Interview with Teotl Studios on The Ball

We recently reviewed The Ball, an indie action puzzle PC game, in which you use a heavy ancient ball to solve puzzles and survive reanimated monster attacks. We wanted to