Dance Dance Quicktime Event

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jul 4, 2010

Filed under: Game Design 85 comments


Zak McKracken comments on Dance Dance Revolution:

Somehow I don't get these games: Guitar Hero and DDR and whatnot are just giant quicktime events, yet Shamus apparently likes them. (WTF? You spent so many words telling us how silly quicktime events were).

One of the stupid and mind-numbing things about quicktime events is that they’re strictly pass / fail. You either press the right button or you don’t, and one successful run will look exactly like any other. You’re not making any choices or contributing anything. You’re just pressing a really inconvenient “no” button when the game asks you if you would like to die now. Quicktime events are often constructed around the Do it Again, Stupid school of game design. They pop up suddenly when you aren’t expecting them and appear in a sequence designed to trip you up.

Game: Alpha, Beta, Alpha, Beta, Alpha... now what comes next! Quick!

Player: Beta!

Game: Wrong! It was "porcupine"! Muahahahaha!

Player: But, that’s not even…

Game: You are dead. Want to try again?

This isn’t the case with DDR. It’s not a binary pass / fail affair, because it’s grading you on your ratio of hits & misses, not bringing the whole show to an end if you miss one. The sequences also have a rhythm and flow to them, and you can see the notes coming a couple of seconds in advance. It’s about planning ahead, not about staring fixedly at the screen waiting for the next reflex test.

I’ve often thought that it would be nice if there was a time limit for an entire QT event sequence instead of a limit for each step. The usual process is that you get a prompt and about a second to respond. If you ace one, you just have to wait longer for the next one. If you’re a bit late, then you fail the whole sequence.

It would be nice if they came one directly after another with an overall time limit, so that acing one would give you more time for subsequent steps and hesitating wouldn’t be a guaranteed failure – it would just mean that you’d have to do the next couple of steps that much faster. This is pretty much how the Mass Effect lockpicking worked. It’s still a terrible and uninteresting stand-in for genuine gameplay, but at least the experience won’t be completely binary.


But the big draw for me in DDR is that you have quite a bit of freedom. You could give the same song to ten different people and get ten different performances, even if they all got the same score. Some people leap around wildly. Some seem to hover in the middle of the pad and their legs dart out from under them to hit the buttons. Some people barely lift their feet. Some (like me) are “stompers”. Some people memorize the performance and then showboat through the song, spinning around and not even looking at the screen. Others stare intently at the screen the entire time. Some people favor a dominant leg, others share the load equally between legs.

Even if you’re doing the same song again and again, you can mix things up to keep things interesting.

DDR usually isn’t trying to fool or confuse you, and spotting a pattern will help you instead of making you more susceptible to the next porcupine.

Up Up Right Pause
Right Right Down Pause
Down down Left pause

You can feel the next steps coming in this sequence without needing to look at the board. Just stay with the beat. (Okay, there are a few songs in there with gotcha-ish moments, but they aren’t as infuriating since missing a DDR step is a lot less infuriating than “you are dead, try again”.


And finally, there’s a lot of appeal to getting your body involved in a game. Air hockey is certainly more engaging than pong, despite them having basically the same mechanics.

I’m not suggesting that these games have depth to rival X-Com or Civilization, but I do think they’re more robust and interesting than a quicktime sequence.

For those of you curious how I’m coming along at this:

I’m still struggling to make the leap from 2nd tier difficulty to 3rd. I’ve scored an “A” on almost everything on 2nd, and I have yet to even complete a song on 3rd. I really, really wish there was another difficulty between these two. I’m probably going to have to make my own steps for a song so I can get a feel for eighth notes, because the game isn’t giving me a chance to learn them in isolation.

Also, I need more fitness. Now that I’m on 2nd tier, I’m burning a lot more energy and thus getting a lot more tired. I’m pretty much useless after half an hour, which is putting a limit on how much practice I can get in a single day.

And one final note on building muscle memory:

I’ve suspected for a long time that muscle memory develops even when you’re not directly practicing. I’ll do a song over and over on one day and get mostly “C” grades with the occasional “B”. Then the next day I’ll come back and try that song again, right off the bat, without even warming up, and end up scoring “AA”. Double A means you did the entire song without a single mis-step and is a lot harder than simply getting an A. Somehow I got better at the game overnight. Or at least at the songs I was practicing the day before.


At first I attributed this to being tired, but that doesn’t seem to fit with observation. If I had been physically rejuvenated the day before I still don’t think I would have been capable of scoring a “AA”, no matter how much energy I had in my legs. The problem was with my ability to anticipate the movements and be in the right position at the right time. Now I’m suspecting that stuff is going on in the brain during the time away from the game. This has interesting implications for game designers who are introducing gamers to something completely new. There is a limit to how much stuff a player can absorb in a given day or playing session, and even brute-force practice can’t jam too much learning into someone all at once. No matter how hard teacher and student may work, it takes time.

The brain is a funny thing, innit?


From The Archives:

85 thoughts on “Dance Dance Quicktime Event

  1. Binks says:

    Have you ever played the Penny Arcade games? One of the powers in that game requires a quicktime event a lot like what you’re describing. It’s not pass-fail (instead for each button you get right you do more damage, and if you get everything right there’s some more bonus damage) and the time-limit is over the entire attack, so you have like 12 buttons in 7 seconds, and the more you hit right the more damage you do.

    It’s actually a relatively fun little system, and I don’t like quicktime events at all :P.

    1. Scourge says:

      Legend of Dragoon, for the ps1, did it completely wrong though.

