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New  Thief  ditches quick-time events. What's your take on QTEs?
New Thief ditches quick-time events. What's your take on QTEs?
November 15, 2013 | By Kris Graft

November 15, 2013 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, Design

Some players and game designers despise quick-time events. Some think QTEs are…not the worst thing ever.

The people who are waiting for the new Thief game from Eidos Montreal apparently fall under the "despise" category. The studio confirmed this week that due to negative fan and press feedback from an E3 demo, it would drop the mechanic completely in the final game.

"We're not implementing them," said Valerie Bourdeau, web content manager at Eidos Montreal in a developer blog. "To begin with, there were very few instances of QTEs in the game; in fact there was only one in that whole hour-long E3 demo. However, given the strong reactions it evoked in the press and the community, it was an easy decision to do away with them entirely. So we're not doing it. No quick time."

Games from Dragon's Lair to Shenmue to The Walking Dead implement QTEs, with varying results. What's your take? When does it make sense to design QTEs into a game? What's a good way to design them?

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Andrey Coutinho
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QTEs can evoke tension and excitement if done well. I only have trouble with what I like to call "QTE Game Over", which is when failing a QTE causes you to die and have to replay it over and over again until you succeed at it.

My point is that unlike replaying a normal section of the game, QTEs are not interactive enough to be fun when played a second time, even if you didn't succeed on the first one. When I die in, say, a Castlevania or Mega Man game, trying again can be actually fun because there are a lot of things I can do differently, and the learning process that happened during my first try transforms me into a completely different player than I was before. It's almost as if I see the level in an entirely different light everytime I fail and reload. That doesn't happen as often in QTEs. It feels literally like rewatching a scene of a movie immediately after you just saw it.

Some games make interesting uses of QTE. Sometimes they give you a bonus if you engage in them, but don't punish you if you don't (which adds some sort of incentive to interact with otherwise non-interactive scenes). Sometimes they punish you for failing, but not outwright force you to restart. Sometimes they just lead to different outcomes and consequences on the story.

There are times when they're used REALLY well. I remember one scene in Heavy Rain when a suspect puts the FBI guy's partner (I think his name was Blake) at gunpoint. The QTE prompt pops in the screen in a really tense moment, and there are lots of different options of buttons to press. If by reflex you press the shoot button (R1), which is what a lot of people do, you just shoot the guy down and kill him just like that. But if you manage to keep your cool and actually try to read the other options, you realize you can try to talk him out of it. It's a really powerful scene that uses QTE to take you out of "complete control of the situation" in a very effective way.

Brian Tsukerman
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QTEs seem to be used primarily to test reaction times, and for the most part I'm okay with them. Like Andrey mentions, it's frustrating having to replay it when they're set up as a pass(keep playing)/fail(game over), but I usually enjoy them when they function as "choose your own path" options.

I think my first memorable experience with QTEs was in Die Hard Arcade. The transitions between fights usually involved one or two QTEs, but the first time I played it I thought it was just a cinematic so I didn't react fast enough when the button prompt appeared. That being said, if a QTE actually has some importance, there should be some indication for the player to prepare for it since they're often completely separate from the core mechanics of the game.

Alfa Etizado
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What's the difference between some of the many mine cart levels on platformers and a QTE? I'm talking here about a level that pushes you forwards on a fixed path and there are holes that will kill you, your only choice then is to press the jump button at the right time.

QTE has caused allergic effects on players. There was a time that your character would get frozen or petrified and to break free you'd have to tap a button, nowadays if the same happens and "X" flashes on screen, players will hate it.

QTE isn't really that bad, we've been living with them before they existed.

Evan Combs
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It is the X flashing on the screen that people hate. It makes them aware of what they are doing with their hands, and takes them out of immersion. The one thing that always bothered me most about the Batman: Arkham series is that whenever you had to open a grate the little B button would pop-up as if I hadn't done it a million times already. After the 3rd time or so I knew what to do, and popping that little button on the screen just took me out of the experience. I was suddenly aware that I was pressing B instead of just instinctual pressing B without any conscious thought. You want your players thinking, "I need to open the grate" which causes their hand to press B, not "press B it opens the grate".

Alfa Etizado
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That's so annoying this gen. Every game thinks we have fish memory. MGS4 you approached a wall a dumb icon showed up indicating you could hug it.

Kyle Redd
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All QTEs are bad, but Those "button mash" events like the grate-opening in Arkham Asylum are absolutely unforgivable. So ridiculous.

