Share
submit to reddit
Pin it

During my recent playthrough of the new PS4 exclusive God of War, I noticed that I actually missed the quicktime events that were made famous (and marketable) by the original PS2 God of War. I liked the first two PS2 God of Wars' brutal treks through Greek mythology, but I wasn't a die-hard fan. I was always more of a Devil May Cry kind of guy. So I was surprised to feel nostalgic over a feature that had been removed from those games. I was double-surprised by the fact that I was nostalgic over a feature that most of the gaming community (including myself) has come to despise.

The series that popularized quicktime events has seemingly abandoned them.

Quicktime events (or "QTE", or "Quick Timer Event" as it was called in the manual for Shenmue) were a fairly innovative and well-received feature when the first God of War released in 2005, and that game received perfect scores from many critics. At the time, QTEs were considered an excellent way of providing a flashy, cinematic moment, while still maintaining the interactivity of the player experience. In the case of God of War, this was mostly accurate.

Then the imitators started rolling in (and have been continuing to roll in ever since), and many (if not most) implementations of QTEs have fallen flat on their faces and infuriated players and critics. Trash like Spider-Man 3 was just embarrassing. Even otherwise "good" games, like Resident Evil 4 have been tarnished by poor executions of QTEs. Many games have ditched traditional QTEs in favor of similar button-mashing or prompted actions. The new PS4 God of War is a prime example. But these are basically the same thing.

Spider-Man 3 has some of the most egregiously-bad QTEs that I can remember.

In the years since the original God of War, QTEs have become a bane on gaming, and many players would like to see them completely gone. In fact, many developers have begun phasing them out. Sony's PS4 God of War is, again, a prime example. But I'm not so sure that QTEs deserve the automatic and unconditional hate that they receive. So I want to spend some time to take a look at what usually makes QTEs work, what usually makes them not work, and whether there may actually be merit to including them in future video games.

Fatal sins of quicktime events

First, let's try to identify what people usually hate about quicktime events. What are some of the fatal sins that QTEs have committed that gives players a knee-jerk reaction to them?

QTEs should not be trial-and-error instant death traps.
  • Being an insta-death trap

    One of the worst sins that QTEs are known for is being cheap insta-death traps. Many games will throw a prompt up onto the screen during what appears to be a cutscene, with no warning, and giving little-to-no time for the player to react. Failing to hit that prompt then results in instant-death. This is such a pervasive criticism that it has its own trope: "Press X to not die".

  • Consequence-free trial-and-error

    Similar to the above complaint, many QTEs are scripted sequences that are required in order to progress the game. Again, these are basically glorified cutscenes in which the player might receive a "Game Over". Such a QTE will usually require the player to restart the QTE, and do it over and over again, through trial and error and rote memorization, until the player gets it right. This is not cinematic gameplay, nor is it learning the game (like the trial-and-error elements of a game like Dark Souls); it's just Simon Says. There's no real stakes in such a QTE because there's no actual loss or consequence to the player, and there's no sense of reward because completing the QTE has not improved your mastery of the game in any way. Having to do it over and over again until you get it right is just tedious.

  • Being too easy

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, other QTEs can get in trouble for being too easy. In these cases, why even bother requiring player input? It might as well just be a cutscene.

  • Should have been playable

    Sometimes, a QTE is used to provide extra "cinematic flair" to an event that could have been executed by the player using the regular gameplay controls and mechanics. In such instances, the player can often feel cheated out of the opportunity to execute an exciting and difficult maneuver. This same criticism is often applied to non-QTE cutscenes that should have just been playable sequences.

  • Ignoring standard control schemes

    Lastly, many poor QTEs have confusing control schemes that seem to have no resemblance to the game's normal controls. The button-prompts in such sequences often feel completely arbitrary. This serves to pull the player out of their gaming "zone" or "flow", and can actually hinder their performance when regular gameplay starts up again.

If you can replace a QTE with a fully playable sequence, then by all means go for it!
Seriously, check out what Beenox accomplished with this Sandman level in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Those are the quicktime event sins that I've identified. Feel free to comment below if you can think of more!

God of War used to do quicktime events right

After progressing through most of the new God of War, I loaded up my old PS2 copy of the original God of War, and the PS3 copy of God of War III to see how they hold up. Did they commit the QTE sins listed above? Sometimes, sure. But God of War got its QTEs right more often than it got them wrong.

A cathartic climax to a boss fight

The QTEs that God of War was most likely to blunder were the boss ones, but even these generally worked more often than not. A big part of this was the sense of size and scale of many of the bosses. Another part of it was the control scheme. In QTEs, the button prompts usually made contextual sense. The button that you'd press to execute a stage of a QTE was usually (but not always) the button that was allocated to a similar (or identical) function in the core game's control. In this sense, it felt less like being taken out of the game to press arbitrary buttons, and more like an extension of the game that you were playing.

