Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
A Quick Time Event By Any Other Name

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 26 Mar 2013 12:00
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Right, I'm declaring a new fatwa. Because I've seen the little game you're playing now, triple-A games industry. Some of you who occasionally drift close to the surface have picked up on the vibe that quick time events - the kind where you have to press something in the middle of a cutscene or else you die and have to start the cutscene again - are really, really shit game design. And that wasn't something you wanted to hear, was it, because those quick time events make things so much more convenient for you. Triple-A games are duty bound to use their excessive funding and technology to be as mindlessly impressive as possible, and that means big-cock explosive action sequences from here to the horizon.

Which would be fine, but the prevailing idea seems to be that these action sequences need to be utterly pre-determined, with no inconvenient player input affecting the impressive spectacle intended and rigidly enforced by the developer. Personally, I blame trailers. Demos were working fine for an interactive medium, but nooo, still got to woo those uncommitted shitheads who can't be bothered to download the demo, so now every game has to have a movie-style trailer as standard. And consequently there have to be lots of trailer moments in the game, which a lot of animators and sound designers spent a lot of time on so you can't let the inept hands of players ruin it.

But then you run into the obvious problem that this is a game, not a film, and action by itself cannot engage. We've established that. But what can you do? Just keep the action fully playable and allow trailer moments to occur organically within established gameplay rules? Create enough context and keep the action reasonable enough that we can care about the characters involved and get a realistic sense of weight, effort and impact? Both these options provoke a hearty "PAH HA HA no." No, let's just make lots of over-the-top stunt sequences where you have to press a single button when prompted.

And then that stopped working so well, on account of it being shit. There're a few tricks that triple-A games are employing to innovate in the field of quick time events: there's the one where the button you press is the button used in gameplay for a similar action to the one being considered in the cutscene, because the game we're looking to for innovative ideas is fucking Dragon's Lair now. There's the idea of having the quick time event always being the same button so you can at least train yourself to smash that one whenever the cutscene inexplicably pauses for a quarter of a second.

But these methods can never escape the stigma of the QTE, so the other thing you can do that has precisely the same benefit but isn't quite so insultingly brazen is the pre-determined escape sequence. In this case, the player remains in full control, but the area they have to get through is completely linear and the camera none-too-subtly points towards the next spot you have to run/jump to. The path is covered in invisible trigger points that make things explode or collapse as you pass through the best spot to view them from, like you're the universal law of entropy manifested in human form, and if you don't immediately move in the only acceptable direction then you will be immediately killed.

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