Quick-Time Events, and the Scourge Thereof

By Alec Meer on November 6th, 2007 at 11:38 am.

I’m aware this is probably a bit like asking “does anyone here like being stabbed in the eyeball?”, but I’m going to do it anyway, as in my fondest, craziest imaginings this post gets a few thousand concurring comments, every publisher and developer in the games industry realises the error of their ways as a result and never does it again.

So: hands up who likes Quick-Time Events (QTEs)?

Anyone?

OK, let’s put it another way. Hands up who hates QTEs?

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, you will be with the concept. It’s a sort of interaction/cut-scene mash-up in which you’re thrown into a scenario that doesn’t quite fit the usual rules and animations of the game you’re playing. For instance, Big Axe Dude can chop enemies with his big axe if you press the left-mouse button, or headbutt enemies with his big head with the right-mouse button, and that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing, because that’s what the game’s been built to support. But there isn’t a button for him to perform a backwards somersault off a cliff, land gracefully on a giant ogre’s ear, plunge the handle of his axe into it and eject the beast’s brain from its other lughole.

Either the game can bank on a non-interactive clip of the character performing this being cool enough that the player isn’t bothered that he’s not allowed to initiate this kind of awesomeness, or it can cheat. it does this by, again, playing a cutscene of such heroic endeavours, but intermittently flashes up specific instructions over it – press Up now, hammer Spacebar now. React too slowly or press the wrong button and you fail. Your usual control set is snatched away, often without warning, and you’re only permitted to press what’s shown on screen. Some guilty games allow some margin of error, but most dump you immediately back to the start of the QTE or to a Game Over screen if you miss even one.

The idea, it seems, is that being told exactly what to do, and being punished for not doing it with a start-over, somehow makes the player feel happily involved with the inflexible on-screen hi-jinks. It’s a bloody stupid idea if so, I reckon. What QTEs actually do is remind the player that they’re in a totally artificial situation with zero control over what they can do. Even if, elsewhen in the game, you’re Big Axe Dude wandering down an enclosed corridor full of identical goblins, you’ll still feel like you’re directing the show to an extent. Hit this goblin first or that one? Charge in, wait, skip to the left, what? In a QTE, you’re only allowed to do exactly what you’re told, which means really you’re not controlling the character at all. The character’s controlling you, almost. It’s Dragon’s Lair by any other name, recycling a 20-year-old binary mechanic to paper over the limitations and inherent repetition of a modern game, as a cheaper, easier alternative to creating a do-anything world in which the player could get up to that kind of stuff themselves.

They’ve become harrowingly common lately – the likes of Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy), Spider-Man 3 and Jericho are guilty of it, to name a few, and I know of at least one relatively high profile upcoming title that makes the same damn-fool mistake. It’s an especially common malaise for licensed titles, as it’s a simple way of showing a superheroic character doing something really superheroic, from pre-ordained camera angles to ensure it looks hugely cinematic, but in theory without totally abstracting the player from the events. So, I understand why games publishers, and the movie studios they presumably have to barter approval from to get the adaptation on the shelf, are partial to it. I suspect also that mega-selling titles (again, Spider-Man 3, and the God of War games on Playstation) that include them blind publishers to the fact that players may not like that facet of them.

Unfortunately, all a QTE actually does for me is make me aware of all the things I can’t do myself in the game. I didn’t mind so much when there were only a few of these things kicking around, but the regularity with which I seem to be encountering them of late is depressing. (To be clear – I’m talking about those QTEs where suddenly doing exactly what you’re told is the only option available to you for success, not where activating a specific prescripted sequence is just one of several possible methods to overcome your current obstacle).

OK, so once again:

Who likes Quick-Time Events?

And who hates Quick-Time Events?

Oh, if any developers want to chime in on why they feel this game mechanic is a positive thing, I’d be genuinely interested to hear the other side of the argument.

