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Quick Time Events won’t go away, so let’s fix them!

Ryse: Son of Rome Screenshot - Quick Time Event

From their humble beginnings in Dragon’s Lair to the groan-inducing E3 demo for Ryse: Son of Rome, quick time events just won’t go away. The QTE is almost universally reviled by audiences, yet they continue to pop up in game after game. They’re a shortcut to cinematic action, allowing the player to participate in a moment that can’t be replicated in traditional gameplay, but no one seems to like them. Yet in the unrelenting quest to create gaming’s “Citizen Kane moment,” it seems developers won’t let the QTE go.

I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So let’s discuss the good and bad of QTEs and see if we can’t settle on a way to do them that everyone is okay with.

The classic QTE

God of War Classic QTE example

Your bread-and-butter QTEs are the ones that are sprinkled throughout moments that would otherwise be unplayable cutscenes. They were popularized by Resident Evil 4 and God of War, and, depending on their implementation, they’re either empowering or the most infuriating thing in the world.

In God of War, the things you’re doing as a result of successful button presses are generally so ridiculously badass that you take the bad mechanics for granted. In this one instance, the spectacle overrides the shallow gameplay.

But in Resident Evil 4, and most other games that use this QTE style, it’s usually more like an unpleasant surprise. You just got through a battle, the cutscene starts, and you immediately relax. One of the best justifications for cutscenes is to simply give the player a breather, but an unexpected QTE in this relaxed state might be the biggest kick in the pants a game can offer.

The Verdict: The classic QTE may give the player some agency in the spectacle of a crazy cutscene, but cutscenes are supposed to be a chance to rest. They should stay that way.

The Out-of-place QTE

Injustice out of place QTE example

Quick Time Events have become so ubiquitous in games that they’re added without a second thought. They’ve become part of the language to the point where they’re used in games unexpectedly, frivolously, without warning, and in genres they simply have no business in.

Remember Me, for example, has three or four sudden button prompt moments in the entire game. They’re so sporadically placed that I often had the controller on my lap when the prompts appeared, or I simply didn’t even notice the button prompt because I wasn’t looking for it.

Injustice has even more unnecessary QTEs in its story mode. Not only is a fighting game more or less a hugely complicated series of QTEs anyway, but the silly QTE sequences in Injustice weren’t remotely cinematic or interesting. Sure, NetherRealm probably just wanted to mix things up a bit, but they could have found a million better ways to do it.

Even worse was the inclusion of a handful of QTE moments in Halo 4. The series had survived five entries without overblown cinematic moments featuring giant onscreen button prompts, and their addition felt like developer 343 caving to some “standards and practices for designing a triple-A shooter” memo. The real kicker here is that the series already had its most cinematic (and playable) sequence with Halo CE's final Warthog run.

The Verdict: Don’t ever throw QTEs in your game just because everybody else does.  

The Co-op QTE

Resident Evil 5 co-op QTE example

Resident Evil 5 took the gameplay of Resident Evil 4 and added a co-op experience that was a lot of fun. Then they went way too far by adding cooperative QTEs. There’s nothing like pulling off yet another annoying QTE moment only to fail anyway because your online partner on the other side of the country was taking a sip of beer. There's no excuse for this and co-op games just shouldn't have them at all.

The Verdict: Just don’t. EVER EVER EVER. Online QTEs are seriously the worst.

[Continue to Page 2 for more examples and the final verdict on QTEs]

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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Games: Ryse: Son of Rome

Tags: Quick Time Events

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