Kotaku reports on Stephen Totilo’s experience with an incomplete, pre-release build of French developer Quantic Dream’s upcoming Heavy Rain, a PS3 exclusive that lots of people are watching, not only as one of the games that really leverage the inherent power of the PS3, but also as one of those exclusives that might tip the scales in Sony’s favor for the first time this generation.
Totilo’s reactions weren’t entirely positive, though; and it’s not surprising that Heavy Rain isn’t as dreamy as Quantic Dream might want us to believe. This is, after all, the studio that brought us Fahrenheit (called Indigo Prophecy in the U.S.), and what Fahrenheit really proved – and what Heavy Rain might prove as well – is the ancient adage from Confucian China: “just because a Quick Time Event is dressed in pretty clothing does not make it less a Quick Time Event.”
I hate Quick Time Events. In fact, everyone hates Quick Time Events, except the fools in the marketing departments of major publishers, who labor under the misguided notion that since God of War had QTEs, and God of War was successful, all games must have at least one Quick Time sequence.
I was talking to Dobry last night and mentioned this article. He had a bad experience with Fahrenheit, and wasn’t ashamed to say so. “It’s like watching a movie,” he said, rage slowly building to the surface, “but instead of just watching, to get to the next [expletive omitted] scene, you have to master the [expletive omitted] Expert level of that old game Simon. And it’s not even a [expletive omitted] good movie, it’s [expletive omitted] Under Siege or some [expletive omitted] like that.”
According to Totilo, in Heavy Rain you get to spend your time managing activities like toweling off, shaving, and selecting what dinner to feed your nearly-estranged child.
Unfortunately, and Totilo is quick to point this out, all of this stupid activity (bound as it is by Quick Time Events, whose very nature demand that you not look at action onscreen as it’s happening because you’re too busy looking at the prompts to determine which random face button to strike next) is emulsified in what’s apparently a genuine attempt to tell a serious, grown-up story that is melancholy in its best moments and downright sad in others. You don’t see a lot of melancholy games, nor do you see many that are straight-up thrillers involving no space marines or princesses to rescue. So do we go to Heavy Rain for its story and endure it through the Quick Time Events, or do we strike it down?
Quantic Dream has spent a fortune on Heavy Rain, and it shows. The game’s use of mocap and facial capture technology marks it as one of the most graphically advanced games we’ve yet seen, and the multitude of branching paths (the story and visuals are different based on whether you make the kid frozen pizza or mac and cheese) imply that thousands of scenes were shot and crammed onto the Blu-Ray disc, so that only multiple playthroughs will ensure that you see even a fraction of what Heavy Rain has to offer. The key question, therefore, becomes whether or not what Heavy Rain has to offer from a narrative perspective is worth enduring the wall-to-wall QTEs and tedious activity. Why are most videogames about space marines and princesses? Because choosing what to feed your brat kid for dinner and then going through the thumbstick motions of preparing it is not a fun game. And solving a puzzle of any kind through a QTE is automatic points off in my book.
But despite my misgivings, chances are Heavy Rain will wind up on my pile sometime in early 2010. I may not get to it immediately, but I do feel a certain responsibility to support this attempt at interactive storytelling. I missed Fahrenheit and though I don’t regret missing it, I was a great fan of Quantic Dream’s freshman outing, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, sharing Editor Emeritus Old Rooster’s views on the lavish, peculiar adventure. And with Heavy Rain it appears that Quantic Dream’s been given the time, the funds, and the creative leeway to actually do what creator David Cage wants to do; so there’s some validity to the postulation that if Heavy Rain sucks, we can realistically condemn the entire QTE-driven “interactive movie” idea without feeling that no one’s had a chance to make it work.
