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Twitch gameplay is a type of video gameplay scenario that tests a player's reaction time. Action games such as first-person shooters often contain elements of twitch gameplay. For example, Quake III Arena requires quick reaction times for the players to shoot enemies. Other video game genres may also involve twitch gameplay. For example, the puzzle video game Tetris gradually speeds up as the player makes progress.
Twitch gameplay keeps players actively engaged with quick feedback to their actions, as opposed to turn-based gaming that involves waiting for the outcome of a chosen course of action. Twitch can be used to expand tactical options and play by testing the skill of the player in various areas (usually reflexive responses) and generally add difficulty (relating to the intensity of "twitching" required).
Fast chess, chess played with short time limits between moves, is an example of adding a twitch gameplay element to a turn-based game. Conversely, checkpoints and extra lives are common game mechanics in twitch gaming that attempt to reduce the penalty for errors in play, adding an element of turn-based gameplay. Traditionally, however, the term "twitch game" has been applied to simple arcade, console, and computer games that lack an element of strategy and are based solely upon a player's reaction time.
"Twitch" refers to the motion the player makes, a sudden movement or reaction to an event on the screen. Originally, most computer, arcade, and early console games were "twitch games." They mostly involved "see and react" situations. For instance, Kaboom! had players rapidly catching bombs that a mad bomber threw from a rooftop. Most classic arcade games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man were also twitch-based.
As games and their control inputs evolved, the games started to favor strategy over reaction. Early turn-based games are most likely the most prevalent example of this. They required players to plan each move and anticipate the opponents' moves ahead of time. Not unlike chess, early strategy games focused on setting pieces and then moving them one turn at a time while the opponent did the same. Many of these games were based on tabletop games. With the introduction of the internet and the ability to play games on it, many of these games opened the doorway for today's mainstream games.
However, that is not to say that all games with a base in strategy don't include room for twitch gameplay. Soon after turn-based strategy games were introduced, real-time strategy games were introduced to the video gaming market, beginning with Herzog Zwei and then Dune II and eventually leading to popular titles such as Command & Conquer, Warcraft, and StarCraft. While strategy was still the primary objective, these games played out in real time. Players were required to have fast reactions to enemies' movements and attacks.
Early first-person shooters were very much like early games in general; fast reactions were required and little strategy or thought went into the gameplay. Even the youngest players were able to understand the concept, which may have been the reason such games became instantly popular among a large demographic. Many of the earliest first person games were considered cookie cutter copies of each other; Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and many others looked, played, and felt the same, especially since many shooters were built off the Doom engine. Enemy AI was predictable and levels were simple mazes with secrets and side rooms. While some games included the ability to look up and down, it was rarely required of the player.
Games have become more complex as technology has improved. Today, nearly every genre of video game contains some level of "twitch," though turn-based strategy games have remained roughly untouched by the phenomenon. First-person shooters remain the predominant genre to emphasize twitch gameplay.
Some games include elements that take players back in nostalgic gameplay in the form of quick time events or QTEs. These events decide the fate of the player by displaying a keystroke or keystrokes that the player must input quickly. While the concept is not new, the term is often attributed to Yu Suzuki, director of the game Shenmue. Shenmue was an adventure game at its core and it introduced QTEs as a way to keep players interested during extended cut scenes. Other games have since adopted this method (e.g. Resident Evil 4).
Twitch in Shooters
Early shooter games were two-dimensional, such as Space Invaders, though some had the guise of being three-dimensional, such as Space Harrier. Players operated on a single level with enemies, and with the introduction of three-dimensional environments along with enhanced graphics and network capability, shooters became a major influence in the gaming world. The overall tactics and strategies remained the same. Games such as Quake encouraged fast-paced destruction. Automatic weapons and rocket launchers ensured quick gameplay. It was still a "twitch game," but over time, gameplay success was determined by more than merely having the fastest reactions. As games evolved, additional layers of strategy were demanded. Over time, strategy won over twitch, especially in team- and objective-based games. It was soon required that one used skill in order to obtain victory.
A primary example of this would be the game Counter-Strike – originally a modification of the popular game Half-Life that quickly became one of the most popular competitive first-person shooters to date. The base game included objective-based game types that limited the player to a single life per round. Players obtained in-game cash to purchase better weapons and armor. Twitch became a scenario-based event as players wanted to retain the weapons they had worked hard to purchase, knowing a death resulted in losing all the equipment they had obtained.
Many players realized that teamwork and strategy would win over the "run and gun" tactic. Twitching became something that happened in moments of need versus all the time; for example, a player might have walked around a corner and found an enemy there, in which one would have to react immediately to kill the opponent.
With further advancement in technology and improvement of the artificial intelligence of computer-controlled enemies, games became more and more about strategy in the shooter genre. A player had to be able to aim precisely to conserve ammo, and often flank large groups of enemies.
Today's shooters still have scenarios where players will have a twitch reaction, but often even those scenarios can be avoided by taking one's time.
Even highly skilled gamers still find themselves in twitch scenarios in shooters. Most are predominantly online, where the actions of the enemy team are unscripted and difficult to predict. Many skilled snipers in these games find themselves "twitching" when flanked; the instinctual reaction is for one to switch to a secondary weapon, which is most often an inaccurate handgun, and spray fire while attempting to find cover.
