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Videogames are a medium which requires a good hand-eye coordination. Naturally, this doesn’t apply to Turn Based genres, so, for the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to “games”, “gaming” and “videogames” not counting Turn Based games.
As I stated plenty of times beforehand, gaming has grown to be more of a storytelling medium over the years. In more action-oriented games, this can be conflicting, since it’s quite hard to blend in the plot with the gameplay so that one does not conflict with the other.
Cutscenes are often the easiest way to tell the story between action sequences. Pre-rendered FMV cutscenes are not always well received, since they take up a large amount of space in whatever storage medium the game comes in, and they are completely non-interactive. But you must be wondering “X, you hollow shell of a human being, what do you mean non-interactive? cutscenes are not interactive by definition!” well, that’s when QTE’s come into play.
Quick Time Events, or QTE’s for short, are interactive segments during cutscenes that let the player interact with the action on-screen via action commands. However, QTE’s are a hit or miss aspect, since, when not implemented correctly, they can break the immersion and flow of a game completely, but when used properly can create a better experience all around for the game, and give the plot a better sense of urgency.
The conception of QTE’s is commonly attributed to Shenmue, a 1999 Brawler/RPG for the Sega Dreamcast, however, the first instances of these being used in cutscenes stems from 1996’s arcade hit Dynamite Deka 2, where the player characters would be seen running from one section of the stage to another, and sometimes would be prompted to press a button quickly in order to either avoid incoming hazards, or hit moving enemies as they appear. Failure would mean the players would have to fight an extra group of enemies, or would lose health upon entering the next section
QTE’s as we know them today, however, stem from Resident Evil 4, which implemented them in cutscenes and while getting grabbed by an enemy. There was even an entire boss fight that played in one cutscene, and the penalty for failing every time was instant death. There’s a good reason RE4 doesn’t do QTE’s well, but I’ll get into that in a moment.
As much as I hate to agree with this guy, I’ve got admit Ben Croshaw (Of Zero Punctuation fame) got this subject spot on. QTE’s are not a bad thing, so long as they are implemented as an integral part of a game’s gameplay. To illustrate, imagine if the last boss of Assassin’s Creed was a 10 minute cutscene that suddenly started spewing action commands from nowhere. Chances are you’d fail them, thus breaking the immersion and flow of the game.
That’s the important factor, a game’s flow. What I mean is that a game needs to move along naturally, which helps the immersion. This isn’t to say a game has to be all action and never stopping, but action has to reach a climax, then the exposition and talking can begin, the game has to keep a mood balance in order to be effectively compelling.
A good example of how QTE’s work is seen in Shenmue‘s spiritual successor, Ryu Ga Gatoku, known here in America as the Yakuza series.
In Yakuza (or at least in the third one), QTE’s for a major element during combat. Since all the fighting takes place in RPG style “encounters”, most of the time one of these may begin with a QTE, where the main character deflects attacks or fights to grab a goon and send him through a crystal window. Or, sometimes, special moves will require action commands to be executed effectively (either stopping or failing to deal damage if the action command is not input correctly), which is especially true for the finisher moves against bosses, or while a boss executes a move on you that you can deflect or counter via quick time events. And, even in combat, sometimes special moves can be triggered when the player is prompted to, which can take place in a window of time as small as one second or less. This blends in with the combat nicely, and gives the battles a sense of booth urgency and awe that the game benefits from in the sense of making combat more enjoyable and challenging without necessarily ramping the difficulty too high.
Another good example of this would come from the Dynasty Warriors spinoff based on the Fist Of The North Star series’, Ken’s Rage. In Ken’s Rage, it’s only implemented against the final bosses of each chapter, which, after depleting their lifebars, will drop down on one knee and have to be killed using a finisher move. This then takes the player into a screen in which one has to input a series’ of (completely random) button sequences. If the player fails, the boss recovers a portion of their health and gets back up, if one wins, the player is treated to the rest of the attack, then the end of the level. And the enemy exploding into a thousand tiny pieces. The sequences become way longer and the time way shorter as the game progresses. The rush one gets from reaching this point (especially in the latter stages) is almost unmatched. And to get past them feels incredibly rewarding, since not only are the fights progressively harder as the game progresses, the game’s cutscenes are fantastic, and it feels actually rewarding to get past the harder levels. That is how you put QTE’s and action commands into a game properly.
Now, of course, as I stated earlier, this can’t always work properly. Sometimes QTE’s are implemented just for the sake of having them, which can lead to some undesirable results.
For example, take Splinter Cell: Double Agent (I swear, this game is the bane of my fucking existence), where after the third stage, every mission introduction segment has a quick time event. The problem here is that they’re not marked or stated by anything. For example, the first one was Sam jumping off a plane into the north pole. While he was falling, you’re supposed to guide his hand and grab the cord and pull it. I saw it not coming until I realized the little green circles that indicate Sam’s hand and the cord. While it wasn’t entirely bad, it came completely out of nowhere, had no significance, and was only there to stall the game, with absolutely nothing of importance being lost if you fail (you die and try again), nor anything of importance happening if you do it (you land and continue normally). See, just having them there to be there, with no bearing on the plot, is completely unnecessary to the gameplay in itself. QTE’s need to have a reason to be there, to be important in some fashion to progress, so that you want to do it, so that you want to complete the event to continue on. If they are just there for the sake of having them, it really demotes the importance of the event in question.
As I stated earlier, Resident Evil 4 doesn’t quite get this concept well, since every time you fail a QTE, it ends invariably in you dying. There’s never a different penalty, nor is the any incentive to complete them other than just continuing. It bears no impact beyond just moving the plot along. At least in Yakuza, they let your enemies off guard for a moment, or in Ken’s Rage the animations and continuing on the game is a reward in on itself (plus, sometimes you gain a new move), so it feels satisfying to complete them. With the exception of that really awesome cutscene/boss fight, RE4 doesn’t reward you for completing them, so it ultimately feels pointless.
That’s my conclusion. QTE’s can be a good resource to make a game more immersive or more rewarding, so long as there’s something that the player can aspire to after the cutscene. Quick Time Events can be beneficial to a game so long as it feels satisfying to actually succeed in them, instead of it being ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things, and in the end, as I stated earlier, games need to give you a sense of accomplishment within themselves to drive you forwards.