The Editing Room Floor: How a review transforms from a draft to being published

Warning: This is going to be a long one!

Any piece of literature, be it books, magazines, blogs and even reviews go through several iterations before the editor and author are happy with the content. Whilst this is a fact of life for writers, it usually happens out of sight, leading many to believe the end result is what the author originally intended.

Unfortunately, this has happened to me many times throughout my (limited!) experience within the games industry thus far, so today I’m going to go through my latest review (Doom – for those of you who don’t frequent here often) and compare it to my original piece that I submitted.

I’m doing this article as I’m concerned about the state of play in games writing and games journalism. Too many times articles are edited to fit a narrative, and whilst that didn’t happen here (my editor keeps to gaming and gaming alone – he’s awesome like that) it’s nice to be able to show you all the changes that happen between what the author originally intended, and the final published piece.

This article is going to be a learning experience for me too – writing only as a hobby in my spare time, I rarely have the time to chuck a piece back and forth between edits, meaning what’s changed by the editor before being published is accepted without me reading it. In an ideal world I would, but doing this in my spare time whilst also developing games and working full time rarely gives me time to read these pieces again.

To make things easier, I’ll colour code the paragraphs, with the following being consistent throughout:

VGChartz.com published review = Red
My draft which was submitted = Blue

So lets start with the opening paragraph, which reads as follows in the review published on VGchartz.com:

“It’s been 12 years since Doom 3 graced computers and consoles worldwide. At the time it was an absolute stunner in terms of presentation, heralding in an era of more atmospheric shooters that was spearheaded by impressive real-time shadows tech, but many fans were left feeling hollow after completing the campaign; gone was the fast-paced, strafing combat of Doom and Doom 2, and in its place was an entirely story driven game. This identity crisis perhaps explains both why it’s taken so long for the series to receive another entry.”

Not that bad. Granted, there’s a grammatical mistake in there that was not in my original (the “both” at the end is not neccessary), overall I feel it’s all a bit… disjointed. The opening sentence just doesn’t flow into the others, and as such, it feels weird. Here’s what I originally wrote below:

“It’s been 12 years since Doom 3 graced our computers (and consoles) world-wide, and at the time, it was an absolute stunner in terms of presentation; with its heralding of fantastic real-time shadows in games being a major selling point. But there were many fans left feeling hollow after completing Doom 3’s campaign; gone was the fast strafing combat that played out in Doom 1 and Doom 2, Doom 3 was an entirely story and atmosphere focused game. Whilst some could argue this was a good thing (I personally enjoyed Doom 3), it was certainly the coming of a new age in FPS’, so much so that it’s taken 12 years for a proper Doom sequel to be released.”

The heralding sentence could have definitely done with being tidied up, but by making the first sentence so long I felt it was natural to flow into what I felt was a good comparison.

The next paragraph was basically not my doing. In fact, it’s only the last sentence of mine that’s kept between my draft and the end result, so like before (and throughout this article) I’ll do the VGChartz.com review first, then my original after.

“DOOM is in many ways a love letter to the shooters of yesteryear and should appeal to many of the series’ original fans. Yes it’s been given a fresh coat of paint, and yes the control style and feature set has been updated to appease certain modern gaming sensibilities, but a real effort has been made to bridge the gap between that atmospheric, graphics-driven style of shooter that Doom 3 was the precursor to and the gameplay-centric style of earlier entries. The results of this balancing act won’t appeal to everyone, but for the most part DOOM is a great success for iD and a return to form for the series.”

and my original paragraph:

“I give this context as it’s worth remembering how games once were: with graphical fidelity being a limiting feature in games of yester-year, everything was centred around the gameplay itself. With graphics no longer being a worry, games are ever-more trying to strive towards realism, much to the detriment of gameplay. Doom is a love letter to these games of yester-year, albeit with a brand new shine to the graphics and a slightly updated control style that’s sure to make fans go crazy.”

As can be seen, I was setting the review up by giving context about the state of the games industry right now. Whilst you could argue it’s not the time or place to discuss this change in games, I felt that it helped paint the reason why DOOM is so damn good. The published paragraph just feels like it’s putting words in my mouth that I don’t necessarily feel are true and didn’t say in the first place. Yes it does bridge a gap between new and old shooters, but I didn’t feel like that needed to be said this early when the rest of the review does a better job of explaining why.

