Next up we get to play through the E3 demo from last year. This scene hasn’t changed very much since that demo. I mean, aside from the silly puddle controversy.
The only notable difference between the E3 demo and the final game is that the E3 demo had Mr. Negative participating in this sequence. In the release version, Mr. Negative doesn’t show up and you just fight his mooks.
I can see why this mission was chosen for the E3 Demo. The entire sequence serves as a vertical slice of the game. We sample a little bit of all the gameplay features in a short time, in a situation where the viewer doesn’t really need to know the story to follow the scene. There are a lot of spectacle-heavy cutscenes, yet the plot doesn’t really progress here and the whole thing could be removed from the game without the player missing out on any exposition or story beats.
The Vertical Slice
Spider-Man arrives at a Fisk Construction building to find Demons wandering around the half-built skyscraper, systematically murdering Fisk’s men.
We get a stealth section where we can pick off the Demon goons. Then we get some straight combat with the Demons. Then we get a few cutscenes to show off how the game can seamlessly transition from cinematics to gameplay. Then we do a bunch of quicktime events to stop several tons of flaming wreckage from landing on helpless civilians below. Then we show off the city and the swinging gameplay in a helicopter chase, which ends with a big action climax that’s about 90% cutscene and 10% gameplay.
This mission is so superfluous to the story and yet so perfect as a trade show demo that it makes me think this section was designed specifically for this purpose and wasn’t part of the story as written. I really dislike showy sequences that show off the cinematography at the expense of gameplay, but I’ll be the first to admit this is an excellent example of the form.
It’s a fun sequence full of slick moments, and I really enjoy playing through it aside from the…
Quick Time Events
I know I’ve been whining about this for over a decade. In fact, let me just repeat some of the things I said back in 2009 in my very first column at the Escapist:
Quick time events are those little in-game interludes where the game pops up a prompt for you to PUSH THE BUTTON PUSH IT NOW OR LOSE! in the middle of an action scene.
From a game design standpoint, I can understand the appeal of the QTE. They can provide a mild skill-based check for pretty much anything. We have established gameplay conventions for things like shooting, fighting, and jumping. (And now, farting. Thank you so much Peter Molyneux.) But there’s no established set of mechanics for using webs to wrap up an industrial crane before it topples over and kills hundreds of New Yorkers. A QTE lets you insert a movie scene and dress it up as if it was gameplay. But quick time events aren’t real gameplay in the same way that a picture of a hamburger is not food. It might look tasty enough, but it’s not going satisfy you.
It should be noted that quick time events are first and foremost a memory test, and a reflex test second. As luck would have it, my first experience with several console systems was with games that used quick time events. If you’re familiar with the Playstation controller then you probably reflexively reach for the top of the gamepad whenever you see a picture of a triangle. But to someone who is new to the system, they might think of that as the “inventory” button, or “enter vehicle” button. If you ask them to hit triangle, their eyes will flick down to the controller. A QTE doesn’t allow for that sort of thing, which means the new player has to stop playing the game and slam up against this arbitrary challenge until they can identify all the symbols in 250 milliseconds or less. This wouldn’t be bad if this led to them developing an interesting skill, but a QTE has all the depth of playing Simon Says. Because that’s what it is. Knowing the buttons by heart is a “skill” that comes naturally over time, and there’s no real reason to arrest newcomers until they acquire it.
To me, the point of playing videogames is to give the player some sort of authorship over the world. It’s not much, but it’s usually at least as interesting as, “Do I kill this dude using my shotgun or my rocket launcher?” Players have freedom to make tactical and strategic decisions, to decide how and when to use the abilities at their disposal. They can decide how aggressive they want to be given how much health they have and how terrible they are at this particular game. There is a gradient of failure (the health bar) that allows them to accumulate and pay off small mistakes without bringing the game to a grinding halt.
But QTEs have none of these features. The player has no control over the events beyond a simple binary pass / fail. Successfully completing a QTE has the same payoff as not pressing the rewind button when you’re watching a movie. If you pull it off, you get to see what happens next. And that’s it.
Consider that if a player can hit a quick time button with 98% accuracy, he has an 85% chance of beating an eight-event sequence. (0.988 = 0.85) But if another player is just a little slower and can only hit the buttons 88% of the time, then he’s only got a 35% chance of success. (0.888 = 0.35) A slight difference in skill becomes a massive disparity of outcomes. This is great if you’re trying make one of those games the really separates the hardcore gamers from the filthy casuals when it comes to gaming skill. That “35% chance of success” player is going to be very frustrated and want to quit if there are a lot of chained quick time events in your gameThis is particularly true if each attempt means they have to listen to the same Resident Evil 4 dialog repeated over and over again.. This is terrible and self-defeating game design if you’re trying to make a game to appeal to a large and diverse audience.
