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