Big game shows are exciting. The booths blaze through the low-lit event hall. Music seems to seep into your skull from surrounding booths. The air is absolutely electric with the promise of new games. Event staff is constantly hailing people into their booths and events. Booth babes are constantly throwing pamphlets and promos at you, even if the girl before them gave you a copy already. For the gamer (especially male gamer), life is good. Yet in the middle of all this chaos, you can usually sift out some idea of where trends in videogames are heading, whether its trends in gameplay, graphics, control schemes or genres. And this year saw an increase in—
READ! Press X! Perfect / Good / Poor / Miss!
Yep, quicktime events. Those little interruptions to the game most notably found in Resident Evil 4, where you are prompted to mash, move or twitch out of some hairy event. Three major titles that I played at Microsoft’s gargantuan booth featured quicktime events to varying degrees, but ultimately all had the same effect on the gameplay. While quicktime events can add a sometimes-unnecessary layer of frustration to the game, they give the gameplay a more cinematic, dramatic feel, offering a good blend of CG and interactivity. The pre-determined camera angles and special effects allow development teams to present some great things. But just how much control can you take out of the player’s hands, and still make them feel that they’re the primary influence of the on-screen action? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of these demos, shall we?
The new Prince of Persia demo featured quicktime events only in the boss battle (and I don’t know whether quicktime events will be a recurring thing in this game). The boss would often knock you off your feet, and as the boss would swoop in with some nasty looking blades for the kill, the game prompts you to quickly press a random button (X, Y, A, or B). Press the wrong button and your female partner has to bail you out with a magical attack, giving the boss time to regain some health. Press the right button in time and you counter the attack, eventually tossing the boss into the air and cutting into his health a good bit. So there is a moderate penalty for missing the quicktime event, but if you miss repeatedly, as some poor Asian reporter did, you’re doomed for a drawn-out battle. However, if you’re familiar with the Xbox 360’s controller layout, the quicktime event is very simple, and adds a dramatic flair to the fight scene as you toss the boss around, while simultaneously slicing him to bits. You can pull off a totally badass-looking sequence without having to remember a complex button sequence. A pseudo-combo, if you will.
Quicktime events were plentiful in Square-Enix’s The Last Remnant (amusingly called Final Fantasy: The Last Remnant in Japan). I always get nervous when Final Fantasy’s battle system gets tweaked (I still love turn-based battles), but this worked surprisingly well. As with most games at TGS, the biggest challenge was actually figuring out what was going on without any instructions and only getting help in Japanese. In battle, you would first enter all of your characters’ commands while the battle carries on in real-time. Then your characters divide and conquer in different 2-3 person squads and execute their commands one after another, with the enemies fighting back. Randomly, you’ll get a quicktime event that can boost your attack power. Missing the quicktime event doesn’t break the flow of gameplay, but precision timing certainly helps. The free-flowing melee-style way the battles in Last Remnant are formulated really lends itself to Square Enix’s unceasing attempts to bring the same frenetic, fantasy fighting from its movies into its games. The quicktime attacks almost seem like something to keep you occupied during attacks, but battle-strategy does not at all depend on them.
The Ninja Blade 3 demo definitely made the most use of quicktime attacks, and while they were still a tad frustrating at times, they were implemented into the game in an interesting way. In my experience, quick-time events have almost always been used in instances of dodging enemy attacks, fighting and inflicting damage, or executing sweet-looking pseudo-combos. Ninja Blade seemed to use them in transitioning the player from one area to another: the timing of latching the grapple hook onto a far away ledge, busting through a glass window, or smashing through an enemy in a single blow as you freefall down the side of a building. Once the player arrived at the next area, they’d engage enemies in a melee-style battle, an event that pretty much boiled down to button-mashing for me. So, Ninja Blade 3 had an interesting use of quicktime, but it ultimately took some of the frustration, but also some of the fun, out of platforming on your own. Instead of giving you a decent chance of failure through countless gaps and grapple points to navigate, you just have one pass/fail button-push. If you hit it, awesome. If not, you’re sent to a checkpoint in the game that’s not far from where you left off. And I have to admit, with the impressive cinematic sequencing quicktime events allow makes the jumping from point A to point B way more incredible-looking than a simple jumping character animation could.
Ultimately, quicktime events can really allow development teams to portray the game in the cinematic manner of their choosing, and can come up with something that looks gorgeous and simply feels cool to play. I was thinking at the beginning of the article that my message would end up being something like “quicktime events cause you to sacrifice participation in, and control of, the game for gorgeous cinematics,” because although beautiful, quicktime events do end up wiping out part of the game. Despite this, none of the above examples had a particularly negative effect on gameplay, and especially in the cases of Last Remnant and Ninja Blade 3 seemed to do an effective job of encouraging the player to remain attentive and generally engaging them. Prince of Persia, though, goes another way, using quicktime events in just boss battles and melee fighting. I think we’ve been trained to expect quicktime events from certain situations like boss battles and dodging obstacles, so it's a little exasperating when you see them show up time and again. But throw them into a slightly real-time turn-based battle or a sequence of actions where you’re practically sky-diving into enemies and it’s kind of exciting and encouraging again. So I think much of using quicktime events effectively stems from their context. Rewarding a player for paying attention is fine. But it hopefully won’t end up supplanting TOO much actual gameplay in the future.