Experienced Points: Everyone’s Favorite Crutch

By Shamus Posted Friday Feb 6, 2009

Filed under: Game Design 53 comments

My article on quick time events is up at the Escapist.

This will be a weekly feature.

I am excited.


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53 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Everyone’s Favorite Crutch

  1. gyfrmabrd says:

    Congrtulations on the column Shamus!
    Is this a paid gig? Please say that it is – give hope to aspiring, hard-blogging geeks out there!
    And maybe you should put up a link to the article, for those of us hestitant to brave the roaring current that is the Escapist’s navigation…

  2. Cadrys says:

    …or those of us who don’t remember their URL by heart, and wasted a few moments at theescapist.com instead.

  3. Shamus says:

    Yeah, that was supposed to be a link to begin with. Fixed.

    Yes, paid gig.

    There will be other Escapist-related changes around the site soon. More later.

  4. Cadrys says:

    Congrats on the paid gig, btw! We all eagerly await your first game-review-by-number. :)

  5. Mr_Wizard says:

    Editor missed a bit:
    ” but no matter how awesome a parking job your do,”
    On the second page, second paragraph.

    The article is reading great. I look forward to reading it as much as this blog. :D

  6. Kovbasa says:

    While I agree with you about the events, your math on the second page seems wrong. You talk about 90% accuracy, but when you do the math you use 98% accuracy for the 8 events to get your 85% success rate. 90% accuracy only gives you a 43% success rate.

  7. Teatime says:

    Nice article. On the “QTEs are a test of memory” idea: Clive Barker’s Jericho committed the doubly unforgivable sin of inflicting a randomised QTE on the player. That’s right, the required button sequence was different every time you tried, and the sequence was about twelve presses in length, and the time allowed was excruciatingly short. I’ve had hard drive crashes that were less game breaking than that little gem.

  8. Sheer_FALACY says:

    Star Wars: Force Unleashed did pretty well on QTEs – the ones for killing non-boss enemies had you pressing the button and seeing your character do what that button was for. You only had different sequences for doing different things. Of course, boss battles also had QTEs. Failing those would sometimes set you back to partway through the QTE and sometimes a bit farther than that, so that was annoying.

    But cutting an AT-AT in half or embedding a lightsaber in a rancor’s skull was pretty darn cool. You could kill those enemies without QTEs by just hitting them enough times, but why would you?

  9. Pat says:

    Yeah, nice article. I totally agree.
    I also think of the buttons by function (the Reload button, the Jump button etc) and only secondarily by colour. I never remember the letters at all so I’m always looking down at the pad and timing out.

    I always wondered why they focussed on the four buttons at the right anyway. I mean, practically all the other buttons have strong affordances -you don’t have to “learn” the left and right triggers or the left and right bumpers and they correspond naturally to the four corners of the screen.

  10. Sydney says:

    I agree with Kovbasa. It’s…sort of egregious.

  11. Johan says:

    My God, is everyone going to the Escapist now? I just hope you don’t take the Yahtzee rout and stop updating once you get a paid gig :(.

  12. Jeremiah says:

    So how long until you get to quit your day job? :)

  13. folo4 says:

    see, Shamus?

    your column garnered more escapist comments than most of your Stolen Pixels gig.

    You’re much better at writing.

  14. dadrox says:

    2 things:

    1. What are the alternatives to QTEs? I can’t imagine anyone actually _likes_ them, but they sure show up a lot. I liken them to minigames for in-game tasks (think Oblivion lockpicking), which have a very similar smell to QTEs. What’s a designer/developer to do?

    2. Took me a second to figure out what a QTE actually is. I’ve never heard that terminology, but was able to figure it out quickly enough… How many readers didn’t figure it out?

    I look forward to seeing more of these posts, and congrats!

  15. Shinjin says:

    Good article and even better choice of picture :)

  16. Telas says:

    Nice analysis, and I like how you interpreted it through the eyes of the average gamer, instead of the average game designer.

