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On Donut County’s hole and Exapunks’ code

September 14, 2018 ・ Blog

A couple of quick nods to recent The Mechanic articles. Most recently I talked to Zach Barth about the excellent Exapunks, a puzzle game about coding viruses and using them to hack candy bar recipes and printshop accounts systems so you can publish zines.

A screenshot of the game Exapunks, showing a hacker's tech-covered desk.

What about a puzzle game about writing viruses like Stuxnet, which was designed to attack a very specific kind of industrial controller used in Iranian nuclear centrifuges in order to destroy them? A game about writing programs that unfold, multiply and deploy themselves to make changes to the physical world.

I find Zach Barth’s perspective on designing puzzle games and the way he charts their relationship with the real world absolutely fascinating. He also speaks about a billion words a minute. I thought transcribing our 69-minute interview would never end, but he was so interesting all the way through that I almost didn’t mind.

Also, he introduced to me the concept of Core War and other pure adversarial programming games, and they’re just whaaaaattt. I really want to research that whole field.

And I talked to Ben Esposito about how the tricks he pulls to make the hole in the mega-charming and funny Donut County work.

Screenshot of the game Donut County showing an anthropomorphic crocodile on a sun lounger about to fall into a hole.

“The idea was originally that you’d just play as a hole and I thought there’s probably some interesting problems there,” creator Ben Esposito tells me. “I also thought it’d be pretty easy. But I was kind of wrong.” As he found out, making a game about being a hole gives rise to all kinds of trouble, including game physics hijinks, human nature, and the surprisingly complex philosophy of what holes are.

Throughout, Ben was just laughing at the ridiculousness of the hard problems he had to solve in order to get a hole to work in a game about selfish raccoons. I mean, that’s the ideal interview, really.