One thing that does bother me about Heavy Rain, and this is really an article in itself, but I’ll just touch on it here, is that violence against and objectification of women seems to be a core concept of the game, and its stress on “grown-up realism” make these events a little more troubling than your usual Bowser-has-kidnapped-Princess-Peach occurrences. The trailer for the game features a cheated-on wife breaking down and murdering her husband before committing suicide; a female character is forced to strip naked (in full QTE tap-triangle-to-remove-bra glory) to gain admittance into a club; the same character is pursued and brutalized by a taxidermist serial killer; one QTE apparently involves using your thumbsticks to towel off a naked woman after a shower; this stuff concerns me a little. Sure, Heavy Rain is a thriller about the search for a serial murderer. It’s adult and will be rated as such. And Quantic Dream is quick to point out that a different reaction on the player’s part will allow you to bypass or find alternative solutions to some of the stuff mentioned above. But as much as I favor grown-up depictions of stuff like sex and other adult themes in gaming, something about what I’ve observed in Heavy Rain unsettles me… as though it’s there and can be defended as “part of a grown up game,” but really exists to titillate male gamers while allowing the developer to commit to code some deep-seated anger at women. I haven’t played Heavy Rain yet, so I’ll withhold judgment, but I will say this: if the worst that I fear about Heavy Rain is true, it will set back, not advance, the opportunity to tell mature thematic stories in narrative games.
In all honesty, Heavy Rain is one of the reasons I bought a PS3. It represents the next evolution of an attempt to tell interactive cinematic stories through games, and while I feel that Fahrenheit failed, it failed while trying to innovate. I respect that. There are only so many miniskirted-teenagers-going-to-war (Valkyria Chronicles) that I can stand – great though that game is – before I wonder why gaming can’t dig deeper. Forget Citizen Kane, why haven’t we seen The Silence of the Lambs in videogames yet? Heavy Rain promises to fill that void. We’ll see if it succeeds.
Or, to put it into Quick Time Event terms, tap X, Y, Y, X, B, A, Y, Y, A, X, B to see if it succeeds.
Looks like a future Closet candidate.
If I owned a PS3, that is.
And I don’t.
Speaking of Closet candidates, I keep seeing copies of The Wild Divine in the Portland Goodwill stores for around 60.00, new. I guess someone found a pallet close by, or something.
I’m with Steerpike on this one. Not on the objectification of women, nor violence or hatred against them, that might or might not be in the game, it might just be us liberal pussies reading our guilt into it, so I’ll cross that bridge when comes over here. But I’m with Steerpike on this one regarding interactive storytelling and QTE’s. For me, QTE’s are the absolute bottom of interaction, the laziest way to design a game and ultimately the sure way to ruin storytelling too because, as he Steerpike says, you don’t watch action on screen because you’re trying your hardest to follow prompts on screen.
David Cage made it clear in no uncertain terms: “I am not making Dragon’s Lair” and the videos of the game I have seen actually suggest that Heavy Rain’s QTE’s are smarter and deeper than what we get in most games. My concern is therefore that Heavy Rain will be considered a success not necesarilly among gamers but among Roger Eberts of this world who will claim this game tells a serious story (bitchslapping notwithstanding or the other way round) and that this is what the games should be about if they want to be considered “serious”, “art” or, you know, “culture”. And if someone takes them seriously, then we’re one step away from the FMV gaming mania, second wave. We all remember how good it was the first time around. And this doesn’t necesarilly mean that Cage’s game design will suck, but the hordes of imitators will make sucky games trying to tell “serious” stories all fueled by shitty QTEs. Yes, laugh it up now, it already happened once!!!!
On the other hand, this is good thinking: Heavy Rain to delay Trophy alerts: “Quantic Dream co-boss Guillaume de Fondaumiere has revealed a small but interesting Heavy Rain feature that delays Trophy alerts until there are appropriate breaks in gameplay in which to display them.
This, de Fondaumiere explained to Kotaku, should better preserve the dramatic tension of a scene.”
From Eurogamer: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/heavy-rain-to-delay-trophy-alerts
I’ve been fearing this since I first saw some of the game footage. I really hate QTEs, not least because of the “Press X not to die” style action sequences in stuff like Uncharted and God of War but primarily because of the aforementioned detracting from otherwise well made cinematics.
