QTEs: The root of all evil?

Quick Time Events (aka QTEs), we’ve all seen them, we’ve all played them. They’re a somewhat modern game mechanic consisting in button prompts you have to press in time in order to succeed. From Shenmue to God of War, they’re present in most games nowadays yet, if you ask gamers about them, almost everyone hates them. But, do they really deserve that unanimous hatred? Should QTEs be banned from existance? In my opinion, no.

Like all game mechanics, quick time events can be implemented in a good way or not. If done right, QTEs can be engaging and fun. Because sometimes there aren’t enough buttons on a controller to let you map all of the cool actions you may want your character to make and we can all agree that adding your inputs to that action will always be more engaging than just watching a video.  So it makes sense that developers look up to QTEs as a solution to that dichotomy. It happens however that, if you don’t know how to do QTEs properly, they can be frustrating as hell.
What do developers get so wrong about quick time events then? Well, I’ve played through enough games with “bad” QTEs during these years to be able to point out several mistakes some game makers do when implementing this controversial mechanic and I’m willing to offer some ways they could sort them. So here’s some humble advice on how to create some QTEs that don’t damp the player experience.

  • QTEs should be beatable on the first try: QTE sections are often very flashy pieces of action but that awe from seeing something flashy quickly diminishes in repeating the watches so there’s no point in making a player have to replay a section because they didn’t have lightning reflexes. A regular player should be able to perform the QTE without knowing which button to press next beforehand.
  • Instant death for failing a quick time event isn’t fun: Picture this, you walk down a dark corridor when a sudden button prompt appears asking you to waggle the left stick like crazy, failing at it takes you to a game over screen followed by a loading screen and then having you to replay the section.  Does that sound fun to you? It doesn’t because it isn’t. It’s needlessly frustrating.
  • Choose buttons that resemble other gameplay actions: If your character is going to attack make the button prompt be the button you’re using for attacking, same for dodging, grabbing… whenever you can, choose the buttons that you’re using during the rest of the game. It’s easier for the player and it creates a more solid connection between the QTE and the regular gameplay.
  • QTEs should spice amazing set-pieces, not replace them: We’ve seen it in several games already. The final bossfight is just a series of quick time events. Yes, it looks flashy but it’s quite dissapointing gameplay-wise. Instead, why not create a full fledged bossfight and then have a QTE as the spectacular final blow? That’s adding to the game, not replacing it.
  • Multiple path QTEs are a good idea: The Order may not be remembered as the greatest game of all time but it had some good ideas at least on the QTE department. Giving the player multiple paths during a quick time even section is always a good thing. It adds to the sensation that you’re playing something instead of just watching some video.

    And this would be it. It’s needless to say that this is all my opinion of course be free to disagree. It’s easy to see which games I think have the best usage of this mechanic (God of War, Until Dawn…) and which have the worst (Resident Evil 6 period).


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