Many games, like God of War, are even worse in that if you don't mash the button fast enough (e.g. during a boss fight) you will fail and take damage as a penalty. So you're sitting there having to pound away at your controller with enough enthusiasm to satisfy the sadistic game designers. Someone please explain this - How exactly is it supposed to be fun?

Alfa Etizado
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I like button mashing, brings some physicality into the game. Button mashing is really old though, I don't recall people hating on it so much. It's been on a lot of games but recently it's been recognized as QTE because I think of God of War, the game with a lot of QTEs and a lot of things that look like QTEs.

Think about it though, what makes button mashing a QTE really? The game will demand certain commands from you. There are whole screen attacks in God of War that the only way out is jumping, if you don't fail you take damage. Sometimes there'll be tons of enemies smacking at you at once, the only way is to block at the right time.

What really makes something QTE? Some of those "mash really hard or get hurt" moments in God of War are avoidable, like you can dodge the enemy grab that triggers it, others aren't. Some mash moments are even initiated by the player, like when opening doors or doing certain grabs. The game will inevitably demand certain commands from you sometimes, I think if you have the power to avoid that or if you have the power to initiate it, it isn't QTE anymore.

Anyway, I like button mashing. The torture scene in Metal Gear Solid games are great because of the mashing.

Evan Combs
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Button mashing in the right context is a good tool, just gets overused sometimes.

Kyle Redd
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Well, I guess there are people who like it after all, much to my disappointment. At least now I know why designers keep using them.

Consider this though: What happens if the 60-year old you suddenly gets an urge to revisit some of the games of your youth... Do you think you'll even be physically capable of getting through those particular events?

Andrey Coutinho
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If games were aimed at the 60 years old version of ourselves, I'm certain QTEs would be the least of the differences in terms of design choices.

To be quite honest, I'm curious to see what kind of games will start coming out when this generation that grew up playing games for all of their lives grows older and keeps on demanding stuff suited to their tastes from the market.

People tend to change their taste in films and music a lot as they age, I can't imagine games being any different.

Eric Geer
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Depends on how they are implemented. I don't mind them so much when they flow with the game mechanics. I particularly hate how they are used in Resident Evil....they randomly happened and they most often(at least the first time) result in instant death. On the other end of the spectrum you have Heavy Rain/Beyond Two Souls that allow for some leniency, as they push you into a different situation if you miss the first event--sometimes more difficult position. I also don't really like the flashing of buttons on the screen--if they are mechanics that are built into the game from the beginning and used throughout the game, then there is no need for cues.

All depends. Not bad, but can be used poorly.

David Fried
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QTE's are an abomination. A blight upon game design that never should have been.

It's an excuse to have a heavily animated sequence that otherwise wouldn't exist in the game, but you can't even watch the amazing animations because you're desperately looking for button prompts to appear as an overlay on top of the action, which pretty much forces you to not care what's going on, as failure usually means you cannot progress.

It's rote memorization "gameplay," which is not gameplay. It's a bad version of Simon Says (at best). At worst it's a horrible distraction and completely breaks you from your immersion into the world.

Game designers should never put QTEs in their games. If you have the resources to animate such a sequence, spend it on an ability the player can use repeatedly, or making your wall jump look better, or a more intricate attack defense animation set.

Maria Jayne
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This pretty much sums up my feelings on QTE, I've never felt they added anything to a game. They are a way to simplify the players ability to interact with the environment while treating you like an annoyance that could potentially get in the way.

At best it's a brief concession that yes, you should be giving the player something to do while you tell them to sit and watch, because interactivity is overrated and expensive.

The fact some quick time events are so intensive they give you no time to watch what is even happening, is a testament whoever designed the button prompt mashing is not on the same page as whoever thinks the animation is worth doing.

The animators are trying to show something you can drool mindlessly at and the button prompt coder is screaming at you to pay attention to a tiny portion of the screen and ignore what is happening because that isn't relevant to advancing the game play.

Nick Harris
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It is actually simpler than that.

Unless your avatar is in a Jet or wearing some kind of 'Iron Man' visor you should not see a HUD as its presence can't be explained. Call of Duty's prompts to press (X) to reload have no place in the game. Players should learn the controls. QTEs force your right thumb off the Look Stick in an FPS game, breaking your hard won immersion.

Any dynamic action: counter / grab / boot / slide / dive / mantle / jump / etc. should be done via a group of contextual controls that you decide when to activate without prompting depending on the situation you find yourself in. Earlier 'tutorial' missions should get you habituated to these.