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105 Comments »

  1. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    “one relatively high profile upcoming title that makes the same damn-fool mistake”

    Hmmm…you wouldnt be thinking of Assassin’s Creed would you?

  2. Jebus says:

    No it’s that Naughty Dog game – Drake thingy

  3. Bozzley says:

    I don’t like them. Never have. As you’ve pointed out, one reason for using them is to enable the player’s character to perform a cool or unusual move they couldn’t usually do with the existing controls. But if you’re staring at the top of the screen for the split-second button prompt which lets you do the move in question, you can’t see the actual cool move. Which helps strip away things like immersion, suspension of disbelief, atmosphere, and things of that nature.

    One solution is to have a context-sensitive “special move” button, which when pushed triggers the cool looking move from a different camera angle like QTEs do. It still offers a bit of eye candy, it’s started by a button press (helps keep the player involved, even though it’s a token gesture), and depending on context can either be as quick as a normal move, or offer a very brief respite from the usual game mechanic.

    I now have a headache.

  4. Daniel Puzey says:

    A QTE isn’t that different from other game mechanics, except that it’s a one-off combo. The failure criteria for these is often a little harsh, but it’s no different to any other repetitive “boss” gameplay mechanic. It’s also something that allows an above-average visual “reward”, since most people want to see their hero character doing ridiculous acrobatics – beyond what could be sensibly mapped to a control-pad.

    In the case of God Of War (the only game you mentioned that I’ve played thoroughly), the boss QTEs are the only ones that you have to execute correctly. In this respect they’re no different to any other typical boss battle (most of which boil down to “repeat X sequence of moves until the boss dies”).

    Pretty much everything else is killable with regular attacks, though the QTEs provide a quicker kill – and they’re still treated as enemy-specific combos that you can choose to execute whenever you like, against whichever foe you choose. In that way, they’re actually an improvement over regular gameplay: I can execute a “fatality” without having to memorize some obscure control combo.

    I wouldn’t want to see them replace innovation in character control and combat but – as a step up from cutscenes or random button-mashing, I’m not complaining.

  5. Jon says:

    I always thought Shenmue had it spot on with the QTE thing. Even the showy fighty bits were interesting to at least be a bit of a part of, and a lot of them were like ‘pay attention to a football’ or something daft like that.

    If I had to choose between having them or not having them, I’d say nay, sirrah.

  6. nickski says:

    as soon as the first one arrived on the jericho demo i switched it off and vowed NEVER to buy the game, a PC is not a console, and I hate being made to play as though i’m on a console, port or no. lazy LAZY developers. The lack of a quick save function has a similar effect, had to dial down the difficulty on MoH Airborne because of it, which means I’ve raced through the whole thing, no challenge, no fun!

  7. schizoslayer says:

    I’m a games developer and I absolutely despise these things for all the reasons given in the main article.

    Interactive Cutscenes are not videogames or even slightly related to the reasons people play videogames.

    Interactive entertainment is about choice. Sometimes it’s an illusion of choice like in Half Life and Portal but at no point is it ever about pressing buttons because you’ve been told to and not pressing them will result in a designer coming around your house and slapping you in the face with his cock.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    As another commentator notes, they worked okay in God of War for the actual minor baddies.

    KG

  9. Babs says:

    What really annoys me about these on PC is that I’ve seen games where thay haven’t bothered replacing the indicators from the console version (I think Tomb Raider Legends did this).

    WHAT KEY IS THE FUCKING TRIANGLE? Oh, wait, now I’m dead.

  10. Brog says:

    I’ve never encountered one of these. Maybe because I don’t have enough time to play every game so I only spend it on those that have been highly recommended to me.

  11. Sean Noonan says:

    They’re an age old concept that should stay in the past.

    Although a quaint idea for a time when cinematic maneuvers were not only limited by hardware but by player controls aswell, we’re in a time of near real time Toy Story (!!!) and dual analogue sticks… there’s no need for this repetetive nonesense any longer.