    In a related development, I now have an image of a pasty white guy, harshly illuminated by liquid crystals, thumping his chest victoriously, then immediately wincing and saying, “Ow!”.

  17. evilmrhenry says:

    I never would have expected a weekly series on quick time events. Wouldn’t that get old real quick?


  18. Shinjin says:

    evilmrhenry – the weekly feature is his op-ed writing. Quick Time Events was just the subject of *this* article.

  19. Henebry says:

    great article! congrats on the new gig.

  20. Kame^3 says:

    I found a webcomic referencing quicktime events. it would figure that I would find it today, what with your new column being on the exact same subject.


    The comic is rather juvenile, but I think it hits home just the same. Congratulations on the new gig, Shamus!

    First comment ever on this site, by the way. I’ve been reading for close to six months now and really enjoy your writing. It’s nice how I can wake up and read a well-thought-out critique of various subjects, done in a style I can appreciate.

  21. TehShrike says:

    What RSS feed should I use to see your future writing shenanigans at The Escapist? I tried this one: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/rss/articles/editorials/op-ed but it gave me stuff that other people wrote, as well.

  22. Zolthanite says:

    You know, I read your first comments on this in the Mass Effect review, and I have to disagree with the mechanic itself being bad.

    The implementation, however, is and always will be. Part of it is because game designers are completely out of touch with reality (Seriously, a cutscene isn’t supposed to have input. That’s why they are movies guys), and the other is because games are not designed to be easily mastered anymore. We’re still stuck in an “easy games suck” paradigm.

    Music games are giant QTEs. If you base a system around how music games function (Ignoring the timing parts of it), it works very well. It doesn’t take much effort to make QTEs scalable to players and not suck.

    The only major difference would be instead of colored…things flying across the screen you could have voice commands and images of the simple action you have to perform.

    That being said, my roommate owns Shadows of the Colossus, so I’m going to give that a whirl and see what it is the commenters on Escapist are talking about. I owe it to myself to do so, really.

  23. Claire says:

    Wasn’t Dragon’s Lair entirely composed of quick time events?

  24. gyfrmabrd says:

    It was.
    Hmm, if you think about it, Dance Dance Revolution, as well as Guitar Hero (and all its various offspring and bastard children) are entirely made up of qte’s… and they don’t even have cutscenes to go along.

  25. Shamus says:

    Dragon’s Lair was actually one worse. It wasn’t Simon Says, it was a guessing game. There would be a sound to indicate it was time for you to choose an input. You had four directions and an attack button. GUESS which is the right choice. In almost every case, wrong choice = death.

    I think there’s a reason that gameplay died so quickly.

    DDR and the guitar games are built around reflex / memory tests. In both cases, you can see the prompts before the moment comes, because they’re cascading down the screen. That’s a really important difference. I think both games would be a lot less fun if the notes just abruptly appeared and you couldn’t see them coming.

    Wow. That would be… hard.

  26. Noumenon says:

    But I like the ninja chefs thing! Two examples: in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, you go undercover as a volleyball-sized alien with eye stalks, and you have to talk your way past the guards. Well, between the challenge of hitting the right buttons in the right rhythm and sequence, and the funny little grunts and burps your disguised self makes to communicate, it’s actually fun and kind of sweet. example

    Another fun button-memorizing thing is calibrating the lightning towers in Final Fantasy X-2. There’s a bunch of different ones — memory, reflexes. By the end of thirty in a row you’re really in a flow zone, it’s a fun experience! And all it is is push the button you see on the screen, or the one of the three that is different, or the two buttons simultaneously.

    They do work up to including all four shoulder buttons and even the directional buttons by the end. This is the sort of thing that will make it even harder to challenge me and new players with the same QTE ten years from now.

  27. Greg says:

    It sounds like your beef is with the way that QTEs tend to be implemented rather than with the things themselves. Hitting a button in response to an event describes about half the gameplay in most games, after that it’s just a matter of how you go about it.