But even if you are making a game for the ultra-competitive tryhards of the gaming community, QTEs are still a horrible way to go about it because they’re such mundane tasks that nobody cares if you’re good at them. Lots of people are bad at parallel parking, but no matter how awesome a parking job your do, people aren’t going to line up on the sidewalk to give you high-fives afterward. Big deal. It’s just a stupid, routine task. It’s either frustratingly difficult or an easily overcome nuisance. Neither of these leads to all-important sensation of having fun through system mastery.
This frustration is exacerbated by the fact that the QTE is usually associated with a pre-set action sequence. The player would love to watch all the spectacular fireworks going on, but they have to keep their eyes glued to one section of the screen in anticipation of the next random button prompt. 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.
I think QTEs are a lame crutch and I’m always hoping they’ll go out of style. Having said that, Spider-Man’s QTEs are largely inoffensive thanks to the fact that you can disable them entirely.
They’re Optional so They Don’t Have to be Good, Right?
The QTEs are all over the place in terms of difficulty. Some of them drop into slow motion and show the symbol you need to hit long before the moment comes. It might feel like you need to wait until just the right moment to press the button, but actually you can just tap the given input again and again until the moment comes. There’s no penalty for hitting it early and no penalty for hitting it multiple times.
At the other extreme are the timed “test of strength” moments where Spidey has to (say) stop a speeding car. The game wants you to hit the button really fast. So fast that my old-man hands could only meet the game’s demands about half the time. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, not to mention putting a lot of wear and tear on a fairly expensive little gizmo.
Thankfully the game has accessibility options to let you disable these button-mashing exercises and instead simply hold the button when prompted.
While I appreciate that we have options to turn this nonsense off, I’m worried this means that QTEs will become even lazier in the future. No matter how stupid or pointless they are, the designer always has the excuse of, “You can disable it if you want.”
This is like complaining to the chef that you found a shoelace in your burrito. “Don’t worry,” he tells you, “I won’t force you to eat it.” Yeah, I get that. I’m not complaining that you’re forcing me to consume something bad, I’m complaining because I wanted you to make me something good.
What’s A Cutscene Without a QTE?
These action sequences look pretty strange if you turn off the QTE system entirely. Apparently the slow-motion moment where you’re supposed to hit the button is built into the cutscene. Which means that without the button prompts there are all of these odd slow-motion moments inserted where they don’t make sense. You might expect a filmmaker to occasionally insert a bit of bullet-time when something fast and exciting happens, but since these slowdowns are for QTE prompts they precede the moment of intense action. Imagine if The Matrix dropped into bullet-time as soon as Neo spotted the agent pointing a gun at him and held that moment for several seconds, but then had all the bullet-dodging happen in real time.
It’s not wrong per se, but it really shows that these cutscenes don’t work as standalone cinema. At the same time, the QTE doesn’t really work as gameplay. This just drives home the point that quick time events are a horrible system that ruins both the gameplay and the cinematics in the name of uniting them.
The other curious detail about this chapter is that the writer passes on an opportunity to name Mr. Negative for the majority of the audience that doesn’t follow the comics. Like I said earlier in the series, the name “Mr. Negative” is never said or acknowledged in the storyMaybe it’s mentioned in one of the Jameson podcasts? I turned those off once I got tired of the joke.. At one point Spidey is having a phone / Skype conversation with the incarcerated Kingpin and he asks about the leader of the Demons. Kingpin could easily have replied with “Mr. Negative”, but instead he evades the question.
I really don’t understand this. Mr. Negative is Dan Slott’s character. Dan Slott was one of the lead writers on this project. Mr. Negative has only been around for 10 years and has never been adapted for other mediums, which means the vast majority of people don’t know who he is.
Why would the writer not tell us his name?
 This is particularly true if each attempt means they have to listen to the same Resident Evil 4 dialog repeated over and over again.
 Maybe it’s mentioned in one of the Jameson podcasts? I turned those off once I got tired of the joke.
Why Google sucks, and what made me switch to crowdfunding for this site.
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
The Best of 2017
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2017.
Skyrim Thieves Guild
The Thieves Guild quest in Skyrim is a vortex of disjointed plot-holes, contrivances, and nonsense.
What is Vulkan?
There's a new graphics API in town. What does that mean, and why do we need it?