Press X to skip this article and backflip out your window onto a moving train. Still here? You must not have pressed it fast enough. Refresh the page and try again. Welcome to Game N Rage people! Where I spit, sputter, capitalize and commiserate about dumb, stupid and annoying stuff in gaming. That’s right, I’m bringing the Large Hateron Canon to Gaming Rebellion as well for a more modern take on gaming annoyances. Today’s topic of rage: Quick Time Events aka “Press X to do a Thing” (“X” being whatever arbitrary button the game assigns to a random, pre-scripted action). So here’s the thing, pretty much all games involve pressing various buttons to perform various actions within the game world. Press ‘A’ to jump; press ‘Triangle’ to use magic; press ‘X’ to attack, etc. Within each game, it’s understood that a particular button will always be used to perform a specific action. Everything is structured and consistent; but then come QTEs or Quick Time Events. For those who haven’t played God of War or any game since then, QTEs are sequences of pre-scripted action (or cut-scenes) where the game requires that you quickly press a sequence of buttons in a particular order.
“Yeah I think attacking the monster right in front of me is kinda obvious”
Let’s say for example, your character climbs into a crashed plane hanging off a cliff which causes it to start falling, the action might stop or slow down and a giant “X” button appears on the screen. You press it and your character grabs onto one of the seats. Then a “Y” appears and upon pressing it, you vault up from the chair into a doorway. A “B” appears which causes you to dodge falling debris and then backflip your way out of the descending aircraft. Up until that point, “X” was your jump button, “Y” for equipped gadgets and “B” for attacking. This Quick Time Event makes no logical sense and only serves to disguise a non-interactive cut-scene as interactive. This is usually done because whatever awesomely cool action the developers wanted to play out on screen wasn’t possible within the gameplay engine or they were just too lazy to come up with a better, more compelling solution.
“Uhhhh…..how bout no. Can we get to stabbing? I wanna get to stabbing.”
QTEs, more often than not, take you out of the immersive gameplay that the game has spent all its time creating. It’s like if you were watching a movie but your younger sibling kept pausing it every three seconds, forcing you to get up and hit Play every time. QTEs look cool but have no interesting or compelling “gameplay” that makes them any better than just watching a pre-rendered cut-scene. Sometimes, QTEs are even more frustrating than the gameplay itself, due to overly complex button combinations, ridiculously short input windows or vague instructions on which button to actually press. Or in the case of TellTale games, require you to repeatedly and fanatically hammer on one particular button for ten seconds before quickly pressing another random button to finish the QTE. Seriously TellTale, why do you hate my “Q” key? What has it ever done to you?
“AAACK!! My ‘Q’ key broke! NOW WHAT?!?”
QTEs are not genre-limited either, adventure games, platformers, action games, shooters and even fighting games have been known to use QTEs as “shortcuts” for complex onscreen actions. Shortcuts for delivering the final blow on giant boss monsters; shortcuts for performing carefully choreographed attack combos; shortcuts for not dying because you mistimed a dodge or shortcuts for an entire boss fight. Some games, like TellTale’s franchises, Heavy Rain or Shenmue, take QTEs to the next level by making the entire gameplay experience a Quick Time Event. Press “X” to brush your teeth; press “Square” to eat a grape; shake controller to get a strip-dance; press “B” to kill zombie; Press “Y” to fall asleep. BO-RING!
“Shake controller to use other hand to…WHAT IS THIS?!?”
You may be wondering when this all started or who’s to blame. Most pin the start of QTEs on Sony and their PS2 hack-n-slash game, God of War, but that’s just when QTEs became popular and “cool” for game developers to use on a regular basis. In reality, QTEs go back much further than that; if my research is to be believed, QTEs first appeared in the arcades of the early 80s, specifically laserdisc arcade games like Dragon’s Lair or Cliff Hanger. These “games” were essentially animated cartoons that would play a short scene of a character performing some kind of (usually dangerous) action and the player was required to press a specific button or joystick direction at a specific point during that scene. If you pressed the wrong button or didn’t press it fast enough (these early games didn’t have onscreen button prompts so you essentially had to guess) the game would play a clip of the character dying or otherwise failing that particular action. If you pressed the correct button, the game would play a clip of the character succeeding and then play the next animated scene which often required yet another button press. In these games you had no direct control over the character; you were essentially playing Simon Says in order to continue watching a cartoon. And spending an entire month’s allowance.
“Press X to swallow and die of chemical poisoning”
There’s only two possible ways I’ve seen QTEs make sense and not detract (much) from gameplay. The first is when the button prompt for a specific choreographed action is related to its “in-gameplay” counterpart. An example would be Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. It uses several QTE sequences as boss finishers but each button press performs an action similar to one you would use in normal gameplay; tapping the “Force Push” button during a QTE to win a “Force Lock” with a Jedi boss. Another interesting use of QTEs is in Tomb Raider Underworld. Instead of pressing specific onscreen button prompts, the game initiates a “Bullet Time” sequence. During a major scripted event, the game slows down time and you have to use the regular gameplay mechanics at your disposal to “win” or otherwise escape the scripted sequence. Either of these approaches don’t break immersion (too much) and still allow for “set-piece moments” that game developers have become so addicted to.
“Press X to watch awesome finishing move for 10 seconds”
There are precious few occasions when QTEs are used to good effect or make any logical sense within the game mechanics. They mostly exist as “set-piece” moments when the developers either couldn’t program the action within the game engine or didn’t trust the gamer to “follow along” without restricting gameplay to a couple of randomly assigned buttons. QTEs may have been intended as innovative and flashy visual rewards in place of completely non-interactive cut-scenes, but in truth they halt a game’s pace & break immersion. It doesn’t help that they’ve been overused and abused to the point of absurdity in nearly every game genre imaginable. When a majority of your game’s “action” sequences in some way involve QTEs, you’re doing it wrong. Press “X” to stop reading this article.