    I’ve got an idea for a way that QTEs could work (even to the point of them being the majority of the game). I’m sure it’s not new, maybe it even exists and I’ve just never played the game, but I’m curious about whether it’s something you folks think might work or whether you’d consider it far enough removed from normal QTEs that it would be its own thing.

    The four buttons are linked to a class of response. They might for example be “agility response” “strength response” “use item in hands” and “do nothing”. When the event requiring a response occurs the game gives some sound effect to indicate this and the player has a couple of seconds to hit something (with it defaulting to do nothing if they don’t).

    Whatever they choose the game doesn’t end and force the player to replay, it continues with the character making that kind of response to the situation. So if a boulder was rolling towards the character agility would show the character jumping to the side, strength might show them trying to catch the thing, item would show them blasting it into powder with their rocket launcher (for this is what the character had in his hands during my hypothetical cutscene) and do nothing would let you watch them get flattened. The second and fourth options would probably result in some damage (though perhaps if the character had been previously established as enormously strong and quite slow the second would be better than the first) but whatever the player presses they get to carry on with the game and don’t break the immersion of the exciting cutscene.

    Unless they manage to choose something inappropriate and lose their last bit of health of course, but by tagging it to “taking damage” it becomes an issue of ‘pass at least one of the sequence’ rather than ‘pass every single one’ and you lose the cumulative probability problem Shamus highlighted in the article.

    So…could it work? Would you play it? Would it be doomed to failure? The two main drawbacks I can envision are (1) Cutscenes with QTEs would take longer to develop (up to four times if they can’t reuse resources) and (2) There might be occasions where the players perception of what the most likely ‘strength response’ and the designers perception differ, which might become frustrating. I guess how specific the categories were could reduce that problem, but at the cost of reducing the variety of things the mechanic could be used for, it seems everything in design is a balancing act sooner or later.

    I’m rambling.

    Stop it.

  28. Kobyov says:

    I think an example of really good QTEs is the MGS4 fist fight scene. Rather than making QTEs an attempt to punish you, they made them an attempt to reward you. If you get it right, you get a cool mini-cutscene and bonus damage (or sometimes avoid damage you’d normally get). If you get it wrong, nothing happens. The buttons appear right in the middle, so if you’re watching the game you’ll always see them, and using only once face and one trigger puts it into the reasonable level of complexity.
    Oh and the fact that they gave you almost a full second to push the right button was pretty sweet too

  29. Pat says:

    My personal pet hate are the games where you have to mash a button quickly and repeatedly to trigger the ‘event’. Not only am I looking away from the screen to find the button, but I’m now hurting my thumb and damaging my gamepad too.

    The lastest Prince of Persia has two of those -one you have to mash the X button to not die in combat and one where you have to hammer the Y button to get Elika to heal the land. The latter is particularly pointless, since there’s no penalty for failure and it’s not at a dramatic moment -you get to do it at your leisure, once you’ve solved the jumpy-puzzles and killed each boss.
    The only reason I can think they put it in there is so that you’d realise that Elika’s magic on-screen is supposed to be an effort.

  30. Hal says:

    Getting paid to write about your hobby? Shamus be livin’ the dream.

    I’ll try not to be too jealous over here. Congrats on the new gig. Just don’t let the blog and the paid gig compete too much.

  31. Eldiran says:

    “Just don't let the blog and the paid gig compete too much.”

    Considering the end result of both is interesting writings on intriguing topics, I can’t imagine it’s possible they’d interfere with eachother.

  32. MadTinkerer says:

    What they should do is make QTEs that allow you to press one of several buttons. The timing is crucial, but which button you press is not, at least in terms of survival / having to restart. Which button you press than determines whether you dodge, punch or jump your way our of whatever is going on, and so forth.

    EDIT: Oh, hey, Greg has the same idea.

