You know what really sucks? Free will.
Sometimes life, with it’s endless grey areas, dilemmas, morality choices and open world setting, is just too damn complicated. What I really crave is someone to tell me exactly what to do from moment to moment in order to stay alive.
Unfortunately plane fares to North Korea are a bit beyond my budget. So it’s down to the world of games to step in with a handy solution.
Enter the quicktime event. Action happens on screen, the game tells me to press things. Win!
Does anyone remember Space Ace? It was an animated cartoon that was basically one gigantic quicktime event. I was enamoured with it when I was 7. Space Ace an example of a special kind of quicktime event, the kind in which the game doesn’t always tell you which button to press, or when. All you know is that at some point you have to press something in order to survive.
I know what you’re thinking. What a great example of EXCELLENT GAME DESIGN. Alas I can do nothing but agree. The mind bending frustration that comes with guessing the wrong button and being thrown back half an hour was indeed a shining example of EXCELLENT GAME DESIGN. The tears of rage were part of what was in many ways an incredibly moving experience which I can only applaud in the manner of a death row inmate whose granted final wish is to watch the greatest living clown in action. It’s that special cocktail of amusement, rage and regret.
Though quicktime events had clearly already peaked with Space Ace, gaming pushed on regardless and exceeded all expectations with the creation of quicktime events which ask you to press buttons that don’t exist. Occuring most often in clumsy ports from consoles, PC gamers are often asked to press something like the right trigger, or press in the left stick. This was an inspired move which recognised the PC gamer’s higher level of intelligence and resultant love for nonsensical and overcomplicated control schemes. Now instead of simply mindlessly reacting to an onscreen instruction a level of translation was involved. The gamer must consider what such a button press might mean on a control pad, and then try and enter the equivalent command onthe keyboard.
Of course, this was not enough. Developers had decided that there awaited a whole new level of quicktime event, that in which the gamer is asked to interpret a deeply ambiguous symbol in order to survive. So I want to jump away from that explosion and the game is asking me to do something, but I’m unsure as to whether I’m supposed to press the left mouse button or scoop out my left eyeball with a desert spoon. It’s this almost existential level of uncertainty and near-panic which heralds the peak of quicktime gaming, and, conversely, the very peak of gaming itself.
Next time in Gaming Foibles – games that give you all of your powers only to take them away and make you work for ten hours to get them all back.