Quick Time Events won’t go away, so let’s fix them!
[Continued] Page 2
The QTE Game
QTE games are a different beast entirely. Whereas a QTE moment in a game can feel out-of-place or unexpected, a QTE game is built entirely around the mechanic of following button prompts. It takes balls to create an entire game around a mechanic that most people find pretty irritating, but in the best examples it actually works.
The Walking Dead is probably the most recent example of a QTE game done right. It features some exploration and puzzle solving, but the QTE moments allow Telltale to weave a narrative and move the plot along when they want. The game isn’t about combat, so it abbreviates it and simplifies it, using simple button prompts to get you back to the story. The timed dialogue choices even play out like a bit of storytelling through QTEs.
Where The Walking Dead seems to include QTEs as a means to an end, Asura’s Wrath and Heavy Rain are all-in on the idea. Both games aim to make QTEs enjoyable and meaningful, with failed actions resulting in branching story paths or loss of health rather than punitive Game Over screens. Successful actions tend to match well with the events onscreen and feel rewarding.
Not all examples of QTE games are good, though. Before The Walking Dead, Telltale shat out the shameful Jurassic Park, which strung together endless, groan-inducing QTE sequences one after another. Before Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream’s Indigo Prophecy had a similar issue, with overly long QTE sequences and actions that had little or nothing to do with the events on screen.
The Verdict: At this point a game developer should really know what they’re doing if they’re going to commit to this. It takes dedication to pull it off.
The Button-Mashing QTE
Even if a game avoids all other QTEs, almost every game these days has some form of button-mashing sequence. Whether it’s Kratos opening a treasure chest, Joel from The Last of Us lifting a garage door, or Solid Snake crawling through a giant microwave oven, button mashing is one mechanic that shows up everywhere.
Unlike traditional QTEs, there’s actually solid justification for button mashing, as it puts the player in the character’s shoes, simulating the struggle to accomplish something that takes strength or determination. At the same time, smart design is still important to pull off these sequences, as they can often feel like a required annoyance rather than a desperate struggle.
I’ll often hit a button-mashing sequence and casually tap the button a few times because I know that a game probably isn’t asking the most out of me. However, when I was one jammed door away from a tension-filled stealth section in The Last of Us, you can be sure I was jamming on that button like it was my life on the line. That's how you make a button-mashing QTE work.
The Verdict: Only use button-mashing if you can convince the player it’s their struggle too.
The Tasteful QTE
A tasteful QTE is a sequence that’s so smartly designed that it ascends past button prompts and timing and can safely be called good gameplay. Take the combat in the Batman Arkham games, for example. If you boil it down, the combat is simply an exercise in hitting the appropriate buttons at the appropriate times, much like a QTE. The actions of Batman and the enemies are more cinematic because the mechanics take some control from the player in favor of cool animation. What Batman shows is that you can have cinematic sequences while making the player feel like they’re in control and performing meaningful actions at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds and it completely eliminates the need for traditional QTEs.
Dead Space has cinematic moments in which you’re given limited control of Isaac in favor of cool things happening, but instead of reducing gameplay to a flashing button prompt, the player must still use the mechanics they’ve been using all along. When a giant Necromorph grabs hold of Isaac, the player naturally readies their weapon and takes shots at the weak spot, despite the cinematic feel of the sequence. These sequences are tasteful because they play out like QTEs but use the same gameplay mechanics the player uses throughout the game.
The Final Verdict: Unless it’s some justified button-mashing or a game built entirely around QTEs, most QTE sequences feel out of place and annoying to the player. They’re busy playing one game, and then suddenly this other game is shoved down their throat. The best way to have your cinematic excitement and gameplay all in one isn’t to throw a giant button prompt at the player, but to build a dramatic sequence around the gameplay. The more cohesive the experience, the better a game feels, and QTEs are often anything but cohesive.
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