Copping out: Quick Time Events

Quick time events. Press the required buttons quickly or face the consequences. They are frustrating, they don’t bring anything to the table and most importantly, they are not interesting in the gameplay department. Why do developers keep using them? The buttons pressed never have anything to do with what’s going on on the screen, sometimes they are poorly implemented so they take you by surprise and kill you in the most unfair way known to mankind and sometimes they are a nice distraction that changes the pace of things a bit.

Hurl at floor when frustrated.
Hurl at floor for frustration relief.

The most obvious addition it has to offer is that it makes player’s focus on the screen instead of just lazily watching things happen. The problem here is that they are not interested in what’s actually happening, instead they are just focusing on when the next screen promt will pop up. Sometimes they will miss what was happening, and sometimes quite the contrary due to having watched the same sequence over and over again because they always miss at some point.

This type of minigame was designed especifically to test the player’s reflexes. There’s not much skill or thought required, you just play a Simon Says minigame for a few seconds with a simple binary output: win/fail. Granted I’m generalizing here, this type of punishment/reward isn’t mandatory. QTEs could very well be implemented with only minor stackable punishment for every failed button press. But that’s besides the point.

As I was saying, QTEs are designed to test the player’s reflexes, which clashes drastically with the rest of the gameplay most of the time. The Force Unleashed for PSP uses QTEs and I have to say I don’t like it one bit. It has only a binary output, it’s only used for “finishing moves” and the like, and it has nothing to do with the rest of the gameplay. At least it’s used throughout the whole game, making it a constant, something I cannot say about Uncharted for PS3 (from what I heard at least, I haven’t played it due to a distinct lack of PS3, so I can’t say too much about that one).

Fine example of a cop out.
A fine example of a cop out.

I have to ask again, why do developers keep using QTEs? Well, I think it’s a cop-out, because they can’t think of any other way to add cinematic flair to the gameplay. However, this doesn’t mean that QTEs are an inherently bad feature, it really depends on the implementation and the situation in which it’s used. Sometimes it’s there because the developers couldn’t think of a better way to handle a situation inside the engine. Sometimes it’s there because they hate cutscenes and what they represent, so they try to inject interactivity without giving it much thought. And sometimes it’s there because it’s a core part of the gameplay, because it’s something the game was design around, because it’s fundamental and actually representative of what’s happening on the screen. This last one intrigues me, and I have to say Indigo Prophecy/Farenheit came really close to it (just in the first half of the game, the rest was bullcrap). This game was made to feel like a movie, it had minigames apart from QTEs that relied on reflexes and other traits, it was actually fitting well with the rest of the gameplay. As a matter of fact, they aren’t just minigames, they are the base of the whole game, so I think they should deserve a better name. Maybe sub-game?

Sadly, for most of the rest of the industry, it’s a poorly thought cop-out. The developers keep relying on it to show “really cool” things to the player with a cinematic flair…. which they can’t do anywhere else. It’s exactly like the disconnection between the cinematic acrobatics happening on a cutscene and the ones available to the player in normal gameplay. Sometimes it even looks like the characters are mocking the player (Dante: “You can’t make me do any of these cool moves and jumps when you control me, look at how free I am, look at me, look at how much awesome I could potentially be in your hands but never will be.”). It’s like playing a Super Mario game and then a QTE plays in which you see Mario ripping off heads while doing wall runs and impossible jumps just to look cool and cinematic.

Is there any other good example? =/
Is there any other positive example? =/

In a few words, the feature has a lot of potential if used properly in an adequate scenario with proper motifs and gameplay cohesion. Some games have come close to this but the vast mayority uses it as a cop-out for including cinematic flair. Stop it. Now. Please.


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