Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quick-time events (Simon hates U remix)

The most amazing 3D interactive experience of a lifetime!!!!1!

I have grown an aversion to quick time events, these Simon-like moments ham-fisted into games as part of some contextual cinematic action, sometimes meant to enhance the interactivity in a cut scenes, which in fact largely digresses from the ability to lay back for a moment and enjoy some nicely (I hope) recorded choreography.
Not that I’m a tremendous fan of cut scenes, nor convinced that we should copy the movie industry in most forms, but pauses are appreciable.
I don’t hate cut scenes either, but I’d rather play than watch a movie in my game.

Just to make things clear, I am not pointing at those Metal Gear Solid 3 moments which allow you to zoom in or out, or move the camera as Naked Snake talks, or is observing something (boobs) or someone (EVA).

Shall we try to understand where the issues come from?
There’s been a huge problem with cut scenes. Heroes complete acrobatic prowesses, smart manoeuvres and incredible feats which are absolutely forbidden to the player, regardless of skills.
You may get your character jump willy nilly shoot shoot bang bang, but it’s probably going to get you killed rather quickly, and will illustrate a poor demonstration of skills, the equivalent of button (s)mashing on Street Fighter.
The divide between actual in-game action and cut scene action kept growing, which would become more and more obvious, especially as cut scenes became more elaborate, thanks to the ever more powerful engines.

So some designers said let’s make those cut scenes interactive, then at least you’d still have the impression that you’re playing the game, albeit differently, and those wonderful killing moves and super dodges would be the result of your desires… somehow.

Truth being, it’s a purely half assed solution, that is neither here nor there, which doesn’t provide a true pace-breaking relief moment of a real cut scene, nor the action, interaction and satisfaction of an in-game play sequence (the feeling of having completed something worth of notice all by your own).

Just… hang your disbelief… please

The second problem is about information conveyance, and how you tell the player that you want him or her to press a given button at a given moment, while making it clear that the game is running a QTE.
Call that QTE awareness or else, it’s about seamless integration into the interface. Well, attempt at integration would be a better choice of words.

For example, in God of War, the button you have to press is most obvious. It’s just… well, right in the middle of the screen, big and coloured.
No matter how it is represented, it’s just there, glaring, huge and annoying, like a bloody insect’s greasy guts splattered all over your windshield.

That QTE trend has so much support these days that it even made it into ALIENS: Colonial Marines.

Excuse me?
Well, apparently the guys from Gearbox considered that if they were going to cram that system into their baby, they’d need to make it more discreet than, huh, being ravished by a facehugger.

Still, please consider the paradox we have at hands here, wherein these days of appraisal for non obtrusive and shy interfaces, glorious games which were decidedly spectacular and cinematic in nature, felt back onto a system which would brutally rape suspension of disbelief by shoving big letters or Playstation symbols down your throat.

I can’t see for the life of me how it makes any sense to get that system into such games. I could live without them.
Now, as we saw above, there’s been a reaction to the issues posed by the QTEs. Some people are trying to minimize the destructive effect of that mechanic on the magic circle.

But doesn’t it simply break the mood merely knowing that you’re suddenly playing a glorified Simon in the middle of a game which has nothing to do with the game’s essential gameplay?
Yes, that’s the point. It’s literally changing the mechanics midflight, with a system which can only feel forced and atypical.
I’d rather shake my mouse or my thumbsticks like a lunatic than try to play a sequence of buttons in the right order.

He who is not with me is against me

Here’s the ugly one, the monster of yours, the one you wouldn’t dare to present to your friends. It is part of your family, but conveniently locked up in a wet cell of your sweet home’s basement since “it” was given birth, fed with a glass of water, an apple and a plate of lice.
It’s an atrocious creature at odds with nature, one nobody could fathom.

I am talking about that stinky problem that would have probably been most unexpected these days, if you were recently told about the existence of QTEs without having experienced even one: The nonsensical “cake or death” dilemma.

You can be sure you get more of the later. When I’m going through the same QTE for the tenth time, it has nothing enjoyable anymore. It’s a pain, and you want to end it ASAP.

Pick God of War, Resident Evil 4 or Indigo Prophecy. They shall have no mercy for the weak.

Globally, there are two conditions of success, in a sometimes long chain of binary and totally unexciting verifications.

  1. Value: If you don’t press the right button: Failure!

  2. Time: If you don’t press the button at the right moment, within a tight allotted time: Failure!

In most cases, failure equals Game Over.

It is impressive how such events are unforgiving, especially in these ages of accessible casual gaming where the death “Game Over” screen seems to be MIA, and returns to roots of difficulty and memorization worth of Cybernoid and Rick Dangerous.

I could add Shenmue, Dragon’s Lair or that other game with a charismaless version of Kratos with tits, but I don’t know them well enough. However, I’d bet my marbles that not a single one of these games had a QTE system which drastically departed from the punitive Darwinian system described above.

Now, instead of following a twenty years old binary solution, couldn’t we go with a more tolerant Gradient QTE System?

Take the 360 controller.

Y is the right button to press.
Then, make X and B acceptable inputs, but punish the player by removing a couple of life points, or waste more seconds if there’s a timed challenge.
Then, make A input the worst case scenario. Eventually, there and only there you should make it correspond to the real failure option. Or you simply can increase the penalty without leading to a game over at all.

In case pressing A would lead to a failure as you get them in traditional QTEs, you’d need to wedge a third animation in between, one corresponding to “acceptable”, but still with a penalty.

Or, if you play it well, your team won’t need to record more than two different animations, while allowing the second “miss” animation to be altered procedurally, which would, for example, add a pause, slow down a given move in the animation or have your character complete a small different gesture.

No comments: