30 years of searching, and at long last I’ve found a use for Quick Time Events.
Valve and Ubisoft conspired to put South Park: The Stick of Truth in my hands over the weekend. I haven’t laughed quite so hard playing a videogame in a long time. That said, I don’t want to talk about the overall quality of the mechanics, which instill a sense of nostalgia for Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario. Nor do I want to talk about how SP:SoT molds simplicity into a compelling experience.
A Mechanic That Was Only Good Twice
Instead, I want to talk about Quick Time Events. QTEs suck. In fact, in 30 years, there have only been 2 occasions when QTEs have been good. The first was in Laserdisc arcade cabinets in the 1980s. The most famous of these arcade cabinets was Dragon’s Lair. I was only 7 when I saw Dragon’s Lair for the first time. DL was such a revolutionary game at the time, relative to everything else in the arcade, that I was intimidated by it. I watched good players play it, but I never could summon the courage to drop in a quarter of my own. It wouldn’t be until years later, when Sega’s Time Traveler made its way to the local arcade did I give a DL clone a shot. Suffice it to say, Time Traveler was not nearly as good as Dragon’s Lair.
Dragon’s Lair’s influence on gaming’s landscape cannot be understated (well, it can, but only by intellectually dishonest fake academics). DL was listed as the number 1 arcade game of 1983 by Electronic Games. Game Spy listed DL at number 7 in the “Top 50 Arcade Games of All-Time” ahead of Galaga, Spy Hunter, Punch Out, and Centipede, and in a Top 10 that includes Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man, Street Fighter 2, and Star Wars. DL was one of three featured games in the video gaming gameshow Starcade, the great-great grandfather of e-sports.
The second time QTEs were good were in 1999s Shenmue for the Dreamcast. Shenmue director Yu Suzuki is credited with coining the phrase “Quick Time Event”. The manual for Shenmue called them “quick timer events”, but they caught on in gamer parlance as “quick time events”.
Since then, whenever a game developer paints themselves into corner with respect to mechanics, or grossly overspends on cutscenes for a game, they go back to the QTE well to bail themselves out of their bad design or budget decisions. This has resulted in many terrible applications of the QTE, from “Press ‘X’ to win,” to “Press ‘F’ to Pay Respects”.
Is Good Once Again
South Park: The Stick of Truth has implemented QTEs in a way that I think needs to be acknowledged as the best implementation of QTEs since Shenmue. First, let’s take a look at an example:
This might be the first QTE in the history of history I was motivated to pass. Sure, “Press X to kill better” QTEs are satisfying to pull off, but let’s be real for a second: If all one has to do to avoid an anal probing is mash the A button, isn’t one going to mash the A button as fast and as hard as possible?
That’s the genius of the SP:SoT implementation of QTEs. A player can openly guffaw at the situations where a QTE is presented (in the case above, getting an anal probe from aliens), and because the QTEs are generally there to provide the next MacGuffin in the player’s progression, it’s utterly unnecessary to waste a lot of time trying to nail every single QTE in a given play through. Obsidian Entertainment has taken the least serious mechanic in the history of videogames and treated it in exactly the way QTEs should be treated: as a joke.
So thanks, Obsidian, you’ve managed to implement QTEs in a way that isn’t insulting to gamers. Let the name South Park: The Stick of Truth be etched alongside Dragon’s Lair and Shenmue on the QTE Mount Rushmore.
As for the rest of you, I’ll see you in 2029, the next time someone gets around to implementing QTEs well in a videogame.