Onto the next paragraph:

“The campaign starts off as it means to go on, providing little in the way of story or context; rather you pretty much get straight into the action. After a few seconds spent donning your suit, it’s time start demon killing. DOOM wastes no time in giving you plenty of demons to take on, either. The short thrift given to the narrative and any contextual background forces you to focus on the gameplay and the visual spectacle of combat (rather than the scenery), which is a fantastic change of pace compared to Doom 3. “

Compared to:

“The campaign starts off as it means to go on – giving relatively little story/context and getting you straight into the action. After a few seconds of donning your suit, it’s time start demon killing, and Doom wastes no time in giving you plenty of demons to take on. This short-hand way of giving you tidbits of story and background whilst forcing you to partake in the gameplay 90% of the time is a fantastic change from Doom 3, and means there’s rarely a moment where you calm down and take in the scenery.”

I really like my editors way of changing up my last sentence, using “the short thrift” rather than my “short-hand way”. I write like I talk at times, and don’t really have the vocabulary of many writers out there, so these edits are always greatly appreciated.

Next!

“One of the first things you notice when you begin navigating DOOM’s corridors is its incredible sense of pace. After years of shooters gradually slowing down, becoming more and more realistic, DOOM’s fast pace feels like a breath of fresh air. This speed works really well in combination with the game’s large levels, especially the more open ones that give you a large sense of freedom with how you approach combat with the demon hordes. You traverse the environment so quickly that it almost causes you to overlook the beautiful levels and art that are on display.”

and the original:

“One of the first things that’s apparent when you first start navigating Doom’s corridors is it’s insane speed. After years of FPS’s getting slower due to “realism” Doom feels like a breath of fresh air. This speed not only works in conjunction with how large the levels are, but also in the large open expanses where you get to battle demons without being constrained to tiny corridors. It’s fantastic, and allows you a sense of freedom as you decide how to go about destroying a horde of demons within an arena. You traverse the environment so fast in fact that it feels like a shame that we’re ignoring the beautiful levels and art on display.”

My use of the word “insane” and other terms was to push the point home that DOOM’s speed and level design truly stands as a testament to how good the game is. Changing this to “this speed works really well” takes away from my awe at what iD and Bethesda have done.

The next two paragraphs were cut down and shortened, so I’ll paste both together here:

“It’s not long before you’ll also start ‘glory killing’ demons that you’ve weakened enough to stammer. These brutal animations split up the action somewhat, allowing you to witness the brutal and gory destruction of demons close up. At first this seems like mindless violence for the sake of violence, but it’s actually an essential gameplay mechanic because each time you kill an enemy this way you’re rewarded with health (the amount depends on the size of the demon you kill). However, if you glory kill in the middle of a fight then once the animation finishes you’ll briefly be vulnerable to attack from other enemies, which creates an inherent risk/reward element with the mechanic.

DOOM also has a great sense of rhythm and flow; you emerge in a new area, then proceed to run in circles, strafing out of the way of incoming imp fire while pelting out your own.”

and my own:

“It’s not long before you also start “glory killing” demons that you weaken enough to stammer. These brutal animations take 3-4 seconds away from the madness, and in return gives you a close up of demons getting destroyed by your own hands. What at first seems like mindless violence for the sake of violence, soon becomes apparent that it’s actually a gameplay mechanic, and an essential one at that. Each time you kill an enemy in this way you’re rewarded with health (the amount depends on the size of the demon you kill). This risk/reward mechanic really helps to keep combat entertaining, but also a puzzle. I found myself consistently having the thought pattern of: “if I glory kill this enemy at the side, it’ll allow the other imps chasing me a chance to hurt me the second I get out of the animation, but I’ll get much needed health” – which is an insanely difficult decision to make given the speed of the game. 

Before long you’ll be getting into a rhythm of how to take on demons; run to a new area, and proceed to run in circles, strafing out of the way of fire from imps, and proceeding to mow everything in sight down. It’s when you’ve started to master the combat that the true genius of Dooms design becomes apparent; it’s level design.”

