Tuesday, 26 March 2013

*R1* Pulsating

You are a slab of Northern Muscle.
Unrelenting like the glacier that grinds the mountain, Defiant like the mountain facing the gale, Merciless like the gale blasting the glacier.
You have carved your way through the cultists of Thoom, taking first those who invaded your village. You gained achievements. You crafted ever fiercer weapons. You liberated mountains of gold from cult vaults. Now you scale the basalt battlements of the Grand Temple of Thoom. Soon you will meet their Laughing God and hear their lament as you cast it down. Suddenly a hand darts out to grasp your wrist. Through the hidden port looms Jugular Dhoom, High Priest of Thoom. Laughing madly he shakes you loose from the dripping rock face. Dancing before your eyes; PRESS R1. Then, as you fumble to respond, he casts you loose. “NOOOOO” you bellow as you plummet to the hungry rocks. “I died to a QTE.”

A Quick Time Event is a scripted event in a digital game that requires a response from the player to progress and often results in character death if it is not completed. In my experience they are generally disliked. Despite this they are now a common tool in the digital adventure / action game design set. So what can a tabletop GM learn from QTEs?

QTEs are a really interesting point of differentiation between digital and tabletop games, which is why I named this blog after them. They are a triggered event, perfectly expressing the degree to which a digital game can railroad the player. While often used to draw the player back into the core plot, QTEs occupy the broadest divide between game mechanics and game immersion. They speak to the player, not the character, bravely shattering the fourth wall by telling the player what buttons to press, reminding them that they are sitting on a couch with a controller in their hand and it is 3am. A poorly executed QTE can be very jarring. It can interrupt your sense of fairness and disconnect your understanding of how your character is meshed into the game mechanics. It can also drive home the difference between the character that the game has written for you and the one you want to play.

We are on the verge of significant changes in the video game industry, the console cycle has lagged and while the big players have squeezed the final drops of performance out of the current hardware the smaller operators have gone mobile and spearheaded digital distribution. At the same time we are on the verge of significant changes in the tabletop roleplaying game industry, the traditional printing and distribution networks are evaporating. At the same time the smaller operators are moving into digital and print on demand distribution. There is an interesting tipping point or relocation of mass on the horizon.  

So why do I love the QTE? It highlights the difference between core assumptions made by digital and tabletop Game designers and by the folks who use their games. These games, the way we play them and how we access them and critically assess them is in a state of profound change.