Why QTEs (Quick Time Events) Suck Giant Monkey Balls

April 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

As I’ve been recently tormented myself playing Ninja Gaiden 2 recently, I went to check out GiantBomb‘s Quick Look of Ninja Blade — a game that also has the word ‘ninja’ in the title, and which features ninjas in the actual game (who’d have thought?) Witness a perfect example of why QTEs are a terrible gameplay mechanic (skip to about 7 mins in).

The first time I can remember playing through a QTE was in Shenmue for the Dreamcast. At the time, it was a pretty novel, cute little gameplay function which I quite enjoyed. It’s now nine years later and Ninja Blade has taken this device to its absurd logical extreme. Take a look at the video if you haven’t already done so, because it really does highlight how ludicrous and overused QTEs have become.

In general, I dislike QTEs because they’re intrusive and rely on trial and error, reaction-based gameplay rather than skill. Often it can bring the game to a stand-still as you are suddenly faced with a QTE, die because you weren’t fast enough hitting the right button and then forced to go back and retry it — usually passing it the second time round for the fact that you know it’s there. They are like speed bumps in a road, which don’t force you to grind to a halt but serve to artificially slow your progress.

Ninja Blade tries to overcome this, by allowing the player to retry the QTE instead of being punished by it. But the whole point of QTEs, as Jeff says, “is that when you do something wrong something grisly and horrific is supposed to happen”. QTEs are, by their own nature, a punishing gameplay mechanic; that’s actually what makes them what they are. “You aren’t paying attention! Fine! I’ll make you restart this whole section”, it chides, like an old, hung-over Drill Sergeant.

If there is no penalty to doing things wrong, there isn’t any meaning to them. Ninja Blade has attempted to make QTEs more bearable by allowing the player to retry them, but it actually serves to highlight how irrevocably broken QTEs are in their very design. From what I can see, QTEs do three things: they reduce the action on screen to a trivial, banal few button presses; they reduce the gameplay to the form of an interactive movie; they make sections of a game repetitive, tiresome and irritating.

I’m tired of seeing them in games, frankly. I will admit that QTEs can be effective when used wisely and sparingly, but, most of the time, they’re in cutscenes where they don’t need to be or they’re somewhere else where actual gameplay could have been used. In this video, for instance, Ryan has to dive out of the way of the giant worm-thing so many times that it started to look silly and contrived; there was no need for a QTE there. When he’s pulling off a combo against an opponent, or some kind of finishing move, a QTE comes up; again, there is no need for it.



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