GDC 11 – B.U.T.T.O.N. Hands-on and Interview

Developed by a group of friends on a (possibly drunken) lark, B.U.T.T.O.N stands for “Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally OK Now.” The developers’ intention from the outset was to create a game that could be played with only a single button, and they succeeded magnificently. B.U.T.T.O.N. is a party game with a simple concept but the potential for essentially limitless fun.

A round works like this. You and three friends select your characters. You are then instructed to put down your controllers and take a certain number of steps away from the screen. Next, you follow onscreen prompts that instruct you to do things like “Pose Like a Ninja,” “Act Like a Crocodile,” or, my personal favorite “Avoid the Floor,” which entails hopping around as if the floor were made of molten lava. Suddenly, while you’re busy making a complete ass of yourself, the game will go into a countdown, and then display one of 50 victory conditions at random, all involving a manipulation of the game’s single button. This engenders a pell-mell rush back to the controller, as people attempt to get there first and fulfill that condition.

At their most basic, the conditions are things like “whoever hits their button first wins,” but they quickly get more complicated, entering territory like “whoever hits their button third loses,” or “whoever holds their button down for 13 seconds first wins,” or “everybody wins except for the person who hits their button first.” This hilarious confusion is quickly ramified by the game’s titular “brutally unfair tactics.” One of the game’s genius early design decisions was to realize that a single-button game is more fun if you can push the other players’ buttons, and that becomes a key gameplay element in B.U.T.T.O.N, leading to all manner of skullduggery. Even in the relatively sedate confines of the GDC show floor, people were hip-checking, boxing out, and scrabbling at each others hands, trying to gain an advantage. The B.U.T.T.O.N. team had a hacked X-box controller with four game-show-style buttons to use, but they also deployed a DDR-style floor mat, which added to the mayhem.

Though the game is hard one to film in action, check out this gameplay video from GDC. Below it is an interview with one of the game’s creators. For an explanation of the story behind the game, and some more intelligible examples of it being played, as well as an opportunity to buy it for the bargain price of $2.70, check out the official site.

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