For example, you'd press the Square button (light attack) to stab or slash the boss, press the Triangle button (heavy attack) to do some kind of lunge, or mash Circle button (grab) to grapple or pull on an enemy. This wasn't always the case, but it was a general rules that (as I recall) most of the God of War bosses followed.

Quicktime events were usually a transition between phases of a boss fight.

It's also important to note that the QTE part of boss fights in God of War are not the entire boss fight. They're basically just a "finisher" for that particular phase of the boss fight. Put simply, you've already "beaten" that phase of the boss fight, so the QTE is just an extra-brutal, and cathartic reward to cap off your efforts and to transition you into the next boss phase or set piece.

Lastly, missing a button prompt does not (in most cases) instantly kill you or result in a Game Over. In most cases, Kratos will simply be thrown off the boss, lose a little health, and have to try again. There are only a few occasions in which missing a single button prompt will get Kratos killed, and the consequences are usually pretty obvious and logical within the context of the on-screen action.

A brutal finisher

Bosses weren't the only victims of Kratos' QTEs. The player could also press a button to initiate a QTE against weakened or stunned enemies. The player always initiated these actions, and the player always needed to earn the privilege of executing them by essentially defeating the enemy using the game's core combat mechanics. These QTEs were never required in order to beat the enemy. Instead, successfully completing the QTE would result in some extra reward. The specific reward would often be dependent on the type of enemy you fight. For example, in the first God of War, defeating a Medusa by ripping her head off via a QTE would always grant some magic recharge, which could then be spent by using Medusa's head to turn other enemies into stone. This provided a small strategic value to the use of QTEs.

The player had to earn the privilege of triggering a QTE finisher, which provided extra reward.

QTEs against non-boss enemies would often act as brutal finishing moves in which Kratos would mutilate or decapitate an enemy by literally ripping it apart with his bare hands. Failing the QTE, however, would result in the enemy throwing Kratos off of it and then proceeding to continue the battle with a second wind. This provided a negative consequence that would punish the player for failing the event, but which wouldn't necessarily result in an instant death. The end effect is that if the player doesn't like doing QTEs, or isn't good at them and doesn't want to risk failure, that player can finish off the enemy without activating it. There's a risk / reward element to it.

QTE finishers are reminiscent of Fatalities.

The controls themselves were somewhat questionable. In some cases, such as the aforementioned Medusa, the button prompts would make contextual sense. In the case of a Medusa, you'd spin the analog stick in order to twist Medusa's head off. In other instances, however, you'd press a random sequence of face buttons. These wouldn't map necessarily to any sensical controls or actions that Kratos can perform.

The whole mechanic reminds me of executing a "Fatality" in Mortal Kombat, except that the game tells you what buttons to press in order to execute the move. And if you fail, you have to fight again.

A test of crowd control

Even the button-mashing for opening chests and doors had some merit in the original God of War. It wasn't just a lackluster attempt at an "immersive feature". The button-mashing was usually to prevent the player from easily opening chests and doors during combat. The developers didn't, after all, want the player to be able to simply escape a combat challenge by leaving the room. The new PS4 God of War, however, simply disables the button prompt to open chests or doors if enemies are present.

Having to mash a button to open a healing chest tests the player's crowd-control ability.

The developers of the original game wanted to make the player think strategically about opening health and mana-regeneration chests during the heat of battle. So they forced you to have to stand still and hold a button for 2 or 3 whole seconds. You had to be pretty good at crowd control in order to open up enough leeway to have time to force open a chest. If an enemy approaches, you'd be able to release the button to cancel the chest-opening animation and block or dodge away.

The button-mashing for opening doors and gates even has a thematic and ludic purpose. In addition to making it take time to open a door or gate (thus preventing the player from opening a shortcut door while in the thick of combat), it also provided a sense that the player is "struggling" along with Kratos. Kratos has to exert a lot of effort to open these heavy doors, and so the player has to exert effort to repeatedly press the button.

In effect, this button-mashing sequence has thematic relevance to the game, and also serves as a mechanical test of the player's strategic skills in combat. Of course, you could make the argument that this test is unfair, since it's most likely to be the unskilled players who are most in need of the health locked in those hard-to-open chests. That's true, but it also increases the skill ceiling for players who play at higher difficulties (at which point that health might become vital for them too), so it's not solely targeting less-skilled players on a first playthrough.

Bayonetta can be attacked while performing a "punish" QTE finisher.

Bayonetta even went so far as to combine this element of crowd-control with the finisher concept from above. In that game, Bayonetta could activate a button-mashing QTE to perform highly suggestive finishers against stunned enemies. During this time, however, Bayonetta is still vulnerable to enemy attack. The player gets to cathartically slap an enemy around (literally!), but still has to be aware of surrounding enemies and be prepared to dodge out of the way at a moment's notice.