    For those who disagree, I strongly urge you to play through the demo of Jericho as soon as possible…

  12. Alec Meer says:

    Heh – guess I now can name three upcoming games that include it…

    And yeah, agree on God of War’s already-in-the-fray mini-QTEs, because they’re more like a combo you instigate yourself than the game suddenly snatching your existing control set away.

  13. Jae Armstrong says:

    They worked okay in Resi 4, I think. Although if I remember correctly you had to hit one, maybe two buttons in any given sequence.

    Contrariwise, the parry attacks (do these count? :s) in Wind Waker were rather irritating, and the corresponding (entirely player controlled) moves in Twilight Princess were a hundred times as fun.

    None of those examples are from the PC, however. In fact, I don’t think I’ve come across anything like it anywhere else, so the problem can’t be that widespread.

  14. AbyssUK says:

    I don’t like them being thrown at me unexpectedly.. although some great games where just QTE.. like that driving game on the MegaCD it ruled!!

  15. Kieron Gillen says:

    That was going to be my comment – you saying a fail/succeed by following a set row of keys is a bad thing also applies to fighting-game combos as well. Of course, the key difference – and why GoW’s minor QTE work as well – is that it’s an option for dealing with something rather than the ONLY option.

    KG

  16. Incognito_gbg says:

    QTE can be annoying, but I liked it in Fahrenheit. The QTE-sequences served their purpose by adding some more adrenaline-pumped scenes without having to rely on some mediocre fighting-scenes like those in Dreamfall.

    There were perhaps a bit to much of it, but they were simple and effective.

  17. fluffy bunny says:

    My pet peeve is the cut-scenes that re-write history. Say you’ve just spent the last five minutes killing a boss, using the standard gameplay mechanics and all, and when you’re done, you’re “rewarded” with a cut-scene of you doing the exact same thing, only in a more cinematic way.

    Or cut-scenes that actually change what happened. I recently completed a certain game which I won’t name (don’t worry, none of you will have played it, so it won’t spoil anything). It’s a party-based thing, and the last battle had all my heroes and my army fighting against some huge demon an his army. I did it without any damage to any of my heroes, but when the end sequence showed the same battle, it didn’t just alter the way it was fought, it killed two of my heroes as well! Argh!

  18. Andrew says:

    I think Fahrenheit got away with it by making sure they weren’t insta-fail like in other games. You had to fuck up quite royally before you’d die, most of the time.

    I really wasn’t expecting them in Resi 4 so I died horribly the very first time one appeared.

  19. Alec Meer says:

    (I’ve edited in a clarification about optional QTEs, as it’s an important distinction I should have mentioned originally).

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    Andrew: I dunno. I recall that roof-top sequence just being a string of insta-fails. I was playing it on XBox, and that final run – when you had to try and escape the helicopter – I simply couldn’t do due to my hands no longer being able to move the enormous heavy XBox Triggers due to playing the game all day. I even resorted to passing the controller to my GF to do that bit.

    KG

  21. Andrew says:

    The one bit I remember as being horrendous in Fahrenheit was the hallucinatory apartment-destruction sequence. I was playing on PC using the numpad and arrow keys for these bits, of course.

    Oh, and I don’t actually like QTEs. No. But Fahrenheit’s worked well overall, I think. Better than many other games’ efforts.

  22. Feet says:

    They’re pants. They were pants in Farenheit and they were pants in Tomb Raider Anniversary.

    Pants.

    Question is, are they pantserer than just watching a cut-scene?

  23. Dracko says:

    QTEs are just FMV games all over again. Why we tolerate this, I haven’t a clue.

    And God of War is highly over-rated, in that respect.

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    Feet makes a key point: Fahrenheit couldn’t have existed without QTE. While being included in – say – Jericho is one thing, this is simply a game which couldn’t existed in any way without them. And I kinda like Fahreneheit, y’know…

    KG

  25. F'yth says:

    Heh, the big axe dude killing the ogre thing reminded me very much of the first boss fight in Prince of Persia: Two Thrones. It wasn’t actually a bad memory either, as I loved the QTEs in that game. That being said, its the only game I’ve played (that I can think of), that uses QTEs.

