The defining edge

November 7, 2008

While on my regular podcast runabout, I was listening to the Player One Podcast where CJ Johnston relayed a criticism about the Mirror’s Edge demo with the criticism, “It is a glorified series of Quick-Time-Events.” CJ was inclined to agree, but he was unable to elaborate a bit more about the comment.

I have previously discussed my own disdain for the QTE, both loving and loathing the simplicity of the mechanic. Omari Akil at Eat|Think|Game has informed me of his own manifesto for the QTE which includes: sparse usage, minimal button sequences, no game over on failure, never use it to end a boss battle, and use only when least suspected. These are all fair requests, though I do believe the QTE becomes confined into the horror-game arena under this itinerary.

It is not surprising that the QTE seems to work so well in horror-games because they can easily fit into this list. My major gripe with the QTE are in action games where it is much more difficult to integrate the mechanic into the genre because the player is already performing visually superior and rewarding actions. Which is why I became interested in this criticism for Mirror’s Edge as it is promoted as less of a traditional action game and more of a platformer.

Of course I have only played the demo and both CJ and the commenter have only played the demo as well. There is the chance that this may merely be over analyzing the play mechanics because a jump button is a jump button and so forth. But there is clearly something different and special about Mirror’s Edge that has prompted players to question the presentation and execution of the game’s control scheme.

By describing Mirror’s Edge as a glorified QTE I have begun to ponder to what the QTE actually is. One game that had blurred the line for definition is Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones where a flicker would appear on enemies indicating the player to press a button to time a correct attack. A similar technique was used again by Ubisoft in the battle mechanic for Assassin’s Creed. The only difference is that it does not integrate the “Simon Says:” repeat the button sequence mechanic, but still follows the importance of timing to complete the desired event.

If we a following semantics, this rhythm gameplay is basically a QTE. There really is no discernible difference except one visual is replaced for another. The largest difference is one may visually be within the game while the other gives off the impression of an in-game cinematic. So what makes Mirror’s Edge a QTE instead of a platformer? I believe it is because the visual action of sliding, jumping, rolling, and landing presents the same animation every time it is executed in the first-person perspective. And though the environments may be varied, the animations are singular. From what I have seen of the game, the protagonist Faith does not seem to have a diverse repertoire animations to prove my suspicions otherwise.

So is Mirror’s Edge a glorified QTE or merely the control and visual aesthetic of the game? Heck, even Fallout 3’s V.A.T.S. can be considered a loose QTE. I don’t think the problem with Mirror’s Edge is that it is a glorified QTE, but that the definition of QTE can be misleading, because every aspect of control mechanic can be a QTE to some extent. Perhaps we should rename it an SIP: Sequence Input Progression. If anything, the parkour elements of Mirror’s Edge can be equated to the QTE as purely a gimmick. Which, is what I believe, to be the largest criticism towards the QTE. Whether it will have the design and intelligence of last year’s Portal has yet to be seen, but luckily we do not have too long of a wait to find out.



  1. I’m a little confused. You say that the reason Mirror’s Edge is a QTE instead of a platformer is that the animation for the actions remains the same every time it is used. To me that seems backward.

    In a game like Shenmue, or God of War, when a QTE occurs it triggers a unique animation that conforms to that QTE. On the other hand, in Mario, everytime you jump, no matter where you are, the same animation occurs.

    Am I reading that completely wrong?

    I think that Mirror’s Edge is not a QTE because every time you press a button it conforms to the same action. If you press X you jump (can’t remember the exact controls) at every point in the game. In a game that uses QTE you may press X at one junction and it makes you dive off a building and swing around a light post twice.

  2. Sorry, let me ramble on a little more after re-reading the post.

    I guess the argument for Mirror’s Edge being more like a QTE than a platformer is that it allows you to pull off seemingly complex actions with a single button press. From the demo, it seems to me that it does less for the player than Assassin’s Creed did as far as platforming elements go. At least you still press the jump button in Mirror’s Edge.

    I don’t think Mirror’s Edge’s gameplay uses QTE because it gives you a set of actions assigned to buttons and then asks you to apply them to an environment with multiple paths. It also requires you to use these actions without a direct visual queue (like a big blue X popping up on screen) based on the environment, not some silly time limit. In a QTE you would step across a line in a game and have a timed sequence that equaled success, but in Mirror’s Edge you step across a line and you can stop, or press X at a variety of different places resulting in a failed jump, a hanging jump, or a successful jump, and to increase your success you can also roll at the end of the jump to keep your speed up.

    Maybe that makes more sense.

  3. Haha, you’re going through the same problems I was when looking at Mirror’s Edge. I was just interested in the comparison of the gameplay to a QTE. Of course, I was finding holes in the argument which is why I concluded that the term should be changed.

    This was quite the labyrinth blog post but I do agree with you that Mirror’s Edge is not necessarily a QTE. I do have to you disagree with your use of the word “unique” when QTEs trigger game animations. Because isn’t the animation the same every time if depending if you succeed or fail? This what what I found problematic in defining the term.

    Personally, I loved the demo that was released but this particular criticism made me return to play through the demo again. And I must say, the connection seemed readily apparent on this second playthrough which sparked this late-night blog post. It is the impression of the mechanic as gimmick. In retrospect I believe I should not have merely focused on the platforming but rather the disarming moves in the game which definitely are in line with the “timed” QTEs that I bought up in my post.

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