Thursday, August 15, 2013

It Takes Two (or More) to Polish

Yeah, I'm here, but it's hot.

Here's an example of how important revision, proofreading, copyediting, and fresh eyes are. I don't care what your medium or your target audience.

I was giving another Sims2 Neighborhood builder a hand with a project he'd undertaken which had been overtaken by Health Crap, and with three people working on it we thought we had it good to go. This is the third or fourth draft of this hood and we thought we finally had all the i's dotted and the t's crossed, though we did still have some differences of opinion on individual details. So we put it up for playtesting again.

Within 24 hours we had four or five tweaks that we'd missed, settled the difference of opinion based on feedback, and been alerted to a huge problem - one of the families was appearing, in certain views, with the text for one of the families that ships with the game! This makes no sense! And it was only happening to one person.

After two or three days of head scratching and grilling this player about her game configuration, another playtester had an idea, did an experiment, and gave us The Big Clue. As an artifact of how the neighborhood was originally set up, certain strings of text in the translation files for languages other than US English got duplicated from a premade neighborhood. The person with the problem had a game set to UK English, which was sufficient to trigger the glitch. Once we knew that, it was a piece of cake for the programmer among us to prevent, and the tutorial on creating neighborhoods has been duly updated with a warning about the practice that got us into trouble.

And this is why it bugs me that publishing companies have gradually downsized their copyediting and proofreading over the decades; why so many creative people find beta readers and test audiences an important part of their process; why self-publishing will always be a crapshoot; why I give Damon manuscripts to read for logic and continuity errors; and why whatever it is you do, you need to set your ego aside and listen to feedback from anyone who is kind enough to vet your work. Just because you can't see a problem doesn't mean it's not there. Maybe you're too close to it to see it; maybe you know what's supposed to be there so well you see it even though it's not; maybe it's not physically possible for you to see it because it only appears under conditions you have no reason or ability to replicate.

It's your name on the work, so you're responsible for the final result; but you can't do quality control all by yourself. You need someone to spot you.

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