Game: “Sit back, it’s time for a quick movie”
Player: “Ooo, this looks interesting”
Game: PRESS X NOW!!
(Player scrambles for pad)
Game: HAHA!! FAIL! I’m so clever. You didn’t think we were just going to let you sit back did you?! This is a game you fucking idiot!!
I don’t believe that games HAVE to be fun to be legitimate but I do not for a moment think QTEs are the best way to go about certain interactions. The more consistent an interface and control system is the more invisible it becomes to the player. The more invisible it becomes the more immersive the experience is because the player isn’t contending with abstract interactions. I remember a QTE in Uncharted that asked me to press a button to quickly jump out of the way of a falling block – why didn’t it just allow me to jump out of the way using the controls I’d been using all the way up to that point in the game? Granted the sequence looked nice but I died about 4 times and just served to piss me off and reduce the immersion.
Were Mass Effect’s conversations a little quick time oriented? I haven’t played it for long but seem to remember there being a timer to select certain dialogue options; this seemed a decent way of adding some spontaneity and urgency to otherwise turn based dialogue while being internally consistent. QTEs are obviously for streamlining certain actions that would otherwise be relegated to a cinematic but to what extent developers give the player more real-time control or offer a simple and more consistent context sensitive menu rather than the Don Bluth game-style button hits remains to be seen.
I didn’t play Fahrenheit but a friend showed me the sex scene in it and the button tapping to, well, thrust. It was hilariously bad but I worried how serious it was trying to be. Did they honestly think this button tapping was some sort of revolutionary way of creating sexual synaesthesia in a game? Ouch.
Apologies if this post is a bit fragmented is was typed at work over the course of a couple of hours!
I despise QTEs. I didn’t get very far with Fahrenheit because of them. I want to SEE what’s going on in my games not have my attention diverted while I scramble to remember which button is the square button.
And what you say there, Toger, is one of the key reasons QTEs are so despised. You’re so busy watching the bottom of the screen for the prompt, and trying to remember which button to tap repeatedly, that you can’t enjoy the pretty animations or cutscenes that go with it. God of War is a lot more fun to watch than play, because watching it, all you have to do is enjoy how well-animated it is and how exciting all the setpieces are. The player him/herself doesn’t dare look away from the QT prompt.
Gregg B, I only recall… one or two at most timed sequences in the Mass Effect dialogue. It almost never pressured you to make a decision, but the system worked really well because the direction you chose always conformed to a tone as well as a specific remark, so you could keep the conversation flowing in near real time if you wanted to. That they showed your response options before the other character finished speaking was also helpful. I’d call the lockpick game a bit QTE-ey, but not the conversation mechanism.
They really seem to WANT to make something revolutionary and innovative with Heavy Rain. I just hope they don’t mess it up with the mundane stuff. David Cage practically bursts into tears when people say it’s got QTEs in it, but a QTE is a QTE no matter how you dress it up.
Yeah that’s a very organic and convincing way of handling dialogue. It was probably Fahrenheit that featured the time based dialogue for most conversations. I was thinking about this a bit more earlier and of Meho’s Abyss of Addiction article where he described all the little arcade/action bits in FFVII. When one of these bits came along the game took a brief moment to explain what the controls would be for this next section, now, some would argue that that breaks you away from the experience but in truth I seem to recall all those set pieces rather fondly and not as gimmicky diversions or snagging points.
Technically Sega were the first company to coin the term QTE through Shenmue, with other companies needlessly jumping on the gimmick bandwagon (GOW). Needless to say it has continued to be used in one form or another in order to “involve” the player in often frantic or ‘millisecond-reactions-needed’ moments.
Personally I hate them and have never liked them. Irrespective of how you revamp or mask the use of QTEs, anything that involves immediate reactionary input from the player or that of menial motion orientated actions, I find irritating and redundant.
