Press A to Go Back to Enjoying the Gameplay.

by Steve Bowler on March 31, 2008 · 3 comments

in critique,design,user interface

You mean I can press B repeatedly?  No, Neo, I'm saying that someday, you won't have to.

Ah, the Quick Time Event.  How do I love thee?  Not very much, honestly.  There was a time when I did love them, back when they were first born in the games Dragon’s Lair and the slightly lesser known Space Ace arcade games…

In “the day,” they were absolutely amazing. I can’t even begin to figure out how much money I poured into the Dragon’s Lair arcade game itself, not to mention the strategy guides printed in gaming magazines, and I never was able to beat it. The characterization and animation was phenomenal, and why shouldn’t it be: you were essentially playing what boiled down to an interactive animated movie. True, some of it felt like a game: when you had to time jumps across perilous elements, but most of the time you just had to know when the right time was to give the proper joystick input.

Fortunately for gaming, this trend mostly lived and died with these Don Bluth games (and if you want to get super technical, the Cliff Hanger laser disk game as well), and went largely ignored for the remaining 20 years. Unfortunately for the rest of game development, the incredible God of War franchise brought the gameplay back with a vengeance. Don’t get me wrong; God of War’s use of the Quick Time Event was amazing. I loved it. I couldn’t get enough of it and couldn’t wait ’till I saw it again. They essentially used them as finishing moves, or complex “throws,” for the most part. Their boss finishers are the stuff of legend, and the amount of effort they made to tie the entire experience together transcends the QTE event itself. Having to input a button combo or mash on the circle button repeatedly felt good how they used them. It felt intuitive. I liked having to pound on the button to get the doors to open. In that instance, they took something mundane and made a game out of it, and more importantly, the gameplay when you weren’t doing a QTE was off-the-charts amazing.

But I’m still kind of cheesed at the fact they brought back (or at the very least popularized) the QTE, because it’s becoming a crutch in game development. Far too many titles are using mini QTEs instead of actual gameplay. I cringe now in meetings when people bring up “hey we could try using a Quick Time Event here.” It’s not that I don’t like them when they’re used properly, it’s that far too often nobody wants (or is able) to spend the time or effort to develop actual gameplay, and instead fall back on the QTE to give the false pretense of gameplay while the player watches a movie with pauses in it to cue the player to press buttons like a lab rat wanting more kibble.

Sure, there’s some things that need to be QTEs. Technically things like reloading a gun are typically QTE events: you pretty much can’t do anything besides move while reloading in most games. Dialog events in games are almost always a QTE. “Press A to talk to the mission giver.” These game-isms are going to be tough to change or improve upon (although Gears nailed the reloading mini-game nicely), especially the cinematic QTEs.

But what I’d love more than anything is for developers to think twice about the QTE. Is there some other way you can incorporate an actual mini-game that doesn’t involve hitting a random assortment of buttons to play through a movie? Do you have to show a movie every time your player does something dramatic? Zelda has Link pick up impossibly epic sized boulders or weild a hammer 5 times larger than him to smash improbably large objects all the time and we aren’t forced to watch a movie of him doing it.

To boot, QTE “interaction” doesn’t even hold up under outside scrutiny. We wouldn’t put up with QTE style films, would we? Watching the Matrix wouldn’t be any more entertaining if you had to hit buttons in the proper order to continue watching the action sequence play out or be forced to the beginning of the action sequence again, would it? The point I’m trying to make here is that more often than not if you’re not a God of War game I’d rather you just showed me a movie if you feel the need to use a QTE, and preferably I’d rather you just let me play a gameplay element instead of a movie. The QTE is rooted in gameplay that is twenty years old and hasn’t changed an ounce since then. It’s far time we moved past it whenever possible. Please.

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