QTEs – Why Do We Hate Them?
QTEs. Quick Time Events. Go on, admit it. You hate them. They rank alongside licensed games, tutorials, stealth sections and Bobby Kotick in a list of things our industry could do without and nothing stokes your ire quite like a massive, flashing triangle which somehow equates to a cinematic moment where you leap across a fiery chasm and grab onto the ledge at the last possible moment.
Dragon’s Lair is the most notorious example of what happens when QTEs are integrated poorly. The game itself is basically a series of cutscenes that has you pressing buttons at the right moment to keep the cutscene going. It’s a weird halfway house between trying to be a game and trying to be a movie except it doesn’t have the interactive feel of the former nor can you immerse yourself in it fully like the latter. Road Avenger is another example of such a game:
Those days are now long gone and publishers know better than to attempt a full game based on QTEs. So instead, they’re smuggled in via other methods, usually for cinematic moments when developers want to snatch control from you to show you something cool. QTEs are like the trade-off – hey-this-looks-awesome-but-you’re-still-pressing-buttons.
So what’s the difference between a good QTE and a bad one? Hard to say. God of War is a series that has integrated them well, as they almost come as the reward for playing well. The button prompts are discreet, well thought out (you’ll notice they appear on the same side of the screen as they do in your button layout) and it helps that the cutscenes themselves are so good.
Then there’s Star Wars: Force Unleashed 2, which works QTEs into its boss battles yet makes them feel clumsy and out of place.
So QTEs are an example of something some developers do well, others don’t. Hardly that unusual and surely not something that warrants QTEs their hated status? So why do QTEs get such a nasty rep? Because they’ve ended up as a handy developer shortcut, where QTEs can plaster over just about any aspect of lackluster design.
Boring platform section? Add a few crumbling platforms and press-X-to-stay-upright QTE to it. Boss battle missing that extra spark? Throw in a dramatic QTE halfway through. Kills don’t feel quite as satisfying as they should? No problem, confine the player in a QTE so the animators can run wild. They exist as easy fixes for developers who either can’t or won’t find out why the QTE was needed in the first place, and finding a solution that offers a bit more… well, control.
Still, let’s end on a happy note – here’s one of my favourite QTEs from the game that has done them better than any other to date, Shenmue II…