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Quick-Time Events, and the Scourge Thereof

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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Alec Meer

Senior Editor

Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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