I first played Freshly Frosted in the evening, a few hours before bed. I went to sleep and dreamed of donuts. The next morning I woke up and went straight out to buy a dozen. I couldn’t get the idea of ​​warm, neat, colorful, sweet donuts out of my head.

Fundamentally, Freshly Frosted sounds like it’s less about donuts and more like machines. It is a puzzle game about laying tracks of conveyor belts that carry donuts from point A to point B. Along the way, they can pass machines that will apply, in order: frosting, sprinkles, whipped cream and cherry toppings, with each level asking for a certain number of donuts with specific toppings. So it may call for one plain, two frosted and one with whipped cream, but you’ll need to apply frosting and sprinkles before the whipped cream can be added. The puzzles get more and more complex, with more topping stations, tricks like joining conveyor belts and of course more donuts. It all sounds very mechanical, when you put it that way.

But actually to play Freshly Frosted is anything but. The intricate conveyor belts sit atop a pastel cloud wallpaper that lazily drifts by as you sort your donuts. The donuts themselves are all neatly glazed by soothing, rhythmic machines that gently dip, dip, dip to the beat of a mellow soundtrack that intensifies as your factory boots up, becoming silent as you ponder your next move. Each level is introduced with a relaxed voiceover that encourages the player, getting philosophical about life and of course imagining more and more donuts. The donut machines are (according to the light story introduction) constructs of the speaker’s mind, but after just a few minutes of donuts, music and color massaging my brain, I felt like the donuts were also my own dreamy thought experiment. could be.

The magical, puffing donut factories of Freshly Frosted were, funnily enough, conceived on a train. Ally O. Taylor and Ty Taylor tell me the idea was born during Train Jam 2019, based on the prompt “cumbersome” and Ally O. Taylor’s interest in making a “cute donut game”. Together with programmer Amanda End, they put together the first playable version of Freshly Frosted in about four days while traveling from Chicago to San Francisco. Despite such a short time in the oven, the version of Freshly Frosted that spawned Train Jame was, according to Ty Taylor, “very playable” and even featured many of the more complex mechanics that don’t show up until quite late in the final version.

I’ve had literal shower thoughts where I invented levels. The tile in my shower is a grid… I’d just stand there and imagine donut factories.

At the time, Train Jam had a booth at GDC showing the games made that year on its cross-country journey, and the feedback the team received from players who tried Freshly Frosted encouraged them to “full force.” go with development. A key element that has evolved considerably since the inception of Train Jam is the sheer number of puzzles: from a single box containing a dozen puzzles to, appropriately, a dozen boxes containing a dozen puzzles each. Ty Taylor, who designed most of these conveyor belt puzzles, admits that puzzle design is quite difficult, especially given the specific feelings he wanted to convey with Freshly Frosted’s donut machines.

“At the beginning, we wanted one of Freshly Frosted’s main tenants to be happy,” he says. “We wanted it to be satisfying to look at, satisfying to solve. And I also wanted it to be satisfying to look at initially, so that means all the ovens and delivery counters and stations where it’s pretty symmetrical or arranged in an interesting pattern, or maybe it looks like chaos, but at the end there is only one solution that all falls into place.”

Whenever he got stuck, Ty Taylor said he’d “just play with things,” placing random start points, end points, and donut decorations before trying to solve it. Most of the time, these random placements would be impossible. But they helped him think about different ideas for interesting kinds of solutions, allowing him to reorganize his random creations into functional, creative puzzles.

“I’ve had literal shower thoughts where I invented levels,” he adds later. “The tile in my shower is a grid, a lot of different colors. So I just stood there in the hot water imagining donut factories in the shower.”

Fencing – Freshly Frosted

Another more recent development to Freshly Frosted is the addition of a lighthearted story written entirely by Ally O. Taylor, who tells me they researched some “donut facts” before writing, in addition to recording their own personal histories with Donuts. Some of these donut facts, they tell me, turned out to be humorously controversial with streamers playing Freshly Frosted.

“Making donuts automatically, so donut factories, are older than sliced ​​bread,” they say. “And if you want to be technical, of course, cutting bread with a knife is actually older than automated factories, but automated bread cutting is younger than making donuts automatically.”

In addition to writing, Ally O. Taylor also took on all the voice acting for Freshly Frosted. They say their work on both was heavily inspired by sleep meditation apps, such as Headspace, which they often use.

“I really wanted it to be meditative and a little bit about mental health, but not aggressive about mental health,” they say. “I didn’t want it to be so much about it that it really doesn’t serve the purpose of being meditative. If you go into it too deeply, it won’t make you feel any better. It may make you feel worse instead. That’s why I wanted to keep it light.”

I really wanted it to be a little bit about mental health, but not aggressive… If you get too deep into it, it won’t make you feel better.

On top of all the other satisfying, meditative elements is Josie Brechner’s Freshly Frosted soundtrack, which transitions seamlessly between what Ally O. Taylor describes as “lofi beats to make donuts” as the player works on the puzzle, as Ty Taylor calls it a “donut dance party” when the puzzle is completed and the factory is activated. Brechner also designed Freshly Frosted’s sound effects with an ear for satisfying sounds, such as the little pops heard when placing conveyor belts and the rhythmic bap-bap-bap of machines in perfect sync with the music as the factory donut follows. donut churn. †

Now that Freshly Frosted is out, the team is happy with the reception so far and with their own work on it. It took them several years, mostly on the sidelines while working full-time on other projects, but they told me the slow pace meant they never crunched and were able to release a “fun, finished game” without to burn up. It’s a neat, full, decorated donut box.

“I think the thing about Freshly Frosted is that when you look at it, you know what you’re getting into,” says Ally O. Taylor. “You get a very cute, healthy play that is very sweet and just light. And maybe there’s a little more meaning than you might expect when you first look at it, but not that much more. And if you don’t want that meaning, you can also disable the story in the settings. So people are not surprised when they play it. The people who buy it know what they’re getting into, and they love it.

“…I put a lot of myself into it because it’s my art and my writing and my voice with you all the time. And a lot of the voice lines come a lot from my personal personality. There’s so much of me in it. So when people say they like it, I’m like, ‘Oh, they like me.’ I’m so glad they like me.”

Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine

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