Amir Barak
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Actually the reload mechanic from Gears of War was a pretty cool QTE.

Luke S
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I would enjoy reading your review of Dragon's Lair, David.

Nick, this is essentially my feeling too. Compare a cinematic boulder scene from Resident Evil 4 with a boulder trap in Dark Souls. I am in fact equally likely to be crushed in both games, if my reaction time is off, or simply out of surprise.

However rather than anticipating the letter A flash on screen, in Dark Souls I know exactly what moveset and mobility my character has at all times, and also know that there is only one safe direction for escape (usually not the direction to progress).

Both games have entirely different philosophies of control. Would a Resident Evil that controls like a Souls game even fit within the series?

Robert Ling
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I'm with David on this one. I've never come across a game with quick time events that made me go "Hey, that's really clever." I have however, had many experiences where I straight up drop the game as a result of QTE's being a part of the gameplay. It rips me right out of the game experience. Spamming a button to open a door when simply walking up, pressing (A) and watching a short animation sequence would suffice. This even has the opportunity to support the character & story in doing so.

The biggest problem isn't even that I'm spamming a button, it's that it is causing me to focus a small area of the screen intently so that I don't miss a que and flub up, instead of taking in the entirety of the game's surroundings/visuals etc.

I'm all for reaction based gameplay features, but make it make sense to the game in a way that doesn't cause me to focus on a button icon instead of the game.

The other big problem I have with QTE's is how they quite frequently cause the forward moment of a game to come to a screeching halt, especially if they have failure states for the player not completing a prompt sequence correctly. This is even worse when said sequence is randomized. UGH!

Paul Talbot
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I think playing a video-game is possibly the most completely immersive experience a person can have (besides real life).

A game puts you into a world and tells you to interact with that world and believe the things in that world are real, and the events that happen are really going on and really are important to you. "Suspension of disbelief" is something which I believe must must happen to a player. As soon as a player stops believing, a player loses interest.

Part of that suspension of reality is a player giving up the notion that he is even playing a game. Your not sitting in your basement, you don't have a controller in your hand, and you don't exist in the real world. In the game, you are your character.. whether it's Master Chief or Dovakin or Drake or whoever. I do think having a big button flashing on screen really does break the immersion of the game-world.

As an indie developer my small team has really tried to steer clear from these kinds of elements as much as possible.. I mean, even things like the HUD can really break that immersion I think. Although, that being said.. I've got a lot of roommates who I know don't really give a shit about some of this stuff and are much more lighthearted about their game experiences.. they don't have to be in a darkened room with headphones on, completely immersed.

Too, I never got pissed at Uncharted for it's Quick Time Events so.. I think you can get away with it. I guess my personal taste is: A game = game, game > movie, no need to make a game into a movie and add flashing buttons to make it seem like it's still being a game!

..Moving into other realms of thought - what constitutes a "game?" or do we need to fit into a purist definition of "game". We could equally produce interactive media, or an audio-visual experience, using the same "gaming" tools of controllers and WASD and such. Definitions can be so inhibiting! Fuck the idea that anything HAS to be anything. Game devs will push boundaries and categories and make art/movies/games, and I want to be the guy doing those different things, not the guy sitting back pointing a finger at why it doesn't fit into a standard.

In short: I do think QTE's detract from a gameplay experience because it disrupts the plays suspension of disbelief.

Mihai Cosma
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QTE is the cheapest way to evoke interactivity in a videogame. Imagine watching a movie but every few scenes you have to play a little game of Simon says to advance it. That's how QTE's feel. The only instance i've ever seen QTE's work well was Heavy Rain on the PS3. The physical act of the player scrunching five different buttons at the same time mimicked perfectly the hardship of a man trying to move through electric arcs while wounded.

All the other implementations in regular triple-A media like Tomb Raider just use it to advance a spectacular sequence with the player 'interfering' as little as possible with the spectacle he is ment to observe and be impressed by. It's even worse when the failure of a QTE means instant game over.

The name of the game is interaction. Give the player tools and allow him to use them. Instead of a QTE to knock down someone from behind stealthily you can allow the player to choose the weapon in hand, then swipe the cursor over someone marking the path of the blackjack in a nice still-frame. Some may prefer to disarm a guard by knocking over his sword hand while other players may try and go for an instant knockdown. Some may even choose to force the guard to the ground by striking the backside of the knee ready to deliver a final blow with the sword should they so desire.