      First you got to time the hit correctly, and then you need to hit the correct button. Granted it were just X,O, Triangle and Square, but still… it was very unintuitive plus if you didn’t get the combo you’d did less damage. And they expected you to score perfectly, boss fights and other fights were laid out with the difficulty in mind you’d always score perfect.

      It was a tough game, but fun story, at least until I stopped playing because a boss one shotted me repeatedly since I didn’t get the blocking sequence correct either. <.<

      1. Simon says:

        I actually really liked the Legend of Dragoon system. It made battles that usually amount to pointing and clicking in other JRPGs a tad more interesting.

        I suppose it just comes down to what sort of person/gamer you are, but I wish something like this was done a bit more often. Perhaps tweaked a little to make it more accessible.

        I am still waiting for a re-release on the Playstation Store, so I can play it on my PSP.

        1. CrushU says:

          Super Mario RPG had a similar system, that you needed to do different things for different attacks to make them better. There was one weapon, the Lazy Shell for Mario, that would do a standard amount of damage if you did nothing, if you tried and failed the timing, it would do less, and if you nailed the timing would do alot more.

          One attack of Geno’s (WHO NEEDS TO BE IN ANOTHER GAME) would deal 9999 if you timed it at the END of the attack instead of the beginning like every other attack in the game. It was fun.

          Blocking was similar.

          1. Syal says:

            The Paper Mario series continues the trend.
            As for Geno, since he was really just a star, you could argue that Twink was-
            You know, I can’t even finish that sentence.

      2. Irridium says:

        Exactly what I was going to say.

        I actually liked the combat system. I found it rather interesting and more engaging.

        As Simon said, it needed some tweaking, but I’m sure with time it could have been amazing.

    2. Deoxy says:

      Yes, Legend of Dragoon did it… but Final Fantasy did it first. Final Fantasy 3 for the Super Nintendo (so, FF 6 in the “real” numbering system, IIRC) had… uh oh. I can’t remember his “real” name. Please don’t revoke my nerd card!

      Anyway, he had several choices, but if you got the combos wrong, he was just about useless.

      1. Sabin. And yes, early on with Blitzes he was great. Late game in the World of Ruin, Blitzes (like SwdTech, Tools, etc.) fell off in terms of utility, so he was weaker. But then again, the highest level FF6 play is usually “Spam Ultima”.

  2. Will says:

    The brain is indeed a very funny thing, and you’re right; during your downtime away from the game your brain is cataloging it’s experiences of the past day. This happens even if you’re awake and doing something else, but it happens more when you’re asleep.

    Waking up the following day and being inexplicably better at X (where X is anything at all that can be learned) despite having done nothing since the day before except sleep is basically how the human brain works. I can still remember when i was younger and learning how to play Mario 64; there were several stages that i just could not get past at all. After eventually giving up and going off to do something else i’d go to sleep, wake up the next morning and ace the whole thing. Happened to four entire stages (Lethal Lava Land, the second water level, Shifting Sand Land and Cloud Cuckoo Land and both the second and final boss fights, as well as dozens of lesser stars (at the very least, the last 5 for the full 120 were all done like this.)

    That’s just how the brain works; it can’t actually learn something until it’s had at least one night of sleep to process the information properly; that’s why last-minute revision for exams rarely if ever provides any benefit at all, and you’re better off revising the day before and then having a snooze than you are staying up late to revise some more.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Learning is heavy duty from the physiological point of view. You have to give your brain both the time to rewire and the necessary ingredients.

      There’s a very interesting book about this, Brain Rules that was written by a guy who actually knows what he’s talking about. It combines hard science and practical advice, I found it very interesting.

    2. Axle says:

      My wife is doing her pHD on this subject: The test subject is hooked to something calles MEG (its a machine that reads your brain activity. clever thing) and he has to memorize a ceratin sequence, of four buttons, and than press those buttons (in said sequence).
      On the day after, the test subject repeats the test and you can clearly see that he get better results (repeating to correct sequence) but the reaction time is a bit slower, which means that muscle memory is better but a tiny bit slower (by microseconds).

    3. Andrew B says:

      Yeah, I’ve always found this too. When snowboarding, I’d often feel my legs “learning” the moves as I drifted off to sleep and during dreams. Very odd, but a definite improvement the next day. Glad it’s not just me!

    4. Mari says:

      All of which is precisely why when teaching my kiddos something new I never “quiz” them on it until the next day, when their brains have had a chance to process the new information/facts properly. It even works with reviewing previously known information. This summer I’m drilling one of the kids on her multiplication tables because she doesn’t have them down as well as she should. So right now she’s sitting at the table writing her 7’s tables and saying them aloud as she writes. Later today we’ll gently verbally go through them together. After dinner we’ll spend a few minutes on flash cards. But none of this is to evaluate performance. It’s just a reminder throughout the day. By tomorrow we can evaluate performance and see that she has only one or two facts that might still need work or whatever (our goal is recall of each fact in 3 seconds or less).

  3. Stephen says:

    a study at harvard found that sleep helped people remember facts better, students could remember information better after 24 hours then they could 20 minutes later its reasonable that this apllies to muscle memoery as well here is where they explain it:

    1. Will says:

      Pretty much; if you do a google search for ‘sleep and memory’ you’ll get thousands of hits, that study was done in 2003; the science has come a fair way since then. iirc they’ve determined that different types of sleep (REM, uh, non REM >.>) is related to different kinds of memory.

