TR Member Perks!

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.

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.

  • Agt_Pendergast

    Hah. I actually kinda enjoyed the QTE’s in Madworld (if they can be called that?). Basically it was performing a specific swing or motion with the Wii-mote. It kinda felt like I was doing the motion for whatever Jack was performing on screen.

  • Kevin Maginnis

    I think one of the main issues with QTE’s is how lazily used they are. You could probably make a good QTE in a game if you actually tried to.

  • No, QTEs weren’t even any good in Dragon’s Lair. I was in my teens at the time – bang in the target market for arcade games – and my recollection is that the universal opinion of actual gamers was that it’s the classic example of graphics triumphing over gameplay. I’ve never met anyone who liked it as a game. If magazines gave it awards, that just shows that the gaming press has been swallowing the hype for a lot longer than you think.

    Beautiful animation (really, seriously, beautiful; Don Bluth was brilliant), absolutely terrible game.

  • I actually like qte for epic cut scenes like ones in tome raider

  • BurntToShreds

    What irks me about QTEs is how games like Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Rising get free passes. Just because the rest of the game is well-made doesn’t mean that reducing entire segments of the game or brutal boss ending sequences to a handful of button presses is excusable. What’s the difference between the MGR finishers and the God of War finishers besides the music?

  • Todd Wohling

    I was younger than you by a fair bit, so my recollection is a little fuzzy. IIRC, there was always someone at a Dragon’s Lair machine at the arcades that had one. They might not have lasted all that long, but at least in my neck of the woods they were super popular among arcade goers.

  • Misogynerd

    What entire section of the game is reduced to QTEs? RE4 had them in cutscenes, which was irksome, but besides that, what sections, the two rolling boulder scenes, running from the statue?
    MG:R also used them sparingly only for ending boss fights like you mentioned. The problem is when entire bosses, like various final bosses are reduced to QTEs. For Tomb Raider the first hour to my recollection consisted of QTEs and small sections of gameplay.

  • Oh yes, it was popular for a while, because it definitely looked good. And it was worth playing through for that. But I never met anyone who thought much of it as a game.

  • Zanard Bell

    My simple rule to not hating QTEs is such: don’t make me restart the game just because I forgot to “Press A to Somersault!”, then have me sit through the same damn unskippable cutscenes again. And again. And again.

    Space Marine, however mundane it was, at least didn’t just drop me like a lead balloon when I fail to mash the buttons to kill a Nob. And it’s optional, too.