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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




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  • sean

    I think QTE’s are great, but only when done properly.

  • middley

    Why? Because they’re almost always player-death events with dismal risk-reward. Stuff like that should never be essential to a storyline/quest/advancement/whatever… it should only be _additive_ to the gaming experience (i.e. if you screw up on the QTE, you merely miss the opportunity to get a *bonus* of some kind).

    p.s. Dragon’s Lair was nothing more than a trumped up version of Milton Bradley’s ‘Simon’.

  • Jon

    Dude, I agree with Middley. Why not just miss out on a bonus instead of dying after an hour of fighting. So annoying!!! I’m sure there is some kind of lag, even on consoles.
    RE6 on PS3 being one – the cut-sceen with the mincer, there is about 0.2 of a second to press the button or you are doomed.

  • Herethebeef

    You have to look at what dragon’s lair was back then, not by our standards today. Back in the day, video games looked like crap, but offered a lot of control to the player. Dragons lair was the opposite, looked great (for the time), but had to sacrifice player control. So, at the time, when “QTE” wasn’t even a thing yet, it was new an innovative way to make a better looking game. And people loved it, they pumped quarters into those machines like nobodies business. Now its just an excuse for a cut scene.

    Also, I’m pretty sure you don’t know how Simon works if you are comparing it to dragons lair.