    I liked it because no matter how many times I attempted it, I’d enjoy watching (and executing) the sequence. Also, the quick killing mode was limited only to stealth kills and boss killing. You could play most of the game without making use of the system, but in my opinion it just makes the game so much more fun to play.

    I really enjoyed being able to wall-run/leap to a more suitable position, with the intentions of dispatching the lot before they were able to call reinforcements. It gave me the ability to pull off awesome moves that I wouldn’t otherwise possibly be able to execute. I mean, even if some developer gave me the option to summersault and kill quickly outside of QTEs, I probably wouldn’t use them. Heck, Two Thrones had a fair bunch of attack moves/finisher moves, and yet I only used five or six pre-memorised moves over and over and over again.

    Quite frankly I found the entire speed killing (as Two Thrones called it) experience to be made of pure awesome. Though when you failed, the monster would toss you to the ground and proceed with the killing. That being said, I can see how it would be awfully frustrating if the click spots aren’t implemented in an intuitive manner. However, in Two Thrones it was almost as though you could feel when you had to interact.

    As a result – in my mind – the speed killing sequences became like an elegant dance of death. It’d be an overwhelming sense of achievement if pulled off flawlessly. Though it’d be capable of evoking a horrific sense of dissapointment; in the case of failure.

  26. Simon says:

    And in shenmue, failing a QTE didn’t mean a restart, but that the sequence would play out along another path. Fail to hit the button in time to hit an attacker would simply mean you got hit, but then got turned around by that punch and then had the oppertunity to attack another character in a group fight, for instance.

  27. CrashT says:

    Babs: Tomb Raider: Legend didn’t do that, it replaced the console buttons with the movement keys and prompted you with arrows.

  28. essell says:

    “Interactive Cutscenes are not videogames or even slightly related to the reasons people play videogames.”

    Bit of a generalisation there, no?

    I like a good interactive cutscene (to use the incredibly vague, almost meaningless term), when they’re used and executed appropriately. Alec’s previous post about the start of CoD4 is a testiment to how they can be cool, interesting, and provoke strong reactions.

    The QTE is just another tool that has potential to be used well, but unfortunately, often isn’t. Like Kieron points out (that someone else pointed out), God of War is good example of how they can be used well. I thought some of Fahrenheit’s use of them was good and interesting (although some of it obviously wasn’t). They were fun in Die Hard Arcade.

    I suspect there are lots of mechanics in games – stuff that everyone here likes and takes for granted – that could technically be classed as QTE, only we don’t notice them. How many times in games do we have to press something specific within a certain timelimit, in order to succeed?

    At the end of the day the QTE debate is usually based on a very narrow stereotype of what they actually are, or can be. To write them off completely is just to close yourself off from some potentially interesting ideas.

  29. Monkfish says:

    I’ve loathed QTEs on a molecular level since the day I wasted my pocket money “playing” Dragon’s Lair.

  30. Jarmo says:

    I bought the Dragon’s Lair on CD-ROM and persisted until I could finish the game without cheating, and it was fun. Maybe QTE is not so bad when it is your only option, the sole game mechanic. You don’t miss full control so much when you never had it.

    I own Fahrenheit but haven’t yet gotten around to it, so I haven’t played other games with QTE. I can only speculate that abruptly taking free control away from the player and compounding this with sudden death certainly sounds like a fail.