In these two paragraphs the biggest changes are my internal monologue towards the end of the first paragraph, and the second paragraph being chopped in half. First up, my internal monologue. I can understand why it was taken out; it’s rare that a review would do things like this. I wrote it because I thought it would be a fantastic way of presenting the thought processes a player will entail whilst playing DOOM, and how fast and difficult it is to judge those thoughts on the fly.

The next paragraph’s edit just feels disjointed to the rest of the article. My intention was for this paragraph to foreshadow the next one, giving a nice flow to the review as a whole. Unfortunately, the edited version just makes the sentence stick out like a sore thumb; it has no context, and doesn’t feed nicely into the next paragraph at all.

Onto the next one!

“As with classic Doom games, DOOM contains plenty of secrets. There are also side objectives and enough bonus loot to drive you insane. Each side objective can relate to either combat or map searching, for example some may require five different imp glory kills, with others require you to find three secrets on the map.”

And my original:

“Like classic Doom games, Doom has plenty of secrets throughout the levels, along with plenty of side objectives and enough bonus loot to drive you insane. Each side objective can relate to either combat or map searching, for example some may require 5 different imp glory kills, with others being to find 3 secrets on the map. These were enjoyable in their own right, and had me staying on a level well past killing everything in sight, backtracking and platforming (yes! A FPS has platforming sections!) through parts of the levels that I thought I had explored to their utmost, only to find a lever I never saw the first time round. It’s exciting and clever in an age where levels are frequently used as decoration rather than actual things that have an impact on gameplay.”

Now from here you can clearly see that the paragraph has been tidied up. I don’t blame my editor for that, I can indeed ramble, but I felt this entire section was justified in the features it explained to readers. It’s one of the only times that I mention the platforming, which is something I really wanted to do a paragraph on, but couldn’t find a way to make it fit, so proceeded to add a little note into an already existing sentence. I felt it got the point across whilst not being offensive, and maintained the flow of the review as a whole, so it’s a shame this section was edited in this way, as it throws off the rest of the review.

Onto the next couple of paragraphs!

“Where most modern shooters have you focussing on the weapon with the left trigger, in DOOM there’s no need to zoom in. There’s no need to reload either. Instead there’s a new ‘gun mode’ system in place of the traditional left trigger zoom which activates a second mode on the currently equipped gun. For the assault rifle, for example, pressing the left trigger activates a missile mode which uses twice as much ammo but mows down demons like it’s nobody’s business. 

These weapon mods can be acquired from utility robots that are scattered throughout the game and can be upgraded using points unlocked by either defeating enemies or completing the aforementioned side objectives. Each mod has an upgrade tree which accumulates to a ‘master’ unlock, which naturally makes the weapon even more powerful. The upgrade tree also applies to your suit, should you find the necessary upgrade parts hidden in levels – from health and armour boosts to increased explosion resistance.”

And my original draft:

“The weapons you can use are a breath of fresh air in our current gaming world where every shooter is pushing us to “focus” on the weapon (including Halo!) by pressing the left trigger (on controllers). Not so with Doom, where every gun doesn’t need to reload (ever!) and there’s no need to zoom in. Given the speed you run throughout the levels, it would be crazy to have a smart zoom system, even so, it’s absence feels fantastic. In it’s place is a new “gun mode” system, when by pressing the traditional left trigger activates a second mode on the currently equipped gun. For the assault rifle for example, pressing the left trigger activates a missile mode which uses twice as much ammo, but my god does it mow down demons like nobodies business. 

These weapon mods can be found from utility robots throughout levels, and can be upgraded using points unlocked through either defeating enemies, or completing the aforementioned side objectives. Each mod has an upgrade tree which accumulate to a “master” unlock, which in all cases makes the weapon even more powerful. The upgrade tree also applies to your suit should you find the right upgrade parts hidden throughout levels – from health to armour to explosion resistance it all can be upgraded doing so makes for an overpowering feeling whilst taking on demons.