      But basically, in simplest terms; the brain needs to process and catalogue information before it can be properly learned or remembered. Until it has time to do that (while you’re asleep) you cannot remember the information properly; you may well remember a bit, but you’ll remember ‘better’ if you sleep on it.

      1. BarGamer says:

        You were close, but the real answer is:

        That thing you call Rapid Eye Movement isn’t random; it’s your eyes doing the sequences. XD XD XD

  4. silver Harloe says:

    I’ve noticed this with games as well – not just muscle memory games, but puzzles and other kinds of obstacles breeze by if you sleep on it, and reflexes even improve in non-memorizable ways – like I would get better at PvP Star Control 2 overnight after a long session, even though the situations are always a little different, because my friends were improving, too. Even though science is only recently coming to understand how it works, people have known this works centuries – it’s why school has homework. You do a bunch of repetitions of a kind of math problem before going to bed, and your brain integrates it until it becomes a skill.

    It also works for programming. If I get really steeped into a problem, I’ll often find the best way to solve it is not to persevere (despite what my boss wants :) ), but to sleep on it – the next day I breeze right through it. But, of course, this never works on Friday (unless I work on Saturday) – by Monday my brain has decided to start integrating different things and I have to re-steep myself in the issues.

    1. Tizzy says:

      In a similar vein, you can struggle through your first playthrough (of say an FPS), beat the game at leave it aside for 6 months a year, whatever… Did you notice how when you pick the game up again, you think you forgot everything about it, but then you remember every single level layout as soon as you see the first room in that level, breeze through traps and ambushes, etc.

  5. Senji says:

    Somehow I got better at the game overnight. Or at least at the songs I was practicing the day before.

    You actually do get better at night Shamus. It is a documented fact. Your mirror neurons fire while you sleep again and again exercising what you have learned during the day.

    The way they actually work is you don’t even need to do something you just need to see some one do it. As their limbs are moving the same neurons that fire while your limbs are moving are firing. So you can learn to do something from doing it or watching some one else do it. And while you sleep you practice it again and again.

    I might not be explaining this too well but that’s basically it.

    1. Fists says:

      Further more just thinking about performing actions makes you better at them which could help with practice past your fitness/action threshold, in a doco on brain plasticity I watched they explained studies in which thinking about moving increased the brain mass devoted to that movement without actually moving at all.

      On a side note they related that function to development of autistic and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

  6. Brendan says:

    Love your stuff, Shamus.

    I wonder if you have ever been approached by game developers/distributors in regards to putting a positive spin on your writings?

    Even if you have not, do you think it would be appropriate for game writers in general to declare any “arrangements”?

    1. Maureen says:

      You have a lot of nerve, and even more stupidity, to accuse Shamus of corruption and bribetaking on his own blog, on a thread about Dance Dance Revolution learning techniques.

      I’m sure that’s how all the great investigative reporters started — by interrupting people chatting about neurons and dance moves. Yuppers.

      1. Shamus says:

        I didn’t think he was accusing me at all. I thought he was just asking “has this ever happened”?

        For the record, no. I get occasional offers of “would you review this game if we gave you a copy?”, but never anything beyond that.

        Besides, I don’t gives scores, so my reviews are useless for the purposes of bumping up metacritic scores.

  7. IronCastKnight says:

    Way of the Samurai 3 has a little rice pounding minigame based around performing a QTE within a rather lax time limit, and I don’t hate it with the burning fury of a thousand raging suns. On the other hand, Lost Odyssey, an otherwise pleasing and well designed game, had a QTE event wherein one most press butan to not receive HOT DRAGONMONSTER DEATH, that, despite my perfect completion of it, I did hate with the burning fury of a thousand raging suns. The moral of my story? A more relaxed but still timed QTE is better than a strict QTE, but both of them are worse than decent gameplay.

    Also, shame on you Shamus, you got me back into DDR as well. It helps that DDR X for PS2 was twenty dollars with the pad on Amazon. I’ve noticed the difficulty curve between the second and third tier songs as being rather sheer-cliffish, myself. Case in point being Ticket To Bombay, which is, at four steps, a leisurely stroll down Cake Boulevard in shoes made out of the fluffiest of puppies, but is, at seven steps, made of pure murder. Slightly offputting, to say the least.

    1. Syal says:

      You know, ‘pure murder’ means less when the precursor is crushing puppies.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Imagine how those puppy-shoes must feel when they see the seven-step variant incoming.

  8. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Now I’m suspecting that stuff is going on in the brain during the time away from the game. This has interesting implications for game designers who are introducing gamers to something completely new.

    Uh, not really, or at least I can’t think of any way this can be applied to games on purpose, as choosing when to shut off a game and sleep is always completely up to the player.

    Anyway, for DDR, am I correct in assuming that the game lacks a practice mode?

    Cause that would kinda suck, and would make advancing past the point you’re at now a lot harder than it should be.

    It sounds like you’re entering the “no pass zone,” which is where a rhythm game drops the kiddy gloves and starts getting tougher, so now you’re going to start seeing the “game over” screen a LOT more often. (but isn’t all that hard, at least compared to when the game brings out it’s boxing gloves with iron knuckles built in…)

    The way I see it, you have two options if you want to advance higher; one is to find a song that has eighth notes in an early section so you can practice them until you’re good enough to pass them, another would be to turn on no fail and practice one song with a lot of eighth notes until you feel you’ve more or less got the hang of it.

    The third option would be to stick to 2nd tier till you’re bored to tears with it, but since you’ve got all A’s on the songs, all that would really do is build up your stamina, which can be helpful, but not as much as simply failing on 3rd tier until you can pass it.