The use of Motion Actions I would argue is only enjoyable on Wii. Samus opening a door by rotating a lever, or swinging your sword as Link. The enjoyment is reinforced by your action. These tiresomely pointless actions such as towel drying a woman through rotating analogue sticks, are not only dull and completely unnecessary, but for me only serve to undermine the progression of interactive videogames. Instead of creating these ‘interactive’ cut scenes (I use that term loosely), perhaps developers can begin to invest time into allowing a player to interact with the environment to a certain degree; Crysis, Portal, STALKER, HL2 being some examples of this. However on the flip-side, why do we even need this level of interaction?
Further to this why has the developer of Hard Rain spent so much time and money on creating a photo-realistic world? Wouldn’t they surely have been better set to develop original core mechanics and an incredibly in depth story driven game, that had a certain graphical style that’s functional (or different).
Instead and predictably, we have another developer that has thrown all their money and weight behind the graphics of their game and in almost all circumstances it results in the game play being left at the door.
I will bet my last penny that Hard Rain will be poor, and no where close to what they say it will be. You can see it a mile off.
Is that you brother?!
It’s good to know the entire B family are fans of Tap! Not like those damn dirty Ms…. 😉
Lewis B, I didn’t know that about Shenmue, thanks for the info. I was strictly a PC boy until recently, so I missed out on a lot of stuff from that era. Regardless, I agree that the inclusion of QTEs is almost universally a bad idea, and one that I can’t recall ever enhancing a game.
While Cage insists that it’ll be different in Heavy Rain, I’m inclined to withhold judgment. We’ll find out in February or March, I imagine.
When players have full control over a character they can quite happily undermine everything that a developer has done to create a very cinematic almost movie-like sequence of events and I think in some cases QTEs are a lazy shortcut to ensure the said sequence plays out exactly as intended or even merely to make the game look cooler (See God of War). I don’t think they’re needless, but at present they’re just a very artificial and clunky way of ensuring a player does as they’re told.
In GTA IV: Punchbag of the Year (PotY) there’s a mission (Truck Hustle) where you have to steal a truck that’s protected by numerous gangsters/mafia types. From a distance I peppered them all with bullets and grenades, then used my sniper rifle to shoot the truck driver. Simple. Or it would have been if the driver was ‘killable’. See, there was blood all over the interior of the truck but he was still sat there waiting. So I approached, gun cocked and ready for the rat. As I drew in closer the rat took off in the truck so I grabbed a vehicle to ram the bastard off the road. But I couldn’t ram him off the road; I rammed and rammed but the bastard kept going. So after jamming the truck in some scenery I got out the car and emptied a clip into the driver. Nothing. Still he sat there waiting. What was he waiting for? So I walked around the vehicle puzzled, looking at the truck I noticed at the bottom of the screen it said “The truck is escaping. Move to it’s rear to grab on”. I obliged and Niko jumped on in true cinematic fashion. Cue the most painfully artificial and down right gimmicky series of QTEs/context sensitive interactions I’ve had the displeasure of playing. The game forced me to carry out some dick developers movie-director fantasy forgoing all the games mechanics used up to that point. Looking back perhaps they weren’t strictly QTEs, but they were donkey shit.
That’s another GTA IV rant. I’ll stop soon I promise.
Nothing that can’t be fixed with a little HTML. 😉
Thanks for that, Dreamweaver is turning me into a ludite!
Gregg B, it’s time to make yourself useful. Shoot me an email at email@example.com, plz.
Haha, oh shit, I know what follows now. And it’s as ominous as it sounded!!!!!
Nah, Meho, these new new branding irons don’t hurt a bit.
They don’t call this place Tap-Repeatedly for nothing.
Meho got the old branding irons, so his memories are harsh. 🙂
[…] i sasvim na mestu da se ukaže na eksploatacijske trope koji su više nego očigledni u Heavy Rain. Steerpike je svojevremeno (još pre izlaska igre) ekstenzivno pisao o nečemu što deluje kao jedva prikrivena mizoginija kod Davida Cagea a igranje igre ovo sasvim […]