Quick time events get a lot of disrespect, and rightly so. They are often used a crutch, but I’m still in the camp that thinks that some games can pull it off. It’s hard, but it’s possible. I recall many years ago enjoying the original God of War; I also enjoyed how Mass Effect handled them during cutscenes and conversations.
The good use of quick time events (QTE) is rare. It seems that most games just use QTEs as a way to wrench in something that they can’t figure out how to put into regular gameplay. This makes the sequence of button pressing feel forced and out of place: thus many gamers despise them.
At Venture Beat there is an article on why QTEs are so problematic:
Best I can tell, game designers have used quick-time events in the same way that rednecks use duct tape. They asked themselves how they could best convey complex in-game cinematic moments in a way that still engages the player, and (after three beers and a hearty shrug) decided that a series of predetermined button presses at just the right moment could hold the whole thing together while they waited for a part to come in the mail.
So if QTEs are not the solution for conveying stories (and other important things in games) then what is? Emotions.
Like with most forms of entertainment, a good story can carry anything. People will overlook low budgets and awkward design choices if the story is engaging enough.
At the recent GDC there was a panel on this very issue. Polygon covered it and it’s worth the read.
“Plots are not earthquake-proof,” she said. “Focus on the emotional journey instead.”
O’Connor added that emotional journeys like a story of redemption or a story of heartbreak do not fall apart when things are inevitably moved around.
One of the final points addressed by O’Connor and Beaver is the importance of involving a writer in multiple facets of game development — from level design to mission and quest designs to determining the pacing of the game.
“Story isn’t just cinematics and voiceover,” O’Connor said. “It includes level design. Story is what the player does. It’s where the player will get emotionally attached and engaged. The speed in which they do things affects how they feel.”