Quick Timer Events
Making interactive fiction more interactive

Many video games feature cutscenes, and most of those cutscenes are boring and non-interactive. Take the Nintendo GameCube title, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. It is an enjoyable game, but I'm not sure if I spent more time playing the game or watching the movies. Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht left me feeling the same way. Movies and video games are becoming more alike, and it's not always for the better. Cinematic gameplay is one thing, but cinema in place of gameplay is unnecessary.

Enter the Quick Timer Event (QTE). I was introduced to QTE in Yu Suzuki's Shenmue for the Sega Dreamcast, and it changed the way I looked at the game experience. Cutscenes and story points are no longer just something to be watched or skipped past. I was still playing a part. If my fingers were nimble, Ryo Hazuki could escape this fight unscathed, but if I faltered, he may fail in his quest to avenge his father's murder.

QTE is not a complex concept. During a cutscene, buttons or directions may flash on the screen. Press the correct button (or combination of buttons), and the story continues. Press the button too late or not at all, and the consequence ranges from the cutscene restarting to losing some health to a game over.

Games that use QTE:

Quick Time Events, Quick Timer Events, Press X Not To Die, whatever you want to call it, they are something that's appeared in gaming in the past 10 years or so like a suppurating wound and must be stopped. They add absolutely nothing to the gameplay, and are extremely, extremely annoying, especially as they often turn up in a totally incongruous manner.

To be fair, they're actually even older than you think. Eric Chahi's one-man effort (and hair-pullingly difficult) Another World had at least one, where you have to kick the alien guard who grabs you in the balls and slide across the floor to retrieve your gun and blast him with it in one fluid motion was one very early example. However M. Chahi didn't make a habit of it so it was excusable and in context. It also didn't have the prompts or anything

The problem I have with them is that they give the illusion of gameplay to what is basically a cut-scene. Now I don't mind cut-scenes, but there can be too many of them, and if I'm trying to beat a part of a game that I just failed at, I like the ability to be able to hammer Escape and not have to sit through it. However, if there's a QTE in the cut-scene, you have to sit through it. Again and again. However the absolute minimum level of interactivity (Press X not to die!) allows the developers and, more to the point, their marketrons, to pad the gameplay length and get away with it.

One of the worst offenders in terms of QTEs is Broken Sword 3: The Sleeping Dragon. This, released in 2003, was the continuing adventures of George Stobbart and Nicole Collard to prevent ancient conspiracies from wreaking havoc on the world and, unlike the first two, was in keyboard-driven Grim Fandango vision rather than the pointy-clicky interface of the first two. It was also more action orientated than the first two in a way, what with Indiana Jones like traps and suchlike, and QTEs were unfortunately commonplace. Given the series' heritage, this was totally unexpected and often it made you string together three or four of them in a row. However, the cutscenes they were in were just about long enough to render them very annoying if you failed (and also the indication of which key you were to press not to die was in the bottom right corner of the screen, just where you weren't looking. Gnagh.

Occasionally they're just demeaning. The single player portion of Battlefield 3 has one bit where you must out-QTE a rat, or so I'm led to believe, never having played it.

And then there's the out and out insulting variety, which is rapidly on its way to becoming a classic video game fuck you. You've just beaten a really horribly difficult level and then there's a QTE. You're too busy going "YES!!" at having finally overcome That One Level on your 49th try while the cutscene afterward plays and then - SHOCK HORROR! QTE! FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU - And you're back to the beginning of the level.

Thing is, they're not even too much of a challenge really. If you know one is coming then you can just hammer the key they tell you to press, your fingers doing a double bass drum impression on the space bar of which Gene Hoglan would be proud, until the prompt appears, so it's not like it's fast reactions or suchlike.

To be fair, there is a time and a place for quick-reaction segments. The Witcher II - Assassins of Kings does have QTEs (but they can be turned off) and also has some timed conversation instances, where you have to make your decision as to what to do before the little timer runs out or the game assumes you just stand there like two penneth o' daft. However, the oft-used idea of Press X Not To Die quite frankly must be burned. It is a hallmark of lazy design, if you ask me.


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