that I know people who do editing, it's turning out a little better. Ironically, I'm back in the classroom. One of the retired teachers who taught down the hall from me is a grammar Nazi. She loves editing for anyone but kids. Once you hammer out the mechanics, I can hook you up. lol!


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