    Oh, on the subject of QTE that work, the Mist Attacks in FF12 work pretty well. 1) They’re 100% optional and consume the same resources as spells. 2) The player initiates them. 3) There’s a decent amount of strategy involved, and you’re given a split second each time to chain attacks. 4) If you really screw up, you’re left without any MP, but presumably the player practices a bit before going for broke on a tough boss 5) With a bit of tactical thinking a player can still hammer a boss repeatedly even with just one MP bar, though this tactic is best reserved for a “finishing move” when you’re out of other options. 6) They look fun.

    In fact, the only downside to Mist Attacks is that if the characters can summon tornadoes and meteors and streams of star-plasma and shatter reality, there’s no reason to not simply lay siege to the evil empire’s main city and shortcut all the intrigue. But I digress. ;)

  33. Eightbitmage says:

    “I think both games would be a lot less fun if the notes just abruptly appeared and you couldn't see them coming.

    Wow. That would be… hard.”

    You really have no idea how masochistic dance game players can be. There is one that is the reverse of this (they appear half way up instead of disappearing, but I think the video gives you the idea.


    I think music games as quicktime events is a good example of a much less annoying way to implement them. You don’t miss one note and then die, it takes a number of them, and hitting enough correct notes allows you to recover.

    If the punishment weren’t so extreme I think fewer people would be angry about them.

  34. Heph says:

    Just a question: will this be in addition to, or instead of, the Stolen Pixels? It may have been said somewhere, but if so, I missed it. If it’s in addition, won’t this blog, SP and this combine to be a bit much?

  35. Kevin says:

    QTE was the biggest reason I stopped playing Grand Theft Auto games, which I otherwise loved. It was just a big, frustrating wall in the middle of a game I had, up until that point, been enjoying. Instead of finishing I gave it away. I felt bad about it, and bad for having wasted the money on the game.

  36. Krellen says:

    God of War did quick times right because if you failed the QTE, you did not die. Mastering the QTE was vital to finishing the game/defeating a boss, but failing to execute the QTE did not result in Kratos dying and you having to start over from a save point; you just failed to do whatever spectacular thing Kratos was doing to hurt the boss, and had to go back to dodging/wearing it down so you could get another chance at the QTE.

    To use another example I know Shamus has played, Kung Fu Panda does them very, very wrong. While they don’t change the button presses on you each time, they do set you all the way back to the beginning of the sequence if you fail, requiring you to do the whole thing over again. That’s just ridiculous. I’m glad I didn’t pay anything for that game.

  37. Derek K. says:

    I think my rant on this topic was titled “Get your action games out of my RPGs” ;)

    I’m 100% in agreement. If the game is designed that way, awesome. God of War did a pretty good job with it as a focus. But making my attack dependent on when I push the circle? Screw you hippy. My attack is dependent on the 6 feats I picked up, combined with my tactical positioning, and the weapon of DOOM I bought with my hard earned gold, thank you.

  38. Yar Kramer says:

    Hmm. I think my favorite (in a bad way) QTEs are in Tomb Raider: Anniversary. They tried to get around some of the issues by going into bullet time and pausing the music when the “press X to not die” button appeared. This had the effect of ruining the flow and drama of what was actually happening. Such as the … spoilerish scene with Larson.

    (As an unrelated aside, I can’t be the only one who’s annoyed by the fact that they made a scaled-back version of Tomb Raider Underworld for the PS2 and Wii, but there’s nothing of the sort for the PC. This is the first time my low-end computer has actually prevented me from playing a sequel to a game which ended on a cliffhanger. This sort of thing is yet another failure to make things more accessible …)

    I think a large part of the problem here is that they’re trying to present the stories exactly the same way as in a movie, whereas e.g. Portal and the Half-Life family have much better ways of presenting stories. The quick-time events are a sort of “… oh yeah, it’s also a video game! Let’s make part of it INTERACTIVE!”