  31. Simon says:

    A nice illustration on how qte’s can be done well, at least the theory behind it as the actual implementation is less then stellar would be comparing the two manhunt games.
    In the original manhunt you could defeat enemies by engaging them in a melee fight or by going for a stealth kill. The melee fight was pretty standard, the stealth kill would instantly dispatch an enemy in a cutscene. In manhunt 2 the cutscene has been replaced by a qte. Now there the qte is not a forced event, it’s simply another move in the players arsenal for the game, it is the player who chooses to use it instead of the other moves as it is appripriate to the situation. The same with the earlier mentioned special kills in the prince of persia games, or the things you can do to some of the smaller enemies in God of War. Or at a very basic level in Yakuza even.

  32. Jarmo says:

    Monkfish, I would not have played Dragon’s Lair on a coin-operated arcade machine. There are limits to my masochism.

  33. CrashT says:

    In fact now I think about it the QTE section in TRL almost exclusively involved you using the same keys to perform specific actions as you would in normal play, albeit during a “cut-scene” (Though it only works that way on the console; like I said all button presses are converted to movement directions for the PC version – even is using a controller).

    Ala, you’d have a sequence where you needed to jump, duck, and then jump and use the grapple. A sequence of moves you’d perform often in the game itself and using exactly the same keys, but only now you’d be doing it from a more cinematic camera angle. As such those QTE sections were far less disruptive than the ones where you are asked to press an arbitrary key.

    There’s really two types of QTE (Ignoring optional and required), and that’s the ones that use the same combination each time and those that use different combinations each time. The former allow some degree of mastery, especially if you are performing the same sequence several times, and therefore can actually feel like you’ve learn a particular skill; they are akin to learning specific combos in a fighting game. The latter just feel arbitrary and generally frustrating.

    That said I don’t hate QTEs, I think they are generally unnecessary, but when used well ala GoW or even TRL they can actually feel like I’m doing something beyond simply hammering an attack button or watching a cutscene.

  34. Leo says:

    Spider-Man 3 is the greatest game ever made.

  35. Alec Meer says:

    While I know it’s an easy mark, I think I’m pretty clear on the kind of QTE I meant, to be honest. If it’s something that blends into the palette of the rest of the game, it’s unlikely to feel so jarring or obnoxious as the kind of situation I describe.
    Fahrenheit’s interesting because, by a certain point you’re accustomed to QTEs driving most of the action. While my hands hurt doing it and I’d much rather a return to the early game’s puzzles, I pretty much knew that was what the game was now. So I didn’t scream in misery as much as I did in Jericho, which pops them up at entirely unexpected times, with no warning as to whether it’s yet another of its million cutscenes or a QTE. You’ve usually failed at one of its QTEs and had it restart on you before you’ve even quite realised it is a QTE.

  36. CrashT says:

    Alec aren’t you just narrowing the list of “the type of QTEs you mean” down until it’s bascially Jericho? :p

  37. King Awesome says:

    I loath QTE and cry a little inside everytime I see a new game using them.

    Firstly, they reek of faddish. God of War is doing it so we all have to now. They are no longer new or interesting everyon by now must have played at least three games that use these. Secondly, as I’m tensing up waiting for button presses I can’t watch your expensive cutscene. Thirdly, I hate repeating the same thing over and over again.

    They have become so commonplace that you never know when one will crop up. I was hoping Farenheit would be an interesting story driven adventure, which it was, until I was continually roused from my relaxed adventuring slump position (keeps the thinking juices flowing) to button mash my way furiously through another piece of game that would have been more satisfying as a thougtful think piece. I like that the game was experimenting with new ideas in general but I think that the QTE’s were a failure with me.

    As noted above there are degrees of failure, Resident Evil 4 and God of War managed to make the QTE’s sparse, optional or simple enough that they were not so much of a burden. In both cases however I would have preferred another mechanic.

  38. Alec Meer says:

    Oi. It’s just a noteworthy recent example of the kind of thing I mean. And just cos Fahreneit’s aren’t quite as horrible doesn’t mean they aren’t horrible.

  39. Xander says:

    *Hands up.*

    Yeah, I like them because they bring back fuzzy warm memories of Shenmue, the Best Console Game Ever.

