Game Word of the Week

Quicktime Event (n)

A gameplay mechanic in which players are instructed to push buttons exactly as they are displayed on the screen. Frequently accompanies a cinematic-like sequence of the player character doing something cool but outside the game’s control schemes. QTE heavy games include God of War, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Heavy Rain.

Usage: I can play the rest of the game well, but the quicktime events always get me.

Comment: To be honest, I hate quicktime events. I feel like if I should be watching a movie, just let me watch the movie. Otherwise, have some design discipline and don’t depend on the player character doing things completely outside of your standard verb set.

4 thoughts on “Game Word of the Week

  1. Andrew

    But Rock Band etc. are not a stream of quicktime events. Quicktime events lead to immediate success or failure (and usually the end of whatever event it is), which rock band obviously doesn’t (They build up a power bar, and give you points, just like shooting enemies in other games). Rhythm games might seem like a flurry of them, but that’s also not the case since they are timed to music, which is perfectly acceptable (how else would you make a music game? NOT put some kind of timing to a rhythm? :/ )

    I’d recommend changing your usage quote, but maybe you think differently and think God of War and so on are directly comparable to Parappa the Rapper, Rock Band, DRR and Guitar Hero. :)

  2. Tynan Sylvester Post author

    I don’t think a buttonpress being timed to music means it’s not a QTE. There’s nothing inherent unacceptable about QTEs. They’re just often used poorly.

    I do think you’re probably right that Rock Band etc are not really quicktime events in the same way as God of War and Fahrenheit QTEs are. Since they are your normal verb set, my criticism of them kind of falls apart.

    So I’ve changed it!

    (the usage quote used to be “Rock Band is basically one gigantic stream of quicktime events.”)

  3. Jason Schklar

    A couple of things:

    * What would you consider God of War finishing moves? I define them as QTE and find them totally within the normal set of action verbs the player learns and uses all the time.

    * What about a game in which there were consistent QTE action verbs (X was always “swing sword”, A was always “jump”) that were ALSO consistent with regular game play verbs? We tried to do this in Ninja Blade (coming out WW at the end of March) as much as possible.

    My main objection is your assumption that using QTE in a game automatically represents a deficit in “design discipline”. When used correctly, it allows players access to game play that they can’t normally do via the usual action verbs. A ninja on foot with a sword can’t possibly stick a 300 foot tall lizard in the eye through “normal game play”. But if during a boss fight he triggers a QTE that involves the player jumping onto a wrecking ball that swings up and hits the lizard in the face…. Well, that’s what QTE are for.

    That said, I still concede your basic point that you don’t enjoy QTE. And, you’re not alone in that feeling. It’s risky to rely on them because they are controversial — and when poorly implemented can be extremely frustrating and block player progress.

    Some of the guidelines we established (but weren’t always able to follow) for using QTE in game:

    * Default difficulty needs to be balanced such that the average player never fails more than twice. Third failure (which we tried to avoid) results in a temporary bump down to “easiest” mode.

    * Players who hate QTE should be able to switch it to easiest (almost impossible to fail) mode orthogonal to regular game difficulty.

    * There should be some standard action verbs (if applicable) within QTE. Ideally (if applicable) they would correspond with normal game play verbs.

    * Input events should correspond to “in-world” events as much as possible (e.g., I should get the “press X” prompt as I’m swinging my sword and about to make contact with the creature).

    * Ideally there should be meaningful game play outcomes other than just “success” or “fail”. Successes should trigger the next stage in a boss battle (e.g., you’ve chopped off a giant’s arm using a school bus — and now you enter the 2nd stage of the boss battle that feels different than the first stage). Failures might include some player setback and should have an interesting “fail” sequence.

    * Ideally there should be ways to recover from a potential failure so that fail does not have to equal “death” or “punishing setback”. Maybe completing a QTE sequence perfectly yields a bonus power up drop? Maybe stumbling to the finish means that you don’t get the power up drop? Or you just include a “stumble but succeed” sequence.

  4. Tynan Sylvester Post author

    Hey Jason, thanks for dropping by. Now, let me disagree with you.

    First, I’ll say that I think QTEs are OK. There are ways to make them work better than they have in previous games, like all the ones you listed – matching normal controls to QTE controls, stumble-but-succeed options, and so on. They’re not bad.

    But it still feels like we’re polishing a turd. You can optimize a QTE forever, but it will always boil down to a rapid-fire choose your own adventure story. If done well this may be entertaining, but I think we can do much better as designers. I don’t think QTE has a good future, the way I think open-world or AI director or full-body-awareness do.

    Let’s just look at your list of QTE guidelines for designers. Do we really want a mechanic that is so inconsistently fun that it has to gimp itself regularly (after the 3rd failure)? Do we really want one that some players hate so much that they demand an option to essentially remove it? Is this the best mechanic we can think of?

    You said, “A ninja on foot with a sword can’t possibly stick a 300 foot tall lizard in the eye through “normal game play”.” – Shadow of the Colossus proves this isn’t true. If your game is about stabbing 300-foot tall lizards in the eye, that’s awesome! Build a verb set around it and explore the dynamics in that verb set.

    QTEs feel dishonest to me. Compare Force Unleashed to Shadow of the Colossus. In TFU you climb on a Rancor and kill it. In SotC you climb on Collosi and kill them. But one is true and one is not. One is meaningful and one is not. One makes me feel gratified and successful, one makes my fingers hurt.

    If you need something nonstandard to happen, let it happen in the world in a scripted sequence. Then, at least I’ll get to watch the sequence and enjoy it instead of focusing on little button prompts.

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