Though, Bayonetta is also full of more than its fair share of cheap QTEs that come out of nowhere and result in cheap insta-deaths. It's far from perfect in its execution.

Worth abandoning?

The new God of War on the PS4 has abandoned all of these design philosophies that were present in the original God of War games, and in doing so, loses a little bit of its unique identity. Instead, Santa Monica Studios has opted to water-down the quicktime events such that they take the form of occasional, minor button-prompts in order to perform a contextual action in the environment.

Now quicktime events are just consequence-free button-mashing affairs.

In some instances, you press (or mash) a button in order to clear a minor obstacle. In other instances, you repeatedly press the "attack" button in order to punch a mounted or grappled monster or boss for extra damage. Then some late-game boss fights throw in some QTE for good measure. In every case that I've encountered, these sequences occur in total isolation, with there being no threats at all for Kratos to consider.

I feel like the original God of War's QTEs have actually held up fairly well. The barely-QTEs present in the new game don't add much to the play experience. They don't add any extra challenge, have any strategy associated with using them, provide any test of skill, or require any system mastery. They have no stakes, consequences, or sense of threat about them.

The original also required QTEs for clearing obstacles.

The very game that popularized quicktime events with its [relatively] smart use of them has now abandoned them. And for what? To replace them with pointless and consequence-free button prompts that do nothing but stop the game dead in its tracks? The original had these as well, and they were equally as pointless. Such QTEs only serve to make the player feel like you are "struggling" alongside the character at a difficult feat of strength or willpower. But with no risk of failure, it still feels vapid and mindless.

The ogre-mounting is at least an element of active gameplay and allows you to strategically use the QTE to cause the ogre to attack other enemies (if any are present, which isn't always the case), so that might be worth keeping. The other button-prompts for things like clearing obstacles or unsticking elevators just stop the game in its tracks for an unnecessary in-engine cutscene that stops and waits for the player to press a button.

Rules for a good quicktime event

So what have I learned from this examination and reflection? Well, my takeaway is that quicktime events (and contextual button-prompts in general) do have merit. They also have limitations. Game designers should use them wisely, and shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Developers just need to learn from the examples of successful games, and from the failures of unsuccessful games. Even God of War (the originals), which had probably the best implementation of Quicktime Events in any game franchise to-date, still has room for some major improvement.

Quicktime events do have the potential to add some cinematic flair to our games, and to allow the playable character to perform specific feats that would not be possible (or practical) to execute using the core game mechanics. That's what they should be used for. They just have to be carefully-implemented to follow some ground rules:

  • Use QTEs only when core gameplay mechanics cannot convey the desired experience or effect.
  • Do not instantly kill the player for missing a single button prompt.
  • Provide a consequence (other than death) for failing, such as damaging the player, inflicting them with a status ailment, depleting resources, buffing the enemy or boss, etc.
  • Include branching sequences that allow the player to "fail" an individual prompt without failing the entire sequence.
  • Allow the player to willfully initiate the QTE, but make them earn it through core gameplay.
  • Use button prompts that mimic analogous actions in core gameplay.

I'm not necessarily saying that I like Quicktime events, nor am I saying that I want them in every games. I'm just saying that sometimes, they are appropriate, and I'm not sure that they should be abandoned wholesale. If you're going to use them, at least use them well.

Contribute Comment

avatar


We'll incarnate your avatar from the services below.
PlayStation Network Steam Xbox LIVE Facebook MySpace Pinterest Twitter YouTube deviantART LiveJournal



biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview


Grid Clock Widget
12      60
11      55
10      50
09      45
08      40
07      35
06      30
05      25
04      20
03      15
02      10
01      05
Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

Featured Post

EA's Madden design philosophy, and why we can't have nice thingsEA's Madden design philosophy, and why we can't have nice things10/25/2018 I think I've finally decided to take a stab at some long-form video analysis and critique on Youtube. My first go at this came in the form of a nearly-hour-long breakdown of my frustrations with the Madden NFL video game series (broken up into 2 parts). For the benefit of my readers, I'm also transcribing the video onto this...

Random Post

Urlacher's Hall of Frame enshrinement gives us first look at Nagy's new BearsUrlacher's Hall of Frame enshrinement gives us first look at Nagy's new Bears08/03/2018 Geez, it's already football season? Thursday night saw the annual NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony and preseason football game. The Bears and the Ravens played the game, which finally gives us Bears fans a brief (and limited) glimpse of what new coach Matt Nagy's team might look like. Brian Urlacher was inducted into the...

Month List

RecentComments

Comment RSS