  39. Mari says:

    One of my least favorite things about QTEs is when they incorporate the thumbsticks into the sequence. Nothing like pressing buttons then suddenly having the game demand “Now rotate this thumbstick in this direction at this speed.” Rockstar’s Bully was a prime example of it. One of the classroom “mini-games” was purely a QTE and always incorporated the thumbstick and I always failed at that point because Rockstar and I disagreed about exactly what point to start recognizing the movement and how fast that should be recognized. I would have the thumbstick moving in the right direction but somehow I still kept “missing” with it. It was intensely frustrating.

  40. Bryan says:

    I agree. I didn’t mind the QTE sections of God of War so much, mostly because they were a part of combat vs certain enemies and bosses. When you have to defeat the hydra in combat where you need to perform certain QTE sequences repeatedly it doesn’t hurt anything.

    Indigo Prophecy on the other hand was ruined by the QTE sections. For me no game had a wider discrepancy between the potential at the beginning and total experience. It’s as if the developers said “we don’t want everyone getting bored with the story, let’s throw some button mashing in, guys!” It often happened during flashbacks and story-critical scenes which is unforgivable in a story driven game.

    Other things that ruined Indigo Prophecy:
    – Stealth missions. Damnitalltohell.
    – The story going off the tracks.

    Still, the first half hour of that game was incredible.

    I agree with the above poster as well about the QTE sequences in Bully.

    But yeah, QTE = bad.

  41. Looks like The Escapists follows the annoying practice of needlessly splitting articles across several pages. It’s not as bad as other places that put only a single paragraph on each page, but I still find this rather annoying.

    Luckily, they provide a nice one-page print version.


    Sorry, Shamus, but annoying readers simply in order to increase ad revenue is shady at best. (Not blaming you directly here.) If it weren’t for the print version, I wouldn’t bother reading it at all.

  42. Coyote says:

    The worst QTE of all time: Suikoden 2.

    There is exactly one of them in the game, it shows up in the middle of nowhere, only for a second or so. If you blink you’ll miss it. Most people don’t even know it exists, they just think it’s a story point like any standard rpg and that this girl is supposed to be shot for the sake of the story.

    But no, you’re supposed to save her. Darn it.

    So…stealth QTE is worse than ordinary QTE

  43. Inhuman says:

    What’s with all the love for God of War QTE’s? Sure, they don’t kill you or set you back too far for failing but they’re still gratuitous “now I’m going to flash you with some random symbols and not give you a decent amount of time to react” events. And repeatedly mashing a single button as a gameplay mechanic? When even the FAQs are telling you that the best way to do them is to hold the controller one-handed so that you can use the other to mash more effectively? That’s an instant fail, in my opinion. Games should NEVER encourage you to shift your grip on the controller.
    I loved God of War but would have loved it so much more if the QTEs had been removed or handled better.

  44. Old_Geek says:

    Yes, the QTE in Suikoden 2 is near impossible, but it isn’t “Game Over” if you fail. You just get the “normal” ending to the game after the next dungeon/final boss. As you said, you can not even be aware of it and still finish the game with some feeling of accomplishment. In my opinion, that makes it less frustrating than some others.

  45. Robyrt says:

    @Inhuman: God of War “button mashing” QTEs don’t actually require you to mash that fast. A steady rhythm of 4 presses/sec is all that’s required for opening doors, killing bosses, etc. Plus, it’s always the same button, so when you find something that needs exertion, you know what you’lll be doing. Similarly, the “spin the joystick” events are much easier than they look – just keep the stick at Down and spin in the direction the arrow points every time. These forgiving mechanics are what makes these games’ QTEs liked and others’ hated.

    Save your ire for games like Virtua Fighter, whose training mode requires three distinct inputs within 1/6 second.

  46. Hotsauce says:

    @Sheer_FALACY (not taking issue with your comment, merely using it as a springboard) “Star Wars: Force Unleashed did pretty well on QTEs”
    I would posit the hypothesis that the only way for a game designer to do “pretty well” with QTEs is to excise them from their design document. Doing “pretty well on QTEs” because the resultant action was somehow related to the requested action is like saying that the people who assaulted you did “pretty well on kicking your unconscious form” because the only bones they broke were ribs, so you didn’t wind up in a cast. Just because it could have been much worse, doesn’t mean that it was enjoyable, and if your assailants were actually clowns you hired to entertain at your child’s birthday party, you should still be a bit miffed.

