A Hole In One – Donut County Interview with Ben Esposito

Nov 9, 2018

Few mobile games have courted as much mirth and headache as Ben Esposito’s Donut County. We sat down with him about his raccoon-filled absurd puzzler, and the journey to its release.

Appolicious: Over the years, you’ve produced a number of surreal games, and Donut County is no different. Where do you find the inspiration and energy that drives your games?

Ben Esposito: Humor drives a lot of my decisions with regards to my games. If an idea makes me laugh, I know there’s something to it. Sometimes I laugh because it seems like a bad idea. Those “bad” ideas interest me the most because it usually means no one else is pursuing them, haha.

APP: For those unfamiliar, what’s the story of Donut County? Who are BK and Mira?

BE: Donut County is a city inspired by Los Angeles. Raccoons have moved into town, and they’re stealing people’s trash using remote controlled holes. You play as BK, an idiot raccoon who opens up holes to steal trash in exchange for prizes. Mira is BK’s friend who learns that BK is destroying their town. The story is really told backwards though, it begins with the entire town underground, and BK has to answer to Mira and the rest of the Donut County residents.

APP: Was mobile always in the cards for Donut County, or did the port come about later in development?

BE: I always thought Donut County would be fun to play on a touch screen, so I made a lot of design decisions that made the controls flexible enough to work on both a touch screen and a controller.

APP: What led you to go multiplatform?

BE: Donut County is meant to be really accessible for a broad range of people, kids to adults, gamers to non-gamers. The controls worked really nicely for everything– touch, mouse, and gamepad. I saw a great opportunity to reach a wide audience by launching on multiple platforms.

APP: What did it take to perfect controlling a bottomless hole in a 3D space?

BE: The trick is really that hole moves in 2D space, haha. One of the constraints I worked into the game is that every level takes place on a perfectly flat ground, at the same height in space every time. So all the elevation changes are just smoke and mirrors.

APP: How do you design levels for a gameplay element that can potentially completely break them?

BE: Designing levels for Donut County was challenging because there’s no way to fail them. If you get an important object stuck somewhere, I can’t just say you failed and restart the level. The solution was really just meticulously adding invisible safeguards that stop players from getting into unwinnable states. It doesn’t always work though, haha.

APP: Donut County has, unfortunately, dealt with the mobile market’s aptitude for copycats. Coming out the other side of that with your game’s release, do you have any final thoughts on that experience?

BE: It’s hard to say how the clones of Donut County affected the game. It’s possible that many people who liked the clones would never have paid for Donut County, so that’s fine. The worst part was the blow to my motivation. It was really difficult to see someone take such a unique idea, squeeze it into a mold, and hand it out for free so that people can watch terrible ads.

APP: Why raccoons?

BE: I had a personal experience with raccoons in one of my apartments in Los Angeles– they would steal all our stuff and sleep in the laundry machines. They can adapt so well to life among humans that they eat our trash. They’re bad, but they’re not really evil. Also they’re cute.

APP: Your art style of choice is taking off now in the indie scene with other projects like Untitled Swan Game. Why do you feel indie developers are drawn to such a whimsical aesthetic?

BE: There is so much to explore aesthetically in video games beyond realism. Videogames in general are very abstract in terms of what you actually do, so it’s really fun to play with visual abstractions as well. When a cartoon character falls in a hole, it’s cute and funny. When a realistic human falls into a hole, it’s messed up, haha.

APP: What is the world beneath the hole?

BE: The world underground in Donut County is a space where things go to be forgotten. You can see in the background there are some objects that have fallen in, presumably long ago, which aren’t seen in the rest of the game.

APP: Donut County is your highest profile project yet, after being project lead for Tattletail. With cutesy puzzlers and demonic toys under your belt, what should fans expect of you in the future?

BE: I’m not sure what my next project will be, but you can bet it will be a little funny and very weird!

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Elijah Beahm

Elijah is a man who can't stop talking about games, geeky things, and to the chagrin of his colleagues, horrible puns. He's been working as a game journalist for several years now, and in addition to Appolicious, His other work can be found at GameCritics.com, I Need Diverse Games, and The Unabridged Gamer on YouTube. When not reviewing games, you'll probably find him ranting on Twitter, writing, or replaying Dead Space 2 for the zillionth time.

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