    I haven’t played DDR myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I do have a decent amount of knowledge for music games, so I’m not completely talking out of my ass here.

    EDIT: read your Do It Again, Stupid article, so I’m kinda surprised you’re putting up with this game, as it’s only going to get harder from here, and without a practice mode, you’re gonna be stuck trying to do the exact same song over and over until you get it right for quite a while.

    1. Shamus says:

      It does have a practice mode, but it’s pretty much the same as normal mode except you can’t fail out. I use it now and again.

      You can also slow down a song, but I’m afraid to use that. I’d rather learn on a slow song as opposed to learning a fast song on slow, as it were. I’m worried that the latter will let you get through a song but not really help you build the muscle memory to beat it normally. I’m not sure.

      1. Jarenth says:

        A friend of mine who plays a lot of DDR and other (predominantly Japanese) rhythm games actually prefers to set the speeds as high as possible, because that makes it easier to follow the beat. If you turn down the speed, you’re going to end up with a lot of slow-moving arrows on your screen that are hard to exactly time and predict. In contrast, higher speeds mean you usually have only a couple of arrows on-screen at the same time; and as an added bonus, the higher speeds mean you won’t have time to consciously think about it, instead forcing you to rely on the muscle memory you’re trying to build.

        1. SatansBestBuddy says:

          Ooooooo, if you can do that, Shamus, do it; maybe not as high as possible, but setting it higher than you’re used to will leave you less time to think and you’ll just react without all that pesky thinking stuff that gets between your brain and your foot.

          1. Jarenth says:


            1. The Rocketeer says:

              Take this with a big grain of salt, Shamus.

              I think both of you are sort of misunderstanding what Shamus is saying- that you can slow down the song itself in practice mode- but you’re both referring to how you can alter the scroll speed before a song.

              Contrary to what you might think, Shamus, trying a difficult, fast, or tricky song on a slower speed is a very big help. Even just setting it on 80 or 90 percent of full speed makes a very, very big difference in both the physical and mental aspects of playing it, and the experience you get that way DOES scale up when you try the song at its full speed.

              As for setting scroll speed (do you even know what we’re talking about, come to think of it?), it’s nearly always to your benefit to alter the scroll speed a bit faster; once you hit third tier, the arrows on most songs will start to overlap and bunch up on standard scroll speeds, and trying to read that is several times more difficult than reading the notes spaced out, but a little faster.

              You should NOT put the scroll speed as fast as you can read it. That’s bad advice. That’s just going to change the difficulty of reading bunched up notes to the difficulty of reading notes that the refresh rate of your monitor or TV can’t even keep up with, much less your train of thought. Just try and find a good balance between being able to see the notes well enough in advance to prepare for them, and having them spaced out far enough to discern their rhythm and order clearly.

              For instance, I CAN read notes going at 600 bpm or more, but I get much, much more accurate play if the notes are scrolling anywhere between 300 and 450 bpm. Which is probably a lot more than you’ll be ready for for a while.

              As for moving up in difficulty, there’s not really any secret or trick to it; it really is just that hard. It’s not even a matter of merely getting faster or more complex, either; the switch from tier 2 to tier 3, and later from 3 to 4, represents a change to a completely different style of play altogether, not merely a more difficult version of what had come before. It’s very hard to explain adequately, even if you’re playing alongside someone. But it’s very rewarding once you finally get the hang of it.

              It’s like learning the Afronover; one day it finally clicks, and then you can’t understand how you didn’t get it before.

              1. Jarenth says:

                My previous bit wasn’t meant as catch-all advice, of course. I was just saying that forcing yourself to rely on muscle memory has had benificial results for some other people I know.

                Feel free to take that with all the salt you need.

              2. Pumpkinetics says:

                Good god. I wish I had your sort of advice when I was moving up to standard and heavy. I really can’t add anything not covered here.

                Except that it’ll be amusing if Shamus ever tries out Challenge mode. That’s DIAS gameplay, pure and simple.

                1. The Rocketeer says:

                  It’s actually quite difficult to know what advice to give about DDR; words alone really don’t suffice for it.

                  Back in my days of playing DDR Extreme at the arcade, I always had my best improvement when playing alongside players who were better than me. Luckily, there were some immensely-skilled players in my area.

                  I guess the one thing I can really suggest about moving up tiers (I keep wanting to say Beginner, Light, Standard, and Heavy, but I know that’s outmoded) is that the more you put off learning techniques like crossovers, turnabouts, gallops, and the whole rogues’ gallery of ‘trick’ rhythms, the more often and the more heavily you will be punished for it as you increase in difficulty.

                  One of my favorite songs to play back in the day was Drop Out (check it out: ), which, despite being very fast and very physical, doesn’t really have very many tricks to it; you’re either fast enough or you aren’t. Meanwhile, there are a lot of ostensibly easier songs like AM-3P (watch here: ) which require a lot more technique.

                  AM-3P is half as fast as Drop Out and has only %60 as many notes. But although I used Drop Out as the last song of my warm-up set, I continually struggled to even pass AM-3P. The ‘easier’ song utilizes a lot of crossovers, turnabouts, and mildly tricky rhythms, and would always trip me up and break my flow. So it’s well worth paying attention to these techniques, and at your skill level, Shamus, you may not even know all the standard eighth-note ‘marches’ yet, so… I guess just practice… everything?