    I hated Quick-time events in Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube. The game grades your performance, and a large part of your grade is based on how many times you die. But the skill-set to do well on the “press randomly assigned button now” task is completely different from that required for the rest of the gameplay. Just about every time I died it was because I was watching a cutscene rather than watching for a prompt, so I wound up with a lower grade (and therefore fewer unlocks).

  47. LintMan says:

    “When the sequence is over they focus back on the action and realize that whatever they missed must have been pretty exciting, and that they weren’t a part of it because they were playing Simon Says at the time.”


  48. Tola says:

    QTEs are far older than a mere ten years ago. If you think about the style which they’re done, you can track them back far, far further.

    It’s only recently they were named as such.

  49. Tizzy says:

    QTEs serve an agenda: blurring the line between movies and videogames. The movement is in both directions, of course, movies draw a lot of inspiration from videogames, and designers use QTEs to make their games feel more cinematic.

    It’s railroading, it’s the uglier way to bring variety to the gameplay. But SHamus, in your article, you only considered QTEs as some form of DIAS gameplay. It’s certainly the case for the few games I’ve played that had QTE content, but I guess not all games kill you for failing a QTE. I imagine I would be a lot more tolerant of the non-killing kind…

  50. R4byde says:

    I think an example of really good QTEs is the MGS4 fist fight scene. Rather than making QTEs an attempt to punish you, they made them an attempt to reward you. If you get it right, you get a cool mini-cutscene and bonus damage (or sometimes avoid damage you'd normally get). If you get it wrong, nothing happens. The buttons appear right in the middle, so if you're watching the game you'll always see them, and using only once face and one trigger puts it into the reasonable level of complexity.
    Oh and the fact that they gave you almost a full second to push the right button was pretty sweet too.

    That sounds identical to how Kingdom Hearts 2 did them, and I have to say I enjoyed how they worked then. It was pretty cool to get a context sensitive special move, without any penalties for not using it. RE4’s were NASTY though, that stupid knife fight is the only thing (Other than the batshit story, but it’s a Capcom game so I expected that.) stopping me from replaying it.

    On topic: It’s good to see you on the Escapist, Shamus. Are you going to keep your regular posting schedule up over here on your site, or will you just be posting it over there?

  51. Noumenon says:

    I support Shamus doing less writing here and more awesome writing for a large audience. Being able to get paid for writing is very rare and should be leaped on.

  52. Zak Mckracken says:

    Well … I agree with most of your theses, but here I don’t.
    Have you ever played “Fahrenheit”? It’s like a movie, but you’re playing all the characters. Nonetheless, the outcome is fixed, so there’s lots of railroads everywhere. In D&D, this would make me furious, but somehow I didn’t mind. And there’s QTEs all over the place. And somehow I didn’t mind. In the action sequences, you need to act pretty fast and do complicated stuff. I had never before played a game with QTEs, so the first few times I utterly failed. But after I had grasped the consept, it actually supported the game. My character had to react quickly to unforeseen stuff, and so had I, which resulted in me being in pretty much the same mood that he was in. Immersion, baby! Dialogues worked a similar way: You have only two seconds to start answering, and all you could choose was a keyword. Works wonders if your character just commited a murder and meets a policeman in the street …

    And then there’s Guitar hero and stuff, which is basically nothing else but QTEs for the whole time … I’ll never understand how anyone can like this stuff.

    So it probably boils down to “it depends”. On the implementation, on the peopls supposed to play it, on the mood of the game … It can either be a good way to have your character do complicated things without having to learn complicated keyboard combos. Or it can be boring.

  53. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Stuff like this that Shamus posted to the Escapist is now gone (see also his Stolen Pixels comics). I don’t suppose he kept his own copies of any of that stuff and that it could be restored?

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