The Ball – Interview

Recently I reviewed new indie PC puzzler The Ball, and was pleasantly surprised by how good the game is with its excellent puzzle and environment design, and graphics powered by the Unreal Development Kit. As well as the review, not to mention our giveaway here at GamingLives, I also had the opportunity to interview Sjoerd De Jong, Creative Director at Teotl Studios and project lead on The Ball, and the man responsible for bringing PC gamers arguably the most innovative and original game of 2010.

The Ball revolves around its unique gameplay, without which there wouldn’t be a game at all, but how did the idea for it originally come about?

I was very impressed by Portal the first time I played it. Not necessarily as a gamer, but as a developer. That game managed to create a more memorable and unique experience with just one “weapon”, a very simple art style, and a single gameplay feature, than many big budget productions with dozens of features. It proved to me that you don’t need a large budget and years of time to create a cool and interesting game, and that inspired me. Furthermore we were only a few people when we started out with our team. We didn’t have a character modeler for one, nor an animator. So we looked for a concept that didn’t require a character and that, just like Portal, revolved around one single core mechanic, and what we came up with was The Ball.

The game combines puzzle solving and exploration with combat, but which was the primary focus in designing the game? Were compromises needed with regards to one aspect or the other in order to make it all work as a single coherent gaming experience?

It is primarily a puzzle game.  Compare the action/puzzle ratio to Tomb Raider if you wish – you spend the large part of your time exploring the world and solving puzzles but every now and then you encounter an enemy. We added action to balance out the puzzles and puzzle solving is fairly slow paced; we needed something to counter that – something fast, something brainless, something to keep the tension in the game. You are all alone in these thousands of years old ruins, and you are never quite sure what you will find behind a thick stone door!

The setting of the game is fairly uncommon; was the intention during development always to have the game placed around the ruins of the ancient South American civilisations, or were other ideas looked at in the process of creating the story and concept artwork?

We first considered doing the game in Egypt but eventually decided not to, an Egyptian theme has been done a hundred times already. We wanted something more original. Besides originality, another plus of the Mesoamerican cultures was that they had a very fitting art style. Fairly simplistic, big, bulky architecture and art. For example, an Angkor Wat style of environment wouldn’t have worked. There is just too much fine detail in that, we wouldn’t have been able to do that with just a few people.

At what stage did it become apparent that The Ball could work not only as an Unreal Tournament 3 mod, but as a stand-alone title, and how did you manage to bring this about? With the current games industry having mostly moved on from small teams working independently in favour of large publishers owning their own in-house developers it can’t have been a simple matter to bring the game to retail.

Once you have your game, getting a retail deal isn’t all too difficult. The real work is in getting the game done in the first place. That has definitely not been easy, but we did have some luck along the way. The game has been funded with money we have won in the Make Something Unreal contest, and we’ve also been subsidised by the Nordic Game Program, an initiative from the Scandinavian governments to promote game development in the Nordic region. Without those two things we probably wouldn’t have had the money and the opportunity to transform our project into a commercial product.

Are there any plans to port The Ball to consoles, perhaps via Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Network, or will it remain a PC only release?

Definitely. We would love to get the game out on PSN and/or XBLA and we are going to spend the next few months on trying to make that happen.

The Ball concept has a lot of potential and scope for further exploration, and the game is picking up a lot of praise and support from critics, so will we perhaps see expansions or even sequels starting to emerge in the next few years? If not, do Teotl Studios have any other projects planned that we might look forward to?

Can’t say yet. It depends on a lot of things, how well The Ball sells for one. We will probably first focus on a The Ball console port, and we will see after that. We received a couple of offers, and we have a couple of ideas of our own as well.

I’d like to thank you for your time in talking to GamingLives, and end by asking what part of the game was your personal favourite, either during the development process or whilst playing it?

My pleasure. My personal favourite is the atmosphere of the game in general. Being able to boot up the game, and get lost in my own world…

The Ball is presently available both as a retail release and via digital distribution services. Again, I can’t stress enough how good I believe the game to be, and I’m very grateful to Sjoerd for taking the time to talk to us about it. I’m looking forwards to seeing what comes out of Teotl Studios next, and you can be sure that I’ll be covering it on GamingLives in greater detail when it comes.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Edward Edward says:

    Very much enjoyed the interview, and it’s great to see they’re so passionate about the game and want to spread it to other formats despite their small studio crew. Great to see a unique title being championed, so to speak, and I might pick it up if it reaches XBLA.
    Great questions and a great interview :D

  2. Ste says:

    Nice interview as usual Sam, I think I said when you reviewed it that I’d probably pick this up eventually when I had shifted a few other games off my list, but I think this would be great on PSN or XBLA, I really hope it makes it. Also that Sjoerd guys seems like a pretty nice guy. Sweet name too!

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great interview and good to hear that they plan to try and port it to XBLA etc. Would be great for both the game and the company, as an indie studio to reach a wider audience :) I love the setting for the game, it is one of the most appealing aspects for me, so the insight into this was good to read.

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    Thanks for the comments guys, always appreciated. I was flattered when I was offered the chance to ask Sjoerd a few questions when they sent us the review copy of the game, and after playing through it these were the things I most wanted to know.

    An XBLA/PSN port would be a great thing, even though I’ve played it on PC, because I really believe that this game needs to be experienced to completely get it, and this way more people will have the chance. Always happy to support a really good indie title.

  5. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I think that, with games like this, getting them on XBLA and PSN could only help to catapult them to greatness. If I was developing a game, it’d probably be one of my main goals. Great to see that they’re so passionate about what they’re doing, and dared to be different.

    Great stuff :)

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