The quick-time event has become an object of increasing attention what with the impending release of Heavy Rain, a game that is in essence a giant series of quick-time events strung together.
However, even before Heavy Rain, quick-time events have been stirring up controversy for their inundation of video games. Practically every game you can think of now contains a QTE, and there are many gamers who are lambasting this widespread and poorly-implemented feature. Such ire has grown so fierce that a sizable portion of video game enthusiasts are completely damning the gameplay mechanic, saying it's a poor concept and a lazy game mechanic. However, I disagree with that sentiment.
The problem with quick-time events is not that they're intrinsically bad, but because they're so terribly misused.
A well-done quick-time event:
- should not "come out of no where" and catch the player completely off-guard.
- should not result in a Game Over if failed.
- should not be what happens when the developers try to fix an overly long and boring cutscene.
- should not replace an otherwise perfectly legitimate means to accomplish the task in-game.
A well-done quick-time event:
- should be established as a mechanic very early and safely within the confines of the game, so that the player will keep it in the back of his or her mind.
- should penalize the player if failed, but still allow the player to progress (unless the preceding segment is so negligibly short that it's not a burden to force the player to try again).
- should be planned as a quick-time event from conception.
- should correlate to what task is being accomplished on the screen, and only if it's done in a unique way that serves as a pleasant change of pace.
- should accomplish something in an incredibly stylish way
- should give the player an intense sense of satisfaction and enjoyment upon completion
Sounds better, doesn't it?
(The rest of this article will contain spoilers from MadWorld, Resident Evil 4, and Indigo Prophecy.)
Quick-time events can be powerful tools... but the industry, ever the "me-too" variety of tradesfolk, are simply too immature to find a proper way to utilize them. Clover/Seeds/Platinum Games tends to get these done right, as MadWorld and Resident Evil 4 (at points) displayed.
The above video is the famous knife fight in Resident Evil 4, which I hold as one of the better quick-time events in the industry. I say this for several reasons:
First, the event comes late in the game, when the player has long become accustomed to being on their guard during cutscenes.
Second, the scenario was intended to further the plot and game's writing, which meant it had to keep the gamer's attention; had this been a simple in-game fight, the player would have paid no heed to the actual conversation taking place.
Coinciding with the second point, this scenario would have been a very entertaining cutscene on its own, but it would also remove control from the player. By designing it as a quick-time event from the get-go, the event avoids what could have been sloppy integration into the scene's choreography; and instead gives the player a modicum of power.
Lastly, the event comes after a gauntlet of countless, dangerous foes in an industrial area. The QTE here serves as a change of pace and a cool-down period leading to the next setpiece in the chapter.
Bringing this article full-circle, I bring up Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy, to the US). Though rightfully crucified for a horrendous second half of the game, Fahrenheit's opening third or so is truly outright brilliant game design. The amount of choice (and subsequent consequence) the player has is impressive, and the way you interact with your environment. The game also creates an intense feeling of anxiety in the circumstances surrounding its quick-time events.
(This player is obtuse, because the first time I picked up Indigo Prophecy the controls came very easily. Unfortunately I couldn't find another video with that scene.)
Concluding this article, I make a plea to those who renounce quick-time events and decry them as a blemish upon video game design: Modern developers don't know how to use them. When properly implemented, a quick-time event is an incredible thing, but unfortunately very, very few people in the industry actually know how to carve out their own success when it comes to development (as indicated by the sheer amount of copy-cats and genre bandwagoning when it comes to titles).
The quick-time event is a beautiful and ingenious development in video games... but it cannot be done ham-handedly.