Saturday, September 26, 2015

#03: Quick-Time Events AKA Panflash

About the Mechanic

Quick-Time Events are reflex-challenges for the player that simulate the character making some sort of highly time-sensitive reaction to an event.  

This mechanic can be considered a sub-mechanic of Beating a Timer, and shares many similarities to that mechanic as a result.  The difference is that QTEs typically experience different dynamics than a high-level Timer challenge - the internal margin, or time that the player has to succeed, is typically very small.  Additionally, the external margin, or time between QTE challenges is usually reasonably small as well.  There is a deeper implication, though - typically a single QTE is not a challenge, but a progression of QTEs, possibly interspersed with other challenges, is what the player encounters.

The skill players are taught is to rapidly and accurately respond to a stimulus.  QTEs are nearly always presented with a visual cue that informs the player that a QTE is occurring.  There's usually some sort of feedback on how long the player has to take the very simple action to satisfy the QTE, usually pressing a button.  Success and failure to satisfy the QTE is usually always presented as soon as one of those conditions occur.

QTEs can be stand-alone events, which represents the character reacting to something sudden occurring in the game world.  I'll be referring to this sort of QTE as a "Snap QTE."  This is the standard for which this mechanics analysis occurred in terms of both internal and external margin.

It's also possible that a QTE can consist of more than one event, that needs to be accomplished a number of times before the QTE expires.  I'll call this a "Machine-Gun QTE" as it requires rapid execution before the QTE time limit expires.  These QTEs generally have a slightly more generous internal margin for the player.

Concurrent QTEs represent a snap decision for the character.  The player can often only accomplish one QTE at a time; the QTE that 'succeeds' is the choice the player is going with, while there is no penalty for failing the other QTEs.  In this entry, I'll be referring to this sort of QTE as a "Branching QTE."  Because Branching QTEs represent a choice that must be considered, typically the internal and external margins for error are larger than other QTE types.

Finally, subsequent QTEs can provide a simplifed way of presenting that the character is doing a complex, technical task if presented in succession.  I'll refer to these QTEs as a "QTE Sequence."  Typically, the internal and external margins of error for the player are smaller than other QTE types in a QTE sequence.

Referee Information / Data Structure:

Start Time
Trigger Time
Successful = Trigger Time < (Start Time + Lifetime)

Player Information / Feedback:


Designer Information:

Internal Margin = Lifetime
External Margin = Start of QTE 2 - Conclusion of QTE 1


Victory = (IsSuccess)
Failure = NOT(IsSuccessful)

When Is This Mechanic Engaging:

  1. QTEs work best when used in a time-sensitive situatoin.  This is because QTEs simulate the character making a snap reaction or snap decision.
  2. When a technical challenge for the player is required, judicious use of QTEs can be an effective way of making a challenge require more attention and skill from the player.
  3. QTE consequences work best when the severity for failure is low, as these are reflex-critical challenges.  As with Beating a Timer, typically a longer margin set allows for harsher consequences for failure and slightly lower rewards; a shorter margin set allows for softer consequences and slightly better rewards.

When Is This Mechanic Distracting:

  1. When a situation isn't time-sensitive or otherwise has low tension, and thus little need for a player to express their reaction times.
  2. When a task for the player is already highly-technical, the additional reflexes that a QTE requires can make the task unfairly weighted against the player, and as a result alienate the player in that part of your game.

Game References:

  1. The Guitar Hero series, and most rhythm games, are actually entire games built with QTEs - specifically, QTE sequences - as the primary mechanic.  The QTEs are sequenced based on the rhythm of the audio track, which helps the player have better insight to when they need to trigger the QTEs.
  2. The Legend of Dragoon is an example of how QTEs can make an otherwise non-technical challenge - a turn-based RPG battle - more technical with the "Addition" system.  Attacks require a QTE Sequence to strike for their optimum power.  Additionally, attack item effects can be boosted with a Machine-Gun QTE in this work.
  3. Final Fantasy XIII-2 is a perfect example of the Snap QTE, Branching QTE, and Machine-Gun QTE in the "Cinematic Action" sequences.  These occur during cutscenes that the player can influence the outcome of, by either completing a single QTE, making a choice of concurrent QTEs, or spamming a button to accomplish a QTE.
  4. In Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the infamous "Press X to Pay Respects" is a critical example of how not to use QTEs.  The situation in question is a funeral for a fallen comrade.  This is a somber event that is entirely story-driven.  There is simply no need for a reflexes challenge in this situation.
  5. In the Super Mario World ROM hack, Kaizo Mario World, an anti-usage of this mechanic comes into play: immediately when the game starts, a Thwomp comes crashing onto the player with nowhere for the player to go to dodge it.  If you jump, you will die in the introduction to the game.  This is usually known by the trope, Press X To Die.
  6. In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, a counter-use to the "Press X To Die" situation - in this case, Press X To Not Die - is presented: early in the story, Samus Aran is corrupted by a mutagenic element called Phazon.  She's given a special suit to compensate, but periodically her Phazon corruption will spiral out of control.  In a great example of a Machine-Gun QTE, she will have to spam her weapons to rid herself of the excess Phazon, otherwise you will get a non-standard Game Over where she will become a carbon copy of her nemesis, Dark Samus.

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