Just one button: Science World talk centres on creativity within constraint

Wed, Nov 8, 2023

A typical video game controller might have a dozen buttons, but Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) Entertainment Arts students reach a point in their studies where they’re given a game-changing assignment.

Design a video game with just one button. And finish it in a week.

It’s a lesson in constraint, and instructor Clint Forward, who will deliver a talk on the topic this month at Science World in Vancouver, says students come to understand its importance.

“We teach students that these aren’t bad things. These are really cool things. You should embrace these constraints, and see what kind of magic you can make with those restrictions,” says Forward, program coordinator for the Diploma in Advanced Game Development program in the Entertainment Arts department at KPU Richmond.

On Nov. 15, Forward will present “Don’t Push My Buttons: Unleashing Creativity Within Constraints,” and showcase video game projects from KPU students.

Forward has worked in the video game industry for two decades. His first gig was lead designer of NHL 2K for Sega Dreamcast. More recently, he worked on the popular action-adventure Ubisoft franchise Watch Dogs. He says students might want their game to have the functionality of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto, but it’s an impossible starting point.

“Students will be working with constraints their whole career, so this first game is focused around using only one button,” he says. “The industry is all about top-down design where they give you a console, a story, a lot of mechanics you must use — so it’s constraint, constraint, constraint. I’m trying to get the students to adapt to the idea of harnessing the power of constraints.”

Advanced Game Design is one of four programs in the Entertainment Arts department at KPU, which partners with the Centre for Entertainment Arts in developing the program’s intensive two-year curriculum.

Don’t Push My Buttons: Unleashing Creativity Within Constraints is Nov. 15 at Science World, 1455 Quebec St. in Vancouver, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free; register on the KPU website.