A simple system that yields itself a lot better and creates so much 'gameplay' in just one action. I'd much prefer that rather than doing a QTE. Sure the result is the exact same one, but you give the player a game to play instead of observe in the meantime.

LE: To note, The Walking Dead's and more recent the Fables game have done good things with non-gameover QTEs mixed with mouse click interaction to give a good sense that you're affecting what's happening on screen and that it could go either way. Fake agency is still agency.

Glenn Sturgeon
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I found the boss fight finishing move QTEs in Ninja Blade to be acceptable, when even if you failed the game was normaly only set back a very little amout of time. Also with Ninja Blade there was an option setting for the difficulty of the QTEs.
Then on the other hand the extensive use of QTEs in the last part of Dead Rising2 when the green gas made the zombies into super zombies was anoying because if you failed a QTE you took more damage and could easily die from just a few failures. Being pushed from one QTE to another isn't what i'd call a good time.
Thats just my view as a player.

Bart Stewart
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1. Are console gamers more forgiving of QTEs than PC gamers? I'm wondering if Thief 4 (as I plan to call it ;) got fussed at for QTEs from the PC gamers who were its original fans.

2. Speaking of Thief 4, its developers have actually made a couple of changes now in response to fan complaints based on released media. Part of me notes that these were relatively small irritants that any longtime Thief fan could have told the Eidos team to expect, but the rest of me wants to applaud the team for listening and acting.

Maria Jayne
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Regarding Thief 4, I know what you mean regarding the changes the devs are trying to make based on player and press feedback.

I want to say I appreciate they are listening and responding to the negative concerns, but I feel they already demonstrated their lack of respect for what the franchise was long beforehand.

Jacek Wesolowski
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As a long time admirer of the first two Thieves, I must say it was a disappointing but not quite surprising realisation when I understood this game was not being made for me.

Jacek Wesolowski
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As a designer, I see QTEs as a cop-out. Among the many, similarly simple, submission-driven mechanics, QTE is the one that fails in its duty to set a gameplay action in proper narrative context.

As a player, I dislike QTEs, because they disconnect me from the game's fiction. Instead of participating in the hero's actions, I'm tasked with something akin to cheering. Not only do I no longer get to decide what to do next; I also no longer seem to deserve an explanation of what my actions are supposed to achieve. The game virtually says "I know what to do, you just keep on tappin'".

Luis Guimaraes
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As a player I only like them in fighting games because they fit with the nature of the gameplay. Everywhere else I hate them because there's nothing fun or interesting about them. As a designer I think they are what people do when they give up on solving a problem.

Chris Moeller
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I finally tried God of War, and hated the QTE. It's like "simon says" for the mentally deranged.
Hit a 36 button combo perfectly, or repeat the same cinematic 100s of times.
The very definition of well thought out "gameplay" for maximizing fun.

Val Reznitskaya
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I don't think there's anything wrong with gameplay that rewards quick reaction if it's appropriate for the situation. When you have to react quickly to something, expected or unexpected, it can create a sense of surprise and/or tension. Punching an enemy that suddenly leaps out at you can be invigorating. Even fishing in Pokemon makes sense in context.

The difference between the above situations and what we've come to know as quick-time events is presentation. Instead of reacting to something in the context of the game's situation, QTEs have you react to an explicit real-world instruction. "Punch the enemy" turns into "press the X button." It might seem like these are the same thing if X is the "punch" button, but there's a world of difference. You might hit the punch button reflexively if something attacks you because you've come to subconsciously associate "the button on the bottom" with the punching action. However, when you see the "Press X" instruction, you have to remove yourself from the context of the game, re-enter the context of the real world, remember where the X button is, and press it. If we're talking about the X button on a keyboard, good luck with that.

This is a lot more cognitive work for the same result; it takes longer, and you're more likely to trip up somewhere along the line. Not to mention, you are taken out of the diegetic experience and forcibly reminded that you're playing a game. I won't say these things are inherently bad ("Put your controller on the floor..."), but I believe many developers implement QTEs without really understanding that this is what they're doing to the player.

This probably doesn't apply to rhythm games and the like, where pressing specific buttons IS the gameplay - you come to associate the "X button" icon with pressing "the button on the bottom." That said, you might not want QTEs in a rhythm game for an entirely different reason...

Kujel s
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I don't think QTEs are bad but if used poorly or overly used they can be unpleasent. Mercenaries 2 is a good example of both cases. The hijacking vehicles was a great use but the ending sequence was a poor use (I didn't even realize that was the end until the end cinematic rolled).

