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Aaron Pierce

April 9, 2009

5 Min Read

After a highly enjoyable conversation with Christopher Wragg over on my Immersive Gameplay blog post, I've been thinking about Quick Time Events (QTEs). Before I delve into my rant about them and why I don't use them, I'd just like to say that if you use them, awesome. Use them well. There's no doubt that they've made there way into the common-place in the game design industry. They don't work for me as a major game mechanic, and I'm just explaining why here. I'd love to hear you feedback, though! Try and convince me otherwise :D

My colleague Christopher pointed out on the Immersive Gameplay thread that a QTE is better than a forced cut-scene where you lose complete control of the game. I completely agree with that. Giving the player any form of interaction is far better than stealing all control from him. However, essentially, all the quick time even does is allow him to choose which cutscene he sees. "Press X!" and you'll see the success cut screen. Fail to do so, and you see the failure cut scene. Granted, this gives the player more interaction, but... isn't it still a bit clunky?

Let's take a look at realy life. Let's say you're walking down a street on the bad side of town, and a bad guy jumps out at you to mug you... how jarring would it be to that moment to have everything FREEZE and a giant "PRESS X!" message come up? Oh! You didn't press it fast enough, you get mugged. Okay, so it's a silly example, but I think you get the point. 

A prime example of a game falling short due to quicktime events was Bioshock.Throughout the whole game I was fighting big daddys, and peeing my pants. TOUGH fights! I had to WORK to win those fights (still never managed to kill of a big daddy without dying at least ONCE). But when I got to the final boss fight, I was really disappointed. It was just another Big Daddy fight with a QTE mixed in. To me, this is lazy game design. Make me fight the villain, or make me do something to destroy him! I would have much rather had to fight him off while I fought to bring down the glass canopy of rapture around us, or tried to trick him into a seat-of-my-pants trap! 

Instead, I got a Big Daddy with a QTE. Bummer. 

Too often I see QTEs used like this, not as a time saver for the player, but as a major game mechanic that breaks the flow of the game and doesn't contribute to the players sense of involvement. An example of a good use of a GTE is also in BioShock. When you defeat a Big Daddy that's guarding the little sister, you have a QTE pop up. Kill, or save? You make the choice and then you're done. That works because trying to add another control option, or  a complicated series of button presses (or WORSE, a "take her to this place and use it to save her" type of setup) would have been clunky and cumbersome. 

To truly create an immersive game, you can't jar the flow of the gameplay. If I'm fighting the final boss, I don't want to get a "Press X!" prompt, so my character does an awesome move and kills the boss, or even a "Press X to kill, Press Y to spare!" type of thing. I want that integrated into the gameplay. I fight the boss to a certain point and he falls over. His weak spot is exposed... I attack that I kill him, and the story is effected in that way. I hit him in his head, I simply render him unconscious, and that effects my gameplay. In doing it this way, I don't stop the flow. I continue to let the player play the game - to let HIM kill the boss, instead of watching someone else do it. 

For almost 25 years now, timing and skill were a part of gameplay. Wouldn't it have seemed ridiculous for Mario to pause and say "Press A to cut Bowsers bridge!"? Totally. It was always about skill, timing, practice, and dying a ridiculous amount of times. But the thing was, you always knew your death was YOUR fault. It wasn't that the QTE screen came up for too short of a time, it was because you didn't get enough of a running start, or you jumped to late, or something else. That's what spurred you to try again, the "if only I hadn't..." feeling. That's what made those games so great, and why they're still loved today. 

In my oppinion, - and it's really only that, my oppinion - I think QTEs are lazy game design, or the products of not enough time in a schedule to finish something more complex. As indie designers, we have a lot more say over our produciton schedule, which means we have no reason to succumb to design shortcuts. Let's get back to the old ways, when you really beat the boss, you really made the jumps, you were the hero, not just the player. Make a game that people love, not just one that people play. 

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