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QTE: All the strategy of Simon with all the frustration of Dragon's Lair

Why QTE is a step in the wrong direction.

This topic has been discussed many times before, but we have seen an increased amount of Quick Time Events in many of the major releases over the past few months, and the trend seems to be increasing. 

Quick Time Events, for those who don’t already know, are those moments in modern videogames where the player is asked to perform a quick button press to trigger a sequence of events needed to advance in the game.  We first saw these events with games like Shenmue, and became very popular after God of War.   

QTE originally came mainly out of a need to have the player’s avatar perform actions that cannot be performed during normal gameplay, and also as a way to let players interact with a CG sequence they normally would only be able to watch.  Today it seems QTE is just another part of normal gameplay, and this trend does not move the industry forward, in fact it is a step backwards.

When I was a kid, we had a standalone handheld game called Simon.  It was an electronic device with four colored buttons, the buttons would light in sequence, asking the player to repeat the sequence to pass the game, only to be followed with a longer sequence.  Very popular at the time, but by today’s standards is neither fun nor compelling. 

We also had an arcade stand up called Dragon’s Lair that played a series of pre-recorded animated sequences the player would control by providing a correct or incorrect input.  The player never had any actual control over the character, only the sequence of pre-recorded video.  The technology at the time was groundbreaking, but ended up being very frustrating to actually try and play.  From a design perspective, QTE is no different than the combination of these two games.  People have argued otherwise, but I disagree.

What really prompted this is my recent experience with Dante’s Inferno, but I want to make clear that I am not badmouthing any game I mention, in fact all the games I will mention I have bought and recommended, it’s just the QTE element that I have issue with.  Dante’s Inferno is such a perfect example of what I am talking about because it does such a good job with everything else. 

The theme and setting is intriguing, the graphics are outstanding, the art direction is top notch, and the action oriented gameplay feels smooth and natural, until you get to the bosses and sub-bosses, then it is Dragon’s Lair/Simon all over again.  It feels completely unnatural to hack and slash your way to a boss, only to have to beat it with a round of Simon.  This is even a far cry from the worst QTE offenders, like for example, RE5 and other games that build their QTE into what looks like at first to be nothing more than a passive CG sequence. 

CG sequences are also something I am not a fan of, but as a player it feels cheap when the end of a CG sequence turns into a QTE, because most players I know use those CG moments as an excuse to put down your controller, crack your knuckles, and sip your beverage of choice.  Making a player press “X” in a 3 second window is not good gameplay, and does nothing to add to the overall experience. 

The least annoying recent QTE was in Darksiders, because if you miss the sequence, you’re still in the game fighting until you get another chance, and some QTE are optional, giving you a bonus if you do it right, but without penalty if you do not.  Some games, like the recent Heavy Rain, rely heavily on QTE.  With Heavy Rain, I agree that this is a groundbreaking title, and some of the QTE feels natural, but for the most part I still feel like I’m playing Simon.

I understand fully that there will be occasion to have the player’s avatar perform actions too complex for a normal control scheme, and also the need to make CG more interactive, but QTE is a step in the wrong direction.

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