Quick Time Events (QTEs from now on) were introduced into games as a method of context sensitive gameplay in which the player must press the correct button/s on their controller shortly after it appears on the screen. These actions allow the player limited control over the game’s main character during a cut scene or cinematic sequence. Performing the prompted action incorrectly or not at all will result in the failure of the characters task or in some cases their death.
The term ‘quick time event’ is widely credited to Yu Suzuki, the director of cult classic Shenmue on the SEGA Dreamcast, it was one of the first games to use QTEs to great effect. During the QTE’s in Shenmue, a button will flash on the screen for a brief moment, at which time the player must press the correct button in time to trigger Ryo’s actions. One example of this from the game was a chase scene that takes place in a busy town centre and has Ryo chasing a Lan Di associate who has stolen money from him, and the player must execute the commands in order to navigate Ryo through the oncoming obstructions.
QTEs have had a bit of a rough time since being introduced to the gaming world; some have been looked upon very favourably, whereas the general use of QTEs have been panned by journalists and gamers alike. The general consensus is that QTEs tend to break up the flow of games and force the player to repeat sections until they have mastered it before the can advance, which can ruin a games sense of immersion.
Despite their general lack of popularity, there have been plenty of uses of QTEs in games in recent years; few however have actually cut the mustard. However, There are two examples which have stuck out for their superb uses of Quick Time Events, these are Heavy Rain on the PlayStation 3, and Asura’s Wrath on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Heavy Rain – Heavy Rain for me is easily the one game that has made the best use of QTEs, for starters the whole game is made using them. The thing that sticks out with Heavy Rain however, is that failing to perform some of the QTEs can quite literally mean the end for one of the main characters, and will send the story in an entirely new direction.
Another thing that separates Heavy Rain from the pack is the suspense that was instilled into the QTEs. A great example of this is that during the game, whilst playing as Madison, you are set upon by two masked assailants in her apartment, and you must perform actions with the right analogue stick to try your best to survive this encounter. What makes this section so full of suspense is that when the command appears on screen the amount of time that you have to perform the action is considerably less than some of the others you may encounter during the game, meaning you have to be fully focused and incredibly quick to get through this section intact.
Heavy Rain can also be praised for its creative use of the QTE. For instance, at certain points in the game, characters are in need of sleep or traumatised by the game’s events, which results in certain button presses circling their head in an erratic style, making the QTE harder to perform. On paper this may sound a little frustrating, but it really helps the player to feel the same confusion and panic that the character is experiencing.
As an added bonus, Heavy Rain made use of the Sixaxis controllers and PlayStation Move by incorporating controller movements into the QTEs as well, making the QTE’s in this game some of the most varied that you will come across in a game, Quantic Dream did well on this one.
Asura’s Wrath – Another good example of QTEs being used in a game is with Capcom’s Asura’s Wrath. This is one fast, frantic, and furious ride of a game, and it’s almost entirely thanks to the way they used QTEs.
Unlike Heavy Rain, The game was not solely made up of QTEs, there are a number of third person brawling sections, as well as a smattering of on the rails shooting. What makes the game’s QTEs stand out is that they fit in with Asura’s actions, with perfect timing, so the intensity and integrity of the action never felt compromised or weak in any way.
There is one section in the game where you are tasked with taking on a giant planet sized god, in a lengthy QTE filled battle. While not all the QTE's in this fight were perfect (there were a few that were 'press button to dodge' moments), there were many section of this battle that required you to hammer the buttons to the point you thought you were going to break not only the controller, but your fingers too. This I felt perfectly replicated Asura's struggle to topple the colossal enemy. The entire game is littered with well though out QTE's, making this game the perfect ambassador for QTE's.
As good as Heavy Rain and Asura’s Wrath were, there are many games that take a fairly uninspiring approach to QTEs. In fact there are too many examples for me to include here, so I have instead picked out two main examples that spring to mind.
Tomb Raider – Tomb Raider is the fantastic reboot to the franchise that many of us grew up loving in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Whilst the majority of this reboot was brilliant, there was one part that left me very underwhelmed: the final boss.
As it seems to be the norm these days, QTEs tend to feature very heavily in boss battles, and whilst some do it very well (see Asura’s Wrath above), others fall very short of cutting the grade. Tomb Raider is one such title.
I’ll try to avoid too many details to avoid spoiling it for those that haven’t experienced it yet, but on the whole I was not impressed with their implementation of QTEs. The whole of this battle is all of about a minute and consists of a series of timed button presses in order to navigate through the battle, and if not done correctly, Lara dies instantly.
The reason I feel that this is a really poorly done QTE is because there is no sense of suspense or urgency in the battle. Yes they were in keeping with the game and the battle but I felt like it was taking away from what could have been a perfect game by giving it the ending it deserved. It’s clear that it was meant to be a very frantic battle, but it was let down by how casual the QTEs were. It would have also been good to have added a bit of longevity to the battle so it lasted longer than the 90 seconds. And instant death for failing a QTE? That is never fun.
First Person Shooters – First Person Shooters (FPS) are also among the game types to have jumped on the QTE bandwagon, and they would probably be better off with not putting them in at all.
When playing a FPS, you expect high octane, adrenaline pumping action that keeps you on the edge of your seat. What you don’t want is a button suddenly appearing on your screen commanding you to press it in order to avoid the butt of an enemy’s gun, or roll away from a lunging enemy’s knife attack.
This sadly is becoming more and more frequent in the campaigns of shooters, and is really starting to degrade what should be a great genre with pointless button presses that take your attention away from the action.
Some may argue that the use of QTEs is a better way to end a campaign, as opposed to simply shooting the main enemy over and over again, but I am sure that they can come up with a more satisfying way that doesn’t seem so lazy and unnecessary.
I hope that if developers are going to incorporate QTEs into their games then they will take a good long look at games such as Heavy Rain and Asura’s Wrath and see what has made them work so well, and try to avoid throwing a QTE in just because they can.
A QTE needs to have that sense of suspense or urgency that makes the player really focus on what is going on around them, or make them feel that if they get it wrong it could take the game in a whole new direction. There is even a chance that it will make gamers actually care a bit more for the characters they are playing.
The future of the QTE looks cloudy at best. For every Quantic Dream, those that use the QTE to enhance the gameplay experience, there are a dozen developers that include QTEs for no real reason whatsoever.