                  Again, I don’t really know if any of this advice will prove useful; it’s just so much more fruitful to SHOW someone, to provide an example and feel out exactly what you need to get better. It really makes me wish I could get back into the game, just for the opportunity to help along new players.

                  I also don’t think anyone on the planet but me uses the term ‘turnabouts;’ as of now, the first Google result for “ddr turnabouts” is my comment in your “Learning to Push Buttons” post. So for the record, that’s when you have to (or just really, really NEED to) turn in a complete circle to step correctly. Yes, it is as disorienting as it sounds, and I never got the hang of it.

                  It also occurs to me that I’ve mentioned the ‘Afronover’ in both posts I’ve made, but even a lot of good players don’t know what that is. Just know that for years, the song ‘Afronova’ was suspected to be impossible and was banned from serious tournament play. Finally, some bright spark figured out the enigmatic 15-note sequence, and danced naked through the streets of Syracuse.

                  The solution was, in fact, maddeningly simple, and turned out to be a very specific, repetitious form of the crossover, thereafter dubbed the ‘Afronover.’ Luckily for players everywhere, I don’t think it’s in any song but the one it’s named for. But once you know it, Afronova is actually a really, really fun song, and impressive to watch for bystanders and veterans alike.

                2. I wouldn’t call it DIAS.

                  DIAS gameplay is generally when the difficulty hasn’t actually increased but you still need to do it again and again because there’s so many arbitrary things that will just kill you.

                  DDR, on the other hand, involves validly learning new techniques and motions to get through songs. Losing on DDR is just as fun to me as winning: It doesn’t FEEL like DIAS, it feels like practicing something and seeing that I’m getting better at it. There’s nothing arbitrary or stupid about DDR difficulty.

              3. Dys says:

                It’s worth remembering that different people learn things differently. Like with the various play styles, some groups probably use entirely different areas of the brain for performing these tasks.

                I recall Richard Feynman wrote about a conversation he had with a friend about counting while reading / speaking. Turned out one of them counted using the visual area, and the other used the vocal area of the brain.

                Someone needs to hook people up to a brain monitor while they play and/or learn a rhythm game :)

                I have the same suspicion about changing the speed on a track. I want to learn the timing of a song, seems to me that changing the speed is not going to help that at all. Then again, perhaps my brain has a time scaling function that I’ve never used.

        2. Freykin says:

          This is how I go about it as well, I modify the speed to whatever setting gets me the closest to 300 bpm. So if a song is 140 bpm, I’ll set it to 2x. 90 bpm, 3x, and so on. It helps a lot at keeping the arrows coming at a consistent speed, and keeping them spaced apart enough that I can understand what I’m supposed to do.

      2. Hal says:

        Do you (Shamus or any of you, really) play any musical instruments? One of the primary way of learning/teaching fast, difficult sections is to work on them at a slower pace and build up to it. I suppose it could vary from person to person, but most people I’ve met do end up developing the memory patterns enough to be usable at faster tempos.

        Coincidentally, one of the challenges of teaching young jazz performers is to keep them from speeding up too much as they grow comfortable with a piece. Granted, in DDR you’re probably working at physical limits to speed, but I think the comparison remains.

      3. Zak McKracken says:

        First: What a surprise, you dedicate a whole article to my post! Am I famous now?

        Second: I think the question if playing a song slower helps is a question of personal preference. If I try to learn a song (singing, playing, dancing, whatever), I can’t go below a certain speed before I can’t hear/feel the melody/rythm and completely loose the connection to the song at original speed.
        My wife has no problem recognizing a song at one tenth speed. If something’s completely new and difficult, we can’t practice together, because it’s either too fast for her or too slow for me.

        The ideal learning for me is to start at 75% or 80% speed, understand the movements, then slowly increase to 110%, and if I manage that without big flaws, I’m mostly sure I’ll nail it at 100% every time. … this is not DDR, (which I’m obviously not playing) but I think the principle works in a similar way to actual dancing.

    2. Shamus says:

      Oh, and on the other point:

      “Uh, not really, or at least I can't think of any way this can be applied to games on purpose, as choosing when to shut off a game and sleep is always completely up to the player.”

      I was thinking more about when to introduce new gameplay elements. Some games Teach you A, then B, then C, then D, then turn you loose in the gameworld where you’ll be using all of these skills. Others (and now that I’m thinking about it, Valve does this) will teach you A, then let you play with A for an hour or so before introducing B and then combining A and B together.

      The idea is that if you’re playing in reasonable-sized game sessions (where “reasonable” is a value on which reasonable people might disagree) you’ll likely get a night of sleep between learning A and encountering B for the first time.

      1. SatansBestBuddy says:

        Oh, okay, that makes more sense.

        I kinda wish more devs would do this better; a lot of them try, but it’s a pretty difficult balancing act, one which companies like Valve and Nintendo are really good at, but others, like Capcom or Epic… aren’t.

        1. Will says:

          It requires a much greater level of design knowledge and skill than most devs seem to exhibit.

          I am, however, reasonably sure that a major part of that comes from publishing restrictions, rather than being the fault of the the devs in question.

      2. 2tm says:

        I realize that this isn’t really relevant to ANY of the existent discussions in the comments, but I wanted to let you know how happy reading “The idea is that if you're playing in reasonable-sized game sessions (where “reasonable” is a value on which reasonable people might disagree)” made me. Your mode of speech (can it still be called that? Is it mode of type? Mode of typing? Mode of text? Huh…) always makes me smile.