The predominant reason that shooters do not limit the effectiveness of twitch scenarios is because the average gamer has little time to actually play the game, especially if they play in online lobbies, with the amount of time the average gamer has to play games limited to between two and four hours per day. A game that requires a large amount of skill may deter these gamers from playing at all. At the same time, due to the popularity of the internet, there is a predominant amount of gamers that favor twitch to skill. In recent years, videos have appeared across the internet displaying montages of twitch in-game kills. Most of these depict players with sniper rifles hardly aiming or not even aiming at all and getting such kills.
Twitch in other Genres
Many genres have twitch scenarios, be it action-adventure games or survival horror. Any time a player has an instantaneous reaction to an event, it is a twitch. However, much like shooters of today, there are often ways around them. At other times, it is simply a mechanic of the game. Survival horror has become rife with using twitch as a mechanic enemy (often zombies) will burst through walls or windows, forcing the player to react as shock to the scenario. This has been a very popular game mechanic in such genres, and will likely always be the case in future games. They ensure the player must react quickly via other mechanics, the primary being a limited supply of ammunition. In the survival game Condemned: Criminal Origins, the player may find a gun with two rounds of ammunition in it. This weapon will never have more than two rounds, and the scenario the player is likely to face is three or more enemies that seemingly pop out of nowhere. One must react quickly to decide whether or not to fire the limited weapon or seek other means of survival such as wielding a pipe. In either case, a twitch reaction is required to survive.
Resident Evil uses third person camera angles to make aiming within a twitch scenario difficult.
Role-playing games have started to incorporate twitch scenarios, though less so in those with turn-based combat.
Arcade and simulation racing games have always had an element of twitch gaming via different means. Arcade racers might include shortcuts or devices to alter the track and require quick reactions to get on the right course. Simulation racing games like Gran Turismo might include tire wear or fuel gauges that require players to quickly react to pit stops. Others might simply have blind corners that shift direction rapidly.
Sandbox games, where there is an open environment that appears to be living and breathing much like the real world, are also prone to twitch scenarios. In these games, especially ones with large open environments where enemies could be lurking at any corner, or a vehicle could suddenly turn or change lanes, reaction times are tested on a regular basis. In games like The Sims, impending needs or random events may require the player to react quickly to continue in the game's progress.
Many fighting games, such as the Super Smash Bros. series and Mortal Kombat series, rely on a player's ability to react to attacks from opponents. In order to effectively attack and defend, the player must quickly decide what maneuvers and combos to perform in order to beat the opponent.
Other games have found a happy medium that allows players to dictate nearly every scenario. At the forefront of this is Bethesda's Fallout series. Taking up the mantle of twitch gaming, the series aimed its third title at a wider game playing audience. The first two games in the series fit more squarely in the RPG genre, which used turn-based combat. The third title was the first to use "V.A.T.S" (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). This mechanic freezes gameplay to allow the player to select a target and subsequently a more precise selection of the target. While this mechanic was not required, it allowed players to opt for a more turn based style of gameplay. However, it was still possible to "twitch" while using the system. An example could be to crest a hill, encounter an enemy, and react by "mashing" a button to bring up the system.
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Players not using the system are presented with more standard twitch scenarios. The game has both first and third person views, so it suffers from the same situations of a standard shooter. Players may be faced with the choice of taking their time and flanking the enemy, or, if the enemy surprises them, shooting automatic fire and escaping. This is an example of an extremely diverse game; it breaks the boundaries of several genres while keeping the player thoroughly interested with little constant action. A player could wander the gamespace for hours without a single combat encounter and at other times the player might not go thirty seconds without being faced with combat. With the world being "alive" and emergent no two gamers will see the same scenario in the same place.
Twitch in the future
With a growing need in the game market to invest in new titles, games are increasingly reverting to twitch mechanics over twitch scenarios. Taking into account the amount of time that the average gamer has to enjoy video games, studios weigh the importance of their game's focus between action and story quality. Recent video game story lines have shortened and action has increased. Small game spaces are more commonly becoming packed with many enemies. Game developers must ensure that the player feels accomplished by progress within the game and, as a result, these newer games do not demand a higher level of skill. Control schemes have been simplified to ensure that novices can mash a controller and find success. The general trend in both gameplay and control configuration in video games has been, of late, to reward spastic player input, decrease emphasis on strategy, and flatten learning curves.
Multiplayer games, on the other hand, have always walked a fine line between skill and twitch. This is especially true of shooters. Games such as Team Fortress 2 require a fair amount of twitch due to fast-moving and invisible enemies. At the same time, actual skill is required in other parts of the game. Many classes show a bias towards either twitch or skill.
With the invention of the Nintendo Wii, the PlayStation Move, the Xbox Kinect, and the games designed for these devices, an entirely new type of twitch game has been born. Akin to the days of gaming where there was never a break in reaction, these devices tap the human body as the primary means of control. Players are required to get up and move, jump or duck to avoid objects, mimic catching objects, or block the blow of an enemy sword. All of these are based on full body reaction. With the inclusion of today's 3D technology in televisions, players might duck from flying objects reflexively even knowing the object cannot hit one's person.
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- Goldstein, Hilary. "Shenmue II: QTE". IGN.