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You Need an Editor! (Part 2 of 3)

Posted By Cameron Harris, Sunday, June 7, 2015

Adapted from my talk at GDC 2014: "You Need an Editor!" (video available to GDC Vault subscribers; slides available to all)

The first post in this series provided an overview of editing and how it can improve video games' stories. This post digs into non-narrative editing (loosely), and in the final post, I'll present my argument for how and why to used editors across the video-game industry.

What Else Can Editors Do?

The most obvious use of an editor is to improve the writing of a video game's story. But what if your game doesn't have a story? That's okay! Every game can still benefit from editing, thanks to non-narrative editing, content management, and IP branding. What's more, the right editor can do everything discussed in this series, meaning that not only can you get those benefits but you can do so with just one person on your payroll.

Non-Narrative Editing

(Not that the items here can't have narrative elements as well; everything in a video game can be part of its narrative, after all. I'm using the categories loosely.)

Editors should be working on user-interface text. Our brains like to remember every little term, and we'll standardize language usage across the whole game: every menu option, every item description, every loading screen, you name it. We'll even make a style guide and make other people use it.

The four C's described in the previous post apply here as well: clear, consistent, coherent, consumable. You want your users to understand the game's user interface—and again, that's not just your players. An editing pass standardizes the output of multiple developers, making it easier for everyone on the team to use and talk about it, instead of having different terms from different people for the same thing. From the broader standpoint of user experience, editors can be great guinea pigs. We're working on the whole game, anyway, and as with story, if we don't understand how the UI works, the player probably won't, either.

Geopolitical reviews assess whether content will be offensive to audiences in different regions of the world, and the inclusion of the wrong content may put you at risk of legal action. Editors are a natural fit to track these issues because of our attention to detail, the fact that we're seeing every part of the game, and that rules-checker in our brains. We can research what would require licensing, and with the right training or experience, we know what's offensive, where, and why, not to mention how to fix it. For example, we might note that we need to change a character's name because it resembles a vulgar phrase in another language, or that we can't use the thumbs-up gesture because in many cultures, that's an obscene insult comparable to—or even worse than—giving someone the middle finger in North America.

Companies may hire external experts to handle these reviews, but you may not be able to afford them. Either way, editors can catch problems early, before you've spent that money or, hopefully, too much development time… or insulted a percentage of your customers.

Content Management

Editors love to organize! We can do wikis, on the design side, and checklists, for production. For example, BioWare editors set up internal wikis for lore and process documentation that the whole project team can work from, and we use a checklist of tasks for every single piece of dialogue to make sure that it's thoroughly vetted before it goes into localization and voiceover (VO) recording. Editing is therefore a strong bridge between development and production. A game's words flow into downstream pipelines via an editor who keeps an eye on the entire process and supports the various owners and contributors from end to end.

With VO, we can prepare scripts and casting documents, make the pronunciation guide for actors and directors (which translators also use), take script and performance notes in the recording studio, and reconcile subtitle text to the recorded audio so that every line players see onscreen matches what they hear, right down to the smallest ad lib.

Editors can also be the liaison between localization experts and authors when the latter need to address geopolitical issues. We may also coordinate the localization handoffs (both their scheduling and the delivery of the files) and answer translator queries, especially if we've already made a glossary of idioms, fictional jargon, and other terms in the game—a document that helps internal teams, too.

If you're publishing your game, editors can help with the certification requirements and the submissions to rating boards (ESRB, PEGI, CERO, and so on). Producers may be handling all that, but editors have the necessary broad understanding of the game for assisting them, if not just doing it themselves.

IP Branding

Editors know your intellectual property inside and out and can keep it consistent everywhere: your game, your website, press releases, blog posts, and so on. As a bonus, they can edit user-facing content for improved company branding. Everything you send out consistently sounds like your company and no one else, and it's also clear, coherent, and consumable. (The four C's, remember?)

Beyond a single game, editors can manage the details of the fiction across a franchise, including all associated games and other products such as comics, toys, and books. For example, at Microsoft, I developed and maintained franchise story bibles and glossaries, which freed up narrative designers and writers to dive right into making the games and ancillary content. BioWare's editors work closely with external partners on transmedia products such as Dark Horse's World of Thedas lore books for Dragon Age.

Next up: in conclusion, how and why to use editors across the video-game industry, for great justice!

Tags:  editing  gdc  you need an editor 

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