D4 is a weird-ass video game.
Specifically, D4 (short for Dark Dreams Don’t Die) is a weird-ass video game from SWERY65, most notable for his work directing Deadly Premonition, a cult-classic budget title from last-gen which still sits on my personal Pile of Shame. However, D4 was on sale this week, and I needed something short to fill my time before Fallout 4 came out, and I found myself quite enjoying this weird little romp.
The thing that stuck with me the most, though, was maybe how the game used Quick-Time events. Actually no, the thing that stuck with me the most was the effeminate fashion designer who has a mannequin girlfriend and yells “Aaaaaaaaaaaavant-garde!“. QTEs were a definite number two, though.
Specifically, a lot of the QTEs in this game felt so good. Never did I just have to hit an arbitrary button in order to make some obscure event happen. Instead, QTEs in this game are almost all extremely tied to the motion of the character: make an rightwards motion to open the fridge door, make an upwards motion to dive forward for a baseball, and, my personal favorite, swipe downwards to slam a shot glass formerly full of tequila on the table.
Now, I’m no stranger to games which have QTEs as a primary mechanic. Season One of The Walking Dead is one of the few games which made me cry, I strongly enjoyed my time with The Wolf Among Us, and Asura’s Wrath is one of my favorite power-trips I’ve ever gone on. Of these, I’d say Asura’s Wrath probably does this style of gameplay the best, although I’d definitely argue that D4 is up with it in the Pantheon of Good Quick-Time Events (pun intended).
The reason I’d put both of those games up there is because I’d say both are good at using Quick-Time Events for really badass scenes. Both games emphasize those sorts of moments with big, flashy UI signifying motions which feel analogous to the on-screen events.
I mean, look at that big, dumb arrow. In game, it shakes, and the cursor icon burns like a comet. Sending that thing flying across the screen feels great, and the scene is framed perfectly so it feels like you’re sending David’s fist right into this guy’s face in a way that feels more satisfying than “Press X to Punch”.
I wish more games did this. I know anyone well-versed in games can remember some anticlimactic moment where a game requested only a single button push to launch into some epic cinematic that feels no more interactive than pressing play on a cool YouTube video. Actually, even Asura’s Wrath suffers from this sometimes. A single button press only makes for a good QTE when that button press has already been contextualized (for instance, in a console FPS, right trigger is usually contextualized as “shoot”, so a QTE that results in the character shooting might reasonably require a press of right trigger). Otherwise, it doesn’t feel like actual guiding interaction. It just feels like pressing play.
That isn’t the end-all, though, as D4 shows. D4‘s controls are a bit clunky (I was playing the PC port, although the game’s original home on the Xbox One as a Kinect game may be to blame), and the mouse sensitivity was always just off, no matter what setting I set it to. In a game where feeling a one-to-one connection between cursor movements and the scene is the game, this alone was a big drawback.
Even more subtly destructive, though, was the way the QTEs, specifically the ones involving swiping along a line, were all sort of the same. By that, I mean I always did them the same: by swiping the cursor along that line as fast as possible. Don’t get me wrong, in some scenes, especially the ones where that big, obnoxious arrow pops up, moving fast feels perfectly fitting. If I’m gonna throw a punch at some idiot’s face, I wanna do that with all of my speed and strength.
But that’s not the majority of D4‘s QTEs, though. Most of them are just David, like, opening a door. D4 makes me feel a connection between my gestures and the game world, but it doesn’t feel complete when I move my cursor as quickly as possible, only to have David gingerly open a door. It breaks my connection with the game. All of a sudden, it doesn’t feel like I’m controlling David with my gestures anymore. Now it just feels like an extremely elaborate play button, to watch a pre-recorded video of David opening a door.
It might seem like a really petty thing to complain about, but when I wildly swing my cursor from one side of the screen to the other, I want David to slam that door! I want to feel like my motion is translating directly into motion in the game, and isn’t just a motion-based play button. Sure, better mouse sensitivity was probably required to make such a thing work in the first place, but it would have made for a nice touch. It’s not like the game doesn’t revel in little gestures (again, the tequila shot), so being able to add our own little spin on each scene, by being able to play David as a different character based on our gestures, would have been a nice touch.
If I ever build a game with QTEs as the main mechanic, I think I’ll try to focus on this. Maybe don’t allow players to build their character through dialogue options or stats, but instead by motion. Maybe some players could play David as a careful, detail-oriented detective, who does everything slowly and with precision, while others play David as a rampaging rogue cop, slamming every door in sight. Body language is, after all, the source of most human communication, so it would be interesting to allow players to express themselves in such a way.