Yet again, the first paragraph is almost half as long, which, again, is fine if that’s what you like, but I feel there’s a lot of chopping were there doesn’t need to be. I was trying to put the fantastic mechanics of DOOM into a greater context of the industry at large, giving examples of the fact even Halo has gone down this “focus on the weapon” path. I also added the sentence about the speed of the game being at odds with a smart zoom feature, something I think players could do with knowing, as this gives context to an action they’re used to doing in other games, and one which isn’t present in DOOM.

The second paragraph in the above two examples thankfully doesn’t change much, and is a perfect example of editing done right – I rambled towards the end, and as a result the sentence was tidied up in the published version.

As before, I’m going to link the next two paragraphs together once again:

“Naturally, the campaign isn’t the only mode DOOM has to offer; there’s the obligatory multiplayer mode present and more interestingly a new ‘SnapMap’ mode. The former is what you’d expect from an iD title – fast, hectic, free-for-all multiplayer across numerous maps and game modes. Strangely, though, the multiplayer doesn’t feel as fast as the campaign or SnapMap modes, with the ‘hacks’ and weapons all feeling clunkier and more akin to other modern shooters. It is not DOOM at its best and is a case I fear of the developer shying away from the approach it took with the campaign

SnapMap mode is more appealing to me personally and I expect this will hook a great many players in the coming months and years. In this mode people can make their own custom maps and game types by utilising contextual information and most (though not all) of the assets from the campaign. Current early offerings from the community are raw but packed full of potential, from boss rushes, to story modes, and time trials, all with the same gameplay from the campaign but played with friends should you so wish. It reminds me somewhat of Left 4 Dead’s hectic and frantic mod scene on PC, where all-new stories and modes were crafted by the community.”

And my original draft of these very same two paragraphs:

“The campaign isn’t the only mode Doom has to offer, with a Multiplayer mode present and a new “snap map” mode. The former is what you’d expect from an ID title – fast, hectic crazy free-for-all multiplayer across multiple maps and multiple game modes. My only gripe with this mode is that it doesn’t feel as fast as the campaign or snap map mode, with the “hacks” and weapons all feeling clunky and more like modern FPS’s than a true representation of Doom in all it’s glory. It’s still enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but the multiplayer doesn’t hold a candle to the campaign.

As for the snap map mode, holy crap can I foresee this being something players come back to time and time again for the next few years. Put simply it’s a mode where people can make their own custom maps/modes, with contextual information and most (not all!) assets from the campaign being available. Current early offerings from the community include boss rushes, story modes, and time trials, all with the same gameplay from the campaign – albeit with friends should you wish. It reminds me of Left 4 Dead’s hectic and frantic mod scene, where all new stories and modes can come up from the community, and for that reason alone I look forward to seeing what comes of it.”

In the first paragraph I like how my editor has taken the entirety of what I was trying to say, and tidied it up into something more presentable. In doing so, we get the point the the multiplayer is still competent, but no where near as good as the campaign.

It’s in the second paragraph where I feel edits have been made that weren’t needed. My reasoning of putting “holy crap” was to truly show how mind blowing and fantastic the snap map mode truly was, something “is more appealing” fails to portray. Also, towards the end I really liked putting my personal feeling into the mode once more by saying I look forward to it’s future, giving readers good reason to believe that DOOM has legs that’ll carry it for years. It being taken out feels like I’m merely reading off a checklist.

This is where things become trick yin the comparison: I submitted another 4 paragraphs in my draft, but the published version only has another two. The next paragraph is my own, but was never put into the end review:

“It’s hard to state how damn additive this complete package is. Even before completing the campaign, I was quietly hoping that there would be a new game + so that I could jump straight back into the campaign on a hard difficulty and take on everything Hell had to throw at me with all my upgraded weapons. The satisfaction you get whilst traversing the world is genuinely enthralling, and whilst I got most collectibles during my initial play-through, I still wanted to go back to find more.”