      3. Robyrt says:

        Teaching gameplay elements one at a time helps with memory retention, but it’s ultimately a design choice that may not be appropriate:

        “Conquer the Game” style games like Demon’s Souls thrive on the inefficiency of their teaching style to create a sense of a hostile environment and increasing mastery of the game’s arbitrary rules. Generally they teach ABCD then test the player against E.

        “Explore the World” style games like Oblivion (or Street Fighter) thrive on their unbiased teaching style to create a sense of freedom and diverse proficiency that can be contrasted with your buddies over the water cooler, or with yourself on a second playthrough. Generally they teach ABCD then test the player on their choice of A,B,C or D.

        “Live the Story” games like Half-Life thrive on their steady drip of new mechanics to keep the player interested and actively learning while the narrative continues. Generally they teach A then test A, then teach B and test B.

        “Manage Your Time” games from Starcraft to Diner Dash also use a steady drip of mechanics, but only out of necessity, because the intended audience would be so frustrated at the complexity of the full game they won’t take the time to learn it.

        1. Of course, games like Street Fighter and Starcraft also have a different phenomenon: Namely, the game tests you on A, B, C, D and E, but the techniques that actually MATTER are E, F, G and H.

          OH, and yeah, E, F, G and H were never intended by the game designers.

          Cancelling, pretty much the foundation of every modern fighting game, was a bug exploit. The amount of exploits, tactical developments, and meta-game alterations in games like SF, Smash Bros., Starcraft, Quake, etc. are mind-boggling. Indeed, that’s the sign of a good competitive game: How little the eventual meta-game resembles the intended design. Go, of course, has a metagame that almost completely fails to resemble the rules.

      4. Kalil says:

        Portal was immensely successful at this, as was the Starcraft single player campaign – they spread out new techniques and (for Starcraft) new tools across nearly the entire game. The other benefit of this method of ‘teaching’ is it really feels like you’re improving through the whole game, so you don’t hit a point where you’ve mastered it and the rest of the game is tedium.

  9. Nihil says:

    You didn’t capitalise Pong.

    The above isn’t a nitpicking of a typo (although it may well be one), it’s a cultural observation. It takes a lot for a game to go lower-case, and it’s not only a matter of trademark vs. public domain – lots of people don’t capitalise scrabble, but capitalise Hearts.

    I bet few if any readers even felt it was a mistake, and yet I can’t remember having read the name of a video game going uncapitalised before (outside of YouTube and *chan comments, of course).

    1. Syal says:

      To be fair, Hearts has a much better chance of being misinterpreted than Scrabble.

      With regard to people noticing, it took me a few seconds to realize he wasn’t talking about table tennis.

  10. CoarseSand says:

    I recently picked up Star Wars: The Force Unleashed during recent Steam sale and it’s worth pointing to as an exemplar of the traditional quicktime event. They occur as kill sequences on more difficult enemies and bosses, and most times failure only leads to an immediate restart of the sequence or returning to point slightly earlier in the sequence. They’re also used correctly to show off acrobatic maneuvers and different uses of the force powers that the character is capable of, but aren’t standard enough to get space on the controller (even though a “cut AT-ST in half” button would be gold).

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Force Unleashed QTE’s are great that they are (relatively) logical. Cut an AT-ST in half? Press the lightsaber button. Lift an enemy? Press the lift force button. The action presented actually gives you a clue of what you need to press.

      The wonderful side effect? Because the events are always the same, the BUTTONS are also always the same. No surprising you by randomly changing the sequence after a death.

      1. Will says:

        What i really liked was the failure mechanic; the vast majority of the QTE’s, if you failed them you just restarted the sequence (usually 3 – 4 events to a sequence, later on they got longer). Not only that, but you restarted the sequence fast, if you missed it, you could do it again almost instantly with no waiting around.

        Personally i would have preferred if they were just cutscenes, but if they absolutely must have QTE’s in there, at least they weren’t very obnoxious.

        1. Kalil says:

          One exception: the god-awful bit where you have to pull a star destroyer out of the sky. That should and could have been the most impressive part of the game, but (especially with PC controls) it was a royal PitA.

  11. toasty says:

    You know, DDR has never appealed to me, I’ve even played it, but didn’t find it so fun. However, I really, really, really want to try Guitar Hero/Rock Band.

    1. Irridium says:

      I’d say go with Rock Band.

      I just like their song selection more, but both play the same.

      1. krellen says:

        I liked Rock Band initially because it had singing, as well as guitar.

        I know Guitar Hero has that now too, but it was a while in the coming.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Like Binks said earlier,penny arcade has great implementation of quick time events.The problem isnt really with quick time events,but with its implementation.There are very,very few games that implement it well.The only two I know of are penny arcade and fahrenheit.

    And yes,sleep is a quite necessary thing for learning anything.While your higher functions are resting,the brain is sort of defragmenting itself so you can access the new stuff much easier afterwards.

    1. Simon Buchan says:

      “Fahrenheit”? Bah! I don’t even hate QTE’s that much*, and I *hated* Fahrenheit’s gameplay. (I thought it’s story was very interesting, then absolutely HILARIOUS, so I did finish it.) I guess the idea here is it is super-hard to impossible to design a QTE system that everybody will like.

      But yeah, PAA:OTRSPOF (E1, I never picked up 2) did it fairly well.

      * I actually /liked/ the last boss of Pop: Two Thrones, which apparently means I am an sub-human masochist.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well,when I say that there was something good about fahrenheit,I always refer to the first half of the game,which was great.The second half was like highlander 2.