    As others have said above, Shenmue did QTEs right.

  40. essell says:

    Alec: your last post points to Jericho’s mistake of radical inconsistency and shit design, rather than a inherent flaw with QTEs.

  41. Alec Meer says:

    Yes it does, and that’s the kind of game I’m talking about. But I should have said “for instance, Jericho…” It’s about the context and the implementation, and Jericho’s far from alone in it.

    Something like DDR or Guitar Hero, which is built entirely upon QTEs, is a different matter.

  42. King Awesome says:

    …but isn’t exactly that the inherent flaw of QTEs ?

    If they aren’t sudden and inconsistent (and a bit shit) they aren’t QTEs they are Guitar Hero.

  43. King Awesome says:

    /me quietly leaves Alec’s mind.

  44. schizoslayer says:

    To eleaborate slightly: QTEs are at their very worst when the game wants to play a cutscene and has arbitrarily taken away your normal controls and presented you with a series of button mashes or an instafail (Jericho I’m looking at you).

    Re: Fighting game combos – The important distinction is choice. You have chosen to start the combo and and take up the challenge of completing that sequence of button presses. You haven’t had a developer come along, steal your controls and camera and forced you to execute a series of arbitrary button presses to continue the game at all in the name of something looking cool or cinematic.

    Cool after all doesn’t directly equate to fun. Dragons Lair played start to end is cool to watch. It’s not fun to play though until you can do it perfectly without mistake.

    To throw the floor open: Guitar Hero is that an entire game that is a QTE? Or is the important distinction here that missing a single note doesn’t automatically result in the developer cock slap?

  45. Kieron Gillen says:

    Oh yeah! Just remembered the great exception to the QTE mechanism = nob.

    QTE=Guitar Hero.

    (I used to argue that Rhythm Action games weren’t actually games at all – i.e. They’re just rote copying of what a machine tells you rather than the complicated input/output mechanisms of “real” games. But that was me being a little deluded.)

    KG

  46. Alec Meer says:

    I worry we’re approaching a semantic debate as to whether the term ‘QTE’ should mean all timing-based do-or-fail challenges. As far as I’m concerned in this post, it doesn’t, but I can understand why some might feel I’m stereotyping.

  47. schizoslayer says:

    I say we establish that this is a thread about Jericho styled “CockSlapQTEs” and move on.

  48. King Awesome says:

    Yes a QTE is basically when a game, starts a cutscene and then without warning throws largely arbitary button prompts at you.
    Some games that have this mechanic in have been good.

    Very rarely, if ever, is it because of this mechanic that they are good. I would argue that in fact most good games are made worse by it and occasionally completely ruined.

    Guitar Hero/Rock Band are completely awesome.

  49. Feet says:

    Guitar Hero is a rhythm action game, and an excellently fun one at that. It doesn’t ever change the rules.

    Quick Time, key word here, Events. A special set of circumstances where the developer has to change the damned rules that they set in the first place to progress the story while still “involving” the player.

    There’s worth in defining it, so you know where to apply it and where not.

    Also I don’t think Fahrenheit should have an excuse, all the “action” bits were QTE’s it’s true so in a sense they weren’t changing the rules, and I guess I can’t offer an alternative of how they could have involved the player and further the plot without them, considering the nature of the rest of the game. Still they were the worst parts.

    I just really don’t like them. ¬__¬

  50. wiper says:

    (I used to argue that Rhythm Action games weren’t actually games at all – i.e. They’re just rote copying of what a machine tells you rather than the complicated input/output mechanisms of “real” games. But that was me being a little deluded.)

    Randomly had a conversation with someone last night where they explained that racing games and shmups are pretty much the same as rhythm action games – follow a set ‘course’ through to the end – with us concluding that all such games are actually pretty much the same thing as actual real-life dancing, where the pleasure comes in learning to do them ‘right’. Clearly, QTE’s belong to this style of play also (and possibly fighting games, to a certain extent).

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