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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QTEs are bad game design.
Arbitrary tests have no place in games.

Ben Sly
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Well, I was going to chime in on how QTEs are always terrible wastes of time, but then I recalled Mass Effect 2/3's interrupts. I wouldn't call them excellent, but I will say that the QTE nature of them can add to characterization - especially when it comes to impulsive physical gestures like throwing a punch at an insulting reporter or giving a hug to comfort a friend. I can't think of a better way to do what they achieve: those types of actions are too circumstantial to be worth dedicated buttons on the controller or dedicated mechanics to be explained to the player, both realistic and game social interactions are much more effective with proper timing, and they incorporate player choice in a more meaningful way than just pausing until you decide whether or not your Shepard wants to punch out the reporter. Dialogue trees linked to these types of actions would not reflect the timing very well. I still hate their binary Paragon/Renegade classifications and I'm sure I can point to masses of examples of them done poorly in the game, but I do think they have a few good examples. To summarize: I think QTE events can work as a way to account for circumstantial timing-critical social actions in dynamic scenes.

Beyond that, I haven't seen anything that appeals to me about them. It's very hard to design any deep gameplay mechanics when what those mechanics achieve is so dependent on context. They can be useful for spectacular pre-animated sequences, but often those end up saying to the player "Don't you wish you could be playing this yourself instead of just hitting random buttons to keep the animation going?"

Dane MacMahon
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It should only be used when it fits the gameplay. God of War is about pushing buttons in order to kill things, so the QTEs were a natural expansion to that in order to have cinematic finishing moves. It would similarly fit in great in Devil May Cry, Knack or whatever else.

In Thief though? No. No no no. It doesn't match the gameplay or series tone at all, which is why people complained.

Muir Freeland
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Years ago, I had a mostly-non-gamer friend tell me that the Krauser fight in Resident Evil 4 (the all-QTE boss battle) was his favorite part of the game. "They let you do so much in that knife fight!" he told me. "Why couldn't I do those cool moves in the rest of the game?"

Maria Jayne
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I think that explains a lot of the problem, there is a disconnect between what they player thinks they are doing and what they are actually doing. For some people this is obvious, but for others, not so much.

Andy Lundell
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I can't remember the last time I really _liked_ a QTE in an action game.

They're usually tolerable when they're skill-based, and NOT instant game-overs, but even so, it feels like nothing more than an excuse to use an animation that'll look really good in a trailer, but they don't have the engineering manpower to work into the game organically.

I don't mind them as much in a slow paced adventure like Heavy Rain, because short of holodeck technology, they have to do SOMETHING awkward to let the character interact with the world. A QTE is no less natural than selecting an action from a menu, and it can be more fun.

Amir Barak
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QTE's are a tool in the design box like any other tool. You can make it work or you can make it suck. Most people make it suck because designing good games is hard... so very very hard... and let's be honest here most games are fairly rubbish.

The problem isn't that they've added or removed QT events, it's that they're catering to lowest-common-denominator and designing by committee; and frankly this vocal committee is somewhat of a clusterf**k of entitlement, inconsistencies and self-righteousness.

Camilo R
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Personally, I can't remember a game where they've made the game better for me. In some games it's more bothersome than others, but for me, they don't add much to the game but can take away from it.

Guillermo Aguilera
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IMO as qte despise Designer: The best rule is not QTE on first or Third person games (reload on gearsOfWar is not a QTE), in the rest of game It still have a bad option but can be put up with It.

Amir Barak
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Why don't you consider the reload mechanic from Gears of War a quick time event?

Ian Welsh
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The most truly horrid experience I had with them was in the last Tomb Raider game. I had trouble getting through them on a PC at first, so I had to watch Lara being sadistically killed over and over.

I did get get past them, but by that time the game had left a sour taste in my mouth, I associated it with that sort of nasty violence (and Lara whimpering and crying out) and put the game down. I never picked it back up and all the great things I've heard about the games actual gameplay mechanics, I'll never see, because they inflicted that on me.

As with Ben, the only QTEs I haven't minded are ME2/3s, and even there a couple times I was paying so much attention to the cinematic, I missed the QTE and had to go back (yeah, I'm going back to kiss my LI, sorry).

Basically, at this point, if you have QTEs, you'd better have amazing buzz, or I won't be buying your game.

Steve Peters
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Steve's rules for QTEs:
1) no more than 3 actions long, I just want to play my game
2) no instant death punishment, I just want to play my game
3) make it quick, I just want to play my game