        1. Dys says:

          I never got to play the second half of Fahrenheit, the reason being that in the chase sequence when the helicopter appears, my game would experience a severe FPS drop every time, making it impossible to complete the QTE.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            You are lucky.Its after that point that the game goes way downhill.

    2. Dodds says:

      As was mentioned higher up, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed did QTE’s pretty much perfectly. Apart from that the only game I can think of would be Ninja Blade. But then, that’s a game essentially built around them.

      Actually, one of the main things Ninja Blade did right was to have differing difficulty for QTE’s. Easy would cut out some of them in any sequence, but keep the exact same button between tries. Normal would have you doing the full sequence, but the button’s would still remain the same. Hard (Which I honestly have no idea why any sane person would select. Unless…Wait, are there actually people who like QTE’s?) made you do the full sequence with completely random inputs.

      Combined with how they were greatly telegraphed (A quick close up of your character’s eye) and how failing them made you do the sequence, or at least part of the sequence again, I’d say it was nearly perfect as far as QTE’s go (Which isn’t saying much…)

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,it was nice in ninja blade how you could adjust the difficulty for qtes separately.Plus,being an essential to the game,they were slowly introduced.So they werent as bad as in some other games,which is nice,but still werent that good either.

  13. Jarenth says:

    Every time I read another post of yours about DDR, I’m painfully reminded that in my current living situation I have neither the space nor the money for my own dancemat.

    *Wistful sigh*

    Well, at least now I have a goal in life.

  14. JohnTomorrow says:

    Think of the brain as a giant collection of speakers. A speaker pops up for every little thing you do during the day – driving to work, having a shower, eating a sandvich, stubbing your toe, picking your nose – they all emit noise depending on their importance. Things you do again and again eventually fade to background, or static, noise (shower, driving, eating), where as stubbing your toe has a little more noise added to it, because of survival implications.

    Now imagine you’ve done something that is repetitious for a short period of time (like play DDR all intense-like). Your brain will flag this as high-risk potent, and set its speaker on a loud volume, so loud it almost takes over the rest of the sounds coming from the other speakers.

    Then you fall asleep. In order for your brain to recuperate from the million little things its done during the day, in order to prepare itself for the million things its going to do tomorrow, as you sleep it gently lowers the volume on all the speakers, making your brain quieter and easier to handle.

    However…the louder noises are not completely shut off, because of how loud they were in the first place. As the thousands of little things fade away, the sounds of DDR remain in the void – not blaring like before, but just enough for your brain to single out and study.

    This is how some scientists speculate that the whole ‘learning as you sleep’ works. For a better example (or a better explanation then i’ve tried to give), go to and download the Sleep Podcast, and find out how Tetris helped scientists figure out stuff about sleep. You’ll love it.

  15. Matt K says:

    Secret Agent Clack (PS2/PSP) had something like that in the demo (I have yet to play the full game).

    Essentially you had a series of button presses (X, O, …) for sneaking and you could miss a few and still succeed. Miss a few more and you have to fight the guard and miss a lot and you get knocked out by the guard,

  16. DmL says:

    I’ve heard it called “Post-Practice Improvement” (PPI) and see it every day in playing guitar and piano.

  17. Sam says:

    I can think of one game and one series that somewhat follow the “time limit” QTEs. The single game was Riviera: The Promised Land for GBA (and, I believe, PSP?), though those were mostly confined to trapped treasure chests. Still, it was an enjoyable game and a nice departure from traditional walk-around-the-overworld-fighting-random-monsters RPG. And the series, of course, is the WarioWare games. The whole game is basically a series of QTEs with short time limits. Though, unlike most QTEs, most of the “microgames” in the WarioWare series require just one button press or a simple movement from the directional pad. I’ve found most of the games extremely entertaining, and though they are more of a pass-fail system, at least you are allowed four failures before you actually fail.

    While neither of these are akin to DDR in that you still fail if you screw up the QTE, they’re at least a step in the right direction with a timer and the button presses laid out for you.

  18. Vegedus says:

    About the muscle memory, I’m under the same impression. In fact, I think it applies to a lot of learning. Whenever I don’t feel I’m getting better at any discernible rate in a game, I deliberately shut it down and try again the next day, at which point I’m usually better than I was at any point during the previous day.

  19. Rack says:

    Everyone needs to play Shenmue, because QTEs are some bizarre line of people copying something else that copies something else that copies Shenmue.

    But Shenmue got everything right first time, the QTEs in Shenmue were amazing so much so that if you go back to it you can easily understand why they’ve bcome so ubiquitous. Just not why no-one else can seem to get them right.

    First up the button always matches the action, if someone attacks you unexpectedly then you either hit the block button or dodge out of the way with a direction key. If you fail then the punishment might be that you don’t get a piece of information you need and have to go elsewhere, or maybe you just end up looking a bit goofy. If it’s a sequence you have to pass then you generally get let off missing a few of them, you might get hit by that first blow and maybe the third and sixth one but overall you still win as long as you get the seventh one right.

  20. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Regarding the “brain learns” discussion, I often noticed it while studying at university. I call it the “pickling effect”.

    I tried to understand some life probability theories while cracking open books. I went through the exercise for 3-4 hours, had a lot, lot of trouble doing them, but I still went through the pain of reading the answer to most of them.

    I cracked open the book again only 3 weeks later, and I had mastered the theory, with only loopholes and “trick questions” could have me. I quickled beat those into submission, and I got a grade of 91.5% for that class, where the class’ average was 45%.

