Have you ever had your reflexes tested at the doctor's office? When the mallot hits your knee and your leg moves, do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Of course not. You didn't train or practice for that visit, it was just a simple physical response to a meaningless stimulus. Improving one's reflexes can certainly help with various skills, from hitting a baseball to beating an opponent in Street Fighter, but outside of a meaningful context, having good reflexes isn't much to be proud of.
And that, my friends, is the problem with quick time events (QTEs) in video games. QTEs are those series of button prompts that pop up out of nowhere in an increasing number of modern games, fueled by the success of QTE-heavy franchises like God of War. They have been a particular scourge on the action and role-playing genres, where they often serve as a crutch for lazy or overextended developers. Got an engine that won't allow players to execute amazing attacks on their own? Make them complete QTEs in which they press a button and watch the character perform the feats automatically instead. Spend too much on flashy graphics and don't have the gameplay to show for it? Put in QTEs and hope everyone is so impressed by the effects that they don't realize they didn't really earn them.
Where's the interest or challenge in these prompts? It's pure reflex, and the timing is never right. Make the QTE prompts too quick and they're obnoxious. Nobody wants to use their actual gaming skills to beat up a boss, only to die and have to start over because they didn't notice the quickly-fleeting X or triangle that appeared in some random corner of the screen. Make QTE's too slow and they're pointless—might as well just show a cutscene instead.
Action games that regularly use QTEs often employ them to cause the player character to do amazing acrobatic moves, moves that would be far more fun if the player could actually pull them off at will. Don't tell me that wouldn't be possible due to technical limitations. I've flipped off walls and jumped onto the backs of bosses in PlayStation 2 games. Having an action game that allows and rewards fancy footwork leads to a far greater sense of accomplishment when it's pulled off than the cheap thrill that's found from a few timed button presses and some cinematic graphics.
Role-playing games, on the other hand, seem to add QTEs in order to introduce an action element into the game or to surprise players in an infuriatingly mandatory minigame. Square Enix even had the gall to pretend it was innovating by adding QTEs to the battle system in Final Fantasy XIII-2, calling them "Cinematic Action" sequences. How about "Cinematic Annoyance" instead? Don't get me started on mandatory QTE minigames, especially in turn-based RPGs. Why, oh why, would a company that caters to gamers who prefer a lack of action combat force those same players to participate in the most inane form of action gameplay available?
No matter the genre, the worst thing involved in all QTEs is the dreaded "mash x button quickly and repeatedly" command. "Quick, hit square as fast as you can to fill up this bar before time runs out!" Great, I really wanted to kill my finger and shorten the life of my controller. I implore all game developers, if you must put QTEs in your games, at least don't make me smash buttons until my knuckles crack. Doing so makes me wish I could smash your face instead.
It's time that gamers demanded more of their games than this. It looks like we're starting to, judging from the reaction to the recent Asura's Wrath demo, most of which involved using QTEs to win boss battles. Although some of the QTEs at least made some sense in that the button prompts mirrored what Asura was doing on screen, there just wasn't enough player control shown off in the demo to please prospective customers. Hopefully the negative response to this demo will start to teach game designers a lesson. Make your customers mash too many buttons in QTEs, and you might find them mashing the delete button on your game instead.
Date: February 6, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*