Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment: Incorporating Quick Time Events into Gameplay
February 8, 2011 Page 3 of 4
QTEs aren't just for bosses. They can happen in the middle of typical underling fights as well. God Hand (Capcom, 2006) employs QTEs of the button-mashing variety in the middle of standard fights. Sometimes, your hero will have an opportunity to get an enemy in a headlock. Press the button displayed on-screen with the proper timing to initiate the headlock. Now pound that button as hard as you can in the ensuing lock-up to inflict damage on the enemy.
The faster you press the button while gripping the enemy, the faster the hero pummels, the more your controller vibrates, the more damage you do, and the more satisfied and inspired to pump your fist you become.
The crux of this kind of QTE is that it requires a timed button-press to initiate, and that that button is always the same button. In Japanese game development, all QTEs are most often referred to as "Action Button Events" -- as in, you press a button, and you get action.
Meanwhile, in games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998), an all-purpose, context-sensitive button is called the "Action Button."
For the God Hand flavor of QTE, where the same context-sensitive button is always used to enter these pummeling scenarios, the description "Action Button Event" is more apt than it may be elsewhere.
Compare the God Hand example with the "torture attacks" in Bayonetta (Sega, 2009). The player plays the part of a witch who pummels angels to death with her hair in a fantasy realm. Every once in a while, during an angel-pummeling situation, a large button icon appears above the enemy.
Press the button in time, and a large guillotine or iron maiden materializes surrounding the enemy. The blade falls, or the iron maiden snaps shut, and the enemy dies in a geyser of blood. It's like a Mortal Kombat "Fatality," except it's happening during in-game action.
It involves complicated machines materializing out of thin air, and it only requires a single button press. And that single button press is indicated on the screen, unlike Mortal Kombat's arcane, mysterious, complicated Fatalities.
This reminds us that, even in the God Hand pummeling example, the button icon remains on the screen throughout the pummeling. This makes us realize why the button appears on the screen at the time of initiating the pummeling: otherwise, the player wouldn't know it was time to pummel. The enemies generally have no tells.
One game far ahead of its time with regard to this type of QTE was Berserk: The Thousand-year Oath (Sammy, 2003). In that game, enemies have tells that indicate when the player can press the action button -- normally the block button -- to execute a spectacular parry and score a massive attack on the enemy.
The tells are neither so subtle that you can only learn them through rote memorization (as in an old-school Mega Man game), nor are they so blatant that they see fit to throw a button icon up on the screen. Rather, they're near-subliminal: an ogre might raise a club above his head, and bring it crashing down toward you. If you're in range of receiving the attack, the screen action will freeze for the sticky, frictive instant before impact. This is your cue to press the block button and initiate the brutal, fast action button attack.
In light of this type of QTE, we could say that traditional QTEs, which halt the game to display button icons, are micro-tutorials. These micro-tutorials teach you how to do the precise thing the hero needs to do in the context of the current, complex situation a microsecond before he has to do it -- or die.
If the current situation calls for the hero to roll beneath a demon beast's blade before cartwheeling back in the opposite direction and then running up the blade toward the beast's face, the QTE-as-tutorial will instruct the player, for a moment, how to do that -- with an alarming, screen-filling "X" button icon. This is directly in line with Ninja Theory's descriptor of QTEs as allowing the player to do things they couldn't do in regular game-action.
It might be construed that a QTE-as-tutorial is "introducing" a new action element to a game long after the traditional tutorial phase has ended. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (LucasArts, 2008) often employs QTEs where the player character jumps about as high as he can jump in regular play, levitates objects about as heavy as he can levitate in regular play, or lightsaber-slashes about as ferociously as he can in regular play. As a tutorial, the QTE is merely "teaching" a nuance -- one which will not be displayed elsewhere in the game.
Buttons on a String
It's possible to employ a "triggered" QTE like this simply, with great flair, with equal risk and reward, and in a manner that doesn't interrupt the game. A good example would be the chainsaw kills in Gears of War (Epic, 2006). You might not think of these as QTEs, but what else would you call them?
In Gears of War, both you and the enemies have guns. You can shoot each other from a distance. Enemies can take four to five dozen bullets before dying. You and the enemies can crouch behind walls for cover from unfriendly gunfire. To arrange a chainsaw-kill, you need to orchestrate the situation.
The entire level design is like an on-screen button prompt. Its geometry tells you where you need to be to stay out of enemy sight while your teammates suppress him. He's not going to stand up or leave cover, because that would be stupid. Jet-engine-volume gunfire echoing out your surround system, you sneak around, holding the chainsaw-revving button. You approach the enemy and are treated to a sudden, fast, furious, satisfying spray of blood.
Then we have the weird little disconnected button-mashing events. Uncharted has plenty of them: the player arrives at a door that cannot be opened. It's too heavy. It opens upward. The character puts his hands under the door. The character says "This door is heavy."
Now a square-button icon appears on the screen. Hammer the square button, and our hero exerts himself until the door is open. The problem with these events is that they usually occur during a time of no conflict. The enemies are dead -- or else we're in an undiscovered ancient ruin, and the developers feel the need to make the players push a whole lot of buttons furiously every once in a while or they'll get bored. (An aside to Naughty Dog: Uncharted's quiet parts are fascinating. It's cool; you don't need to punch them up.)
Then there are context-related situations, where a door requires cranks on either side to be rotated at once. This means you have to finish an ongoing fight in order to convince the non-player-controlled character to come to the door to aid in its opening. Once the fight is completed, the button-mash to open the door feels like dead air. The conflict is what kept you from doing it. Now that you can take your time, maybe the game should let you relish your victory instantly.
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