For a few years now the quick time event has been looked on with disdain from the community. It's seen as a crutch used by developers. A sad attempt to keep players invested during moments of a game that can't be achieved with normal gameplay. Why is such an uninspired mechanic being used? Where did it start and where will it go?
While it wasn't the first, Dragon's Lair was the game to really bring the quick time event into the spotlight. In Dragon's Lair you play a knight trying to save a princess. Your character goes on his journey automatically and the player needed to hit a direction or a button depending on the prompt. Success let you get further while failures were treated with a game over. This style of game had people dumping quarters into the machine trying to get a little bit further with the grand payoff being the lovely Princess Daphne.
I think Mario picked the wrong princess to save
After a few other games following this same style, the quick time event died off. Home consoles were becoming more popular and the technological limitations that came with them didn't lend themselves very well to quick time events.
Then 1999 came along and a little game called Shenmue came out for the soon to be doomed Sega Dreamcast. This is the first time these reflex exercises were actually called quick time events. QTE's were no longer the focus of the entire game, instead they were used to keep players involved during some of the more exciting scenes with more dramatic camera angles and faster action. It was originally praised for the way it seamlessly went from gameplay to cutscene without making the player feel like he stopped playing.
As time went on pre-rendered cutscenes were catching more and more flak while quick time events were popping up in all different kinds of games. Games like God of War used the QTE wonderfully while games like Spiderman failed horribly. Less and less games seemed to use the QTE effectively and critics and gamers alike were growing weary of giant button prompts.
As we look to the future, most would agree that games would be better off without them. I think with some tweaking they could become relevant and even fun. There are some major flaws we have to first look at. How many of us have been on the verge of snapping a controller when you miss a prompt only to be treated with a game over, or even more jarring, starting the entire event over again. As soon as the second time through the impact of whatever spectacular event is going on disappears. Then we have the giant prompts that seem to fill the screen. It's hard to get lost in a game's world when a giant button appears to block your view and remind you that you are in fact playing a game. And let us not forget the games that don't decide to bring in a quick time event until halfway through the game, taking you by surprise and guaranteeing you lose the first one. These games seem to only throw you QTE's when you are focusing on something other than your controller.
These giant pitfalls make QTE's pretty awful and only a few companies seem to be able to pull it off with any sort of tact and quality. (Examples I can think of being Quantic Dream and CyberConnect2) So how do we fix it? Here's what I have come up with.
Can you tell this is a racing game? Doesn't it look exciting? [Need For Speed: The Run]
The first thing that needs to be done is set a standard. We can take each of the face buttons and assign them to an action.
I'm going to be using a playstation controller as reference. X = Evade
Square = Attack
O = Defend
Triangle = Parry
Setting up something like this at the beginning of the game is a great way to reduce the surprise of QTE's. Having it simple and constant like this also allows players to memorize the buttons eventually becoming second nature, keeping them invested in the game.
Unlike the usual quick time event that brings up a single button prompt, let's have it so that there is a universal prompt that let's the player know that one of these events is going to happen. It could be time slowing down, a subtle border around the edge of the screen, or a glowing weapon. This also helps reduce the shock of seeing a giant X button appear.
Let's look to an action game similar to God of War for an example. The hero fights off a small army of cannon fodder enemies and is then treated to a larger miniboss type enemy. Standard stuff. Let's say this miniboss has a giant hammer, and we'll call him Brute. Fighting continues with regular gameplay, when all of a sudden the Brutes weapon starts to glow and time slows a bit as he winds up for a power attack. This signals to the player to an upcomming QTE, giving him or her a few seconds to decide which action to commit too.
So as this hammer glows and the Brute starts to swing, let's say the hero decides to hit X to evade. Provided it was hit on time the hero swiftly rolls out of the way of the slow but powerful attack. Maybe dodging isn't your thing and instead you want to go on the offensive. When you hit square, provided you are fast enough, you stab the Brute before he gets a change to attack. Not confident in your speed? Hit O to throw up your shield and defend against the hammer. If you are lucky and skilled enough your shield deflects the blow. More of a finesse kind of guy? Hit triangle in time and you can parry, knocking the hammer out of the way before any momentum builds up and keeping the brute off balance setting you up to counter. It keeps the action intense and involving while giving the game the ability to show those cool camera angles and more specific animations.
How this system implements failure is really based more in what kind of game we are talking about. Some rules like never including an instant death feature and never having the player "re-do" what he just did would keep most of the frustration out of it.
This set up can be used in different genre's. Action games can focus on the pure timing of your button presses. More RPG heavy games can relate each button to a stat which will determine your success rate. Strategy games can formulate a rock-paper-scissor like system where you have to read enemies movements. It's an interesting system that I haven't seen anywhere else that could be very viable in the future of gaming.
And that's all I have for my very short history lesson and rambling about an idea I had. Let me know what you think.