    Moral of the story? Study early in your class cycle, but don’t overdo it. Let your brain assimilate what you have to learn, and try to keep the morale high. High morale = more effective brain pickling.

  21. Nova says:

    Hey Shamus, there’s actually a great program by NOVA about sleep (dreams in particular), and why we markedly improve in new tasks after sleep. They actually use a game like DDR for one of their experiments :D
    I found it on netflix, so throw it in your queue sometime if you’re interested. Here’s the site!

  22. Daimbert says:

    Wait … so you mean that when Sakura Wars was making the combats finicky and tricky enough that it drove me away from the game in despair, it was really trying to make me learn something by going away and sleeping on it? And it’s not even an action game … [grin].

    At any rate, there’s a couple of other games that do it fairly well. I think the Ultimate Alliances use it heavily, but it isn’t a “fail and game over” but instead a “okay, go for the attack, steady, steady … dang. Wait for the next chance”. It didn’t seem to me to be balanced assuming that you’d always get it right. However, I think that in one game — maybe the second X-Men game — it’s used a little bit, but then it became the dominant mechanism in the next game in the series (I count Ultimate Alliance as coming from and being the same series as the X-Men games) and so was overdone.

    The best, though, might be Shadow Hearts: Covenant. It’s used for combo attacks. So, in theory, you never have to ever get a quicktime event, as long as you don’t do combos. And it isn’t all that tough of an event either: for every person in the combo — up to four, which is the maximum number of people you can have in your party — you have to hit the right button when it appears before moving on to the next person in the combo. So the first person attacks, and then to activate the next person you have to hit the right button, that person attacks (if successful) and you just keep going. If you miss, you break the combo but keep all the damage you had done up to that point. So, it can be annoying if you miss, but usually not devastating.

    Of course, SH:C is one of a series of games that uses the unique method of the judgement ring for everything else in the game, including anything else that you might use a quicktime event for …

    1. Another good one is MadWorld’s QTE. First of all, they’re almost always “Miss this and you don’t do as much damage, or you take some damage”. Second, they’re generally easy. The only one I had trouble with was Frank’s, and I eventually got the hang of it. And, most importantly, the presentation is consistent and awesome, and you’re actually MOVING. The fact that you are using the Wiimote and the Nunchuk makes it feel like a real battle, rather than arbitrary button presses. Say what one will about the Wii, done right (and MadWorld, while I love it, isn’t even that amazing of a game), the motion control massively increases immersion and makes Scrappy Mechanics bearable or fun.

  23. rayen says:

    out of curiosity what are the difficulty tiers for dance dance universe? MAX had light, medium, heavy and challenge/oni. extreme had beginner, light, medium, expert, challenge. I’m wondering if they added or removed tiers in universe or not. also i’m getting kinda confused by your use of tiers without knowing what each tier is called. sorry i’m just a DDR veteran and my brain works like that.

    1. Shamus says:

      In Universe it’s called Beginner / Basic / Difficult / Expert

      I’m on Basic, although yesterday I managed to get a “C” on a difficult song.

      1. Will says:

        There’s also an Oni rank, but it only appears on like 5 songs. It is, however, aptly named on those songs.

    2. Pumpkinetics says:

      So assuming the same ranking as Supernova/DDR X, Shamus is on what you’d think of as light, moving up to the dreaded 8th notes of standard.

      Oh god, now I remember the first standard song I tried. “We Will Rock You” at 1x speed. Boy, THAT was a mistake.

      1. Robyrt says:

        Ironically, We Will Rock You helped me learn higher difficulty levels because the tempo was so slow. I’m used to sheet music, so seeing as many arrows as possible let me read farther ahead :-P

  24. Freykin says:

    Nothing wrong with feeling useless after half an hour of playing, DDR is a surprisingly active game. Which also means it can burn a surprising amount of calories :).

  25. Noumenon says:

    Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal had sections where you impersonated bug-eyed monsters by quicktiming a sequence of about twenty button presses and holds, and it was more fun than some of the non-quicktime DIAS sections in Going Commando (like the glider).

  26. Teddust says:


    How are you positioning your feet when you play? Are you returning your feet to the center of the mat after each step, or do you leave your foot on the arrow? The training mode in most DDR games (never played Universe since my pads are for PS2) teaches you to return your feet to the center after each step, but playing this way makes it almost impossible to do songs harder that Basic. If you return your foot to the center each time you need to take two steps for each arrow, step on the arrow then step back into the center.

    What you want to do is leave your foot on the arrow and try to alternate your feet as much as possible. Your feet will almost never be in the center of the pad (I only step in the center when I’m on a menu screen). This makes fast streams of arrows much easier because instead of trying to flail one foot around quickly, or hop foot to foot like a madman, you’ll just be stepping left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. It will take some relearning to switch how you position your feet, but it’ll allow you to progress much further in the game.

  27. Valaqil says:

    I won’t even hide it. I’m adding another to see if the message changes.

    EDIT: Nope.
    “67 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!”

  28. Taininfernus says:

    Think of it this way: during the day, all of your experiences are like the RAM of a system, nothing gets saved, you just keep storing information. When you sleep, the buffer gets saved to your hard drive. Sleep develops long-term memory and learning. It is the period of time during which your brain goes through and solidifies your experiences of the day. This is why you’re better the next day, for seemingly no reason. You only see the true benefits of learning, practice, and training after you’ve slept.

  29. NotYetMeasured says:

    Great article, Shamus! I don’t really play console games any more, but I’ve been considering getting DDR. A true video game/exercise combination would be great.

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