I can kind of understand why this was taken out; what was said in this paragraph had already been said (in different ways) throughout the rest of the review thus-far. My intention in writing it was to drive the point home that the campaign and game as a whole was so exhilarating, so fantastic, and so damn addictive that even before finishing it I was hoping for more. It’s a shame its missing, as I feel it’s absence makes the next paragraph seemingly come out of nowhere:

“DOOM is also absolutely stunning. Everything is pristine and sharp, demons look beautifully gory, and the environments feature some fantastic particle effects which really help bring the action to life. It can get a little overwhelming at times; the fast action and explosions galore make for an extremely active screen, but it’s all planned destruction rather than random effects. The weapon sound effects are stand-out too, giving you a great sense of feedback. Finally the soundtrack, whilst actually quite sparse, is especially entertaining during intense battles when heavy metal booms out of your speakers.”

And the original draft (two paragraphs):

“Presentation wise, Doom is absolutely stunning. On PC at Ultra settings, everything is pristine and sharp, with demons looking as gory as ever, and environments having fantastic particle effects which really brings the action to life. It can get a little overwhelming at times; the fast action & explosions galore do make for a very active screen, but its all planned destruction rather than randomness, and makes for an entertaining adrenaline filled action sequence everytime you get into a fight with demon hordes.

On the topic of presentation, we also have the sound, which in Doom’s case is absolutely stellar. Every weapon’s sound effects are awe-inspiring, adding to the weapons feel and feedback. The music, whilst sparse, also helps to keep you entertained during intense battles, with heavy metal booming out of your speakers whilst you’re running around punching demons.

Here I am definitely not a fan of the removal of “PC at ultra settings” in the first paragraph of my draft. I included this tidbit, not to show of my machine, but to clarify that I was definitely playing on PC, and whilst I think the presentation is absolutely stellar, I was playing with specific settings.

As for the fact the two separate paragraphs were combined into one; I am not impressed. I felt DOOM’s intense sound and graphical prowess deserved a statement by themselves, something the published article subtracts from. As a result, the published paragraph just makes it feel like I added it purely to fill up space, when in fact I wanted to make valid points about how amazing DOOM’s graphical fidelity was in adding to it’s overall feel.

Finally we have the conclusion:

“DOOM is a more authentic Doom experience than many will have expected; it pays careful homage to shooters of yesteryear while – for the most part – only making minor concessions to the modern shooter era that most new players will be much more familiar with. It all then comes together to form a package that’s worthy of any gamer. The high-octane action will take some getting used to if you weren’t born and raised on old school shooters like most older Doom fans but it’s well worth the plunge regardless because DOOM really is great fun.”

and my draft version:

“Doom is a love letter to fans of the games from yester-year, taking the best advancements of the last 12 years, and putting them into a package worthy of any gamer. Should you take the plunge and buy Doom, be warned that the high-octane action will take some getting used to, but it’ll be worth it by the end. Given how much fun this “classic” form of gameplay has been, I’m concerned I may not be able to enjoy current FPS’ on the market, a testament if any to how grand and ridiculously fun Doom is.”

Here it seems my editor has gotten rid of my grandiose statements (I truly stand by my last sentence, playing DOOM has altered my perception of what makes a good FPS), and whilst a review is always going to be subjective, I hugely disagree with the direction the review took.

I’ll say it here and I’ll say it proud: DOOM is easily my GOTY of 2016 (so far). It is a genuinely amazing FPS, and has made me so excited for games again that I went around my family and friends telling them that they must play this just after completing it.

I wrote my draft with that excitement in mind, trying my best to portray that excitement through the medium of writing. Unfortunately, the edits toned my excitement down dramatically, meaning the end result, whilst fair, didn’t come across anywhere near as revolutionary as I believe DOOM is.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thank you! This has been a learning experience for myself, and I hope for you too. As can be seen throughout this article, small changes that one perceives to make the sentence work better can have a massive impact on the general tone of a review. When writing my draft, I wanted each paragraph to flow into each other, but with small cuts here and subtle sentence changes there my overall flow was completely disregarded.

If you take one thing away from this article, please let it be this:

What you read on a site is not necessarily what the original author intended. Subtle changes can have huge implications on the final message/tone of a written piece of work, so bear that in mind the next time a review enrages you or a news article takes on a political statement of it’s own.

I will always strive to be as transparent as possible when writing about games, and I hope this article helps in showing that.

Anyway! Massive thanks for reading, and especially to my editor who allowed me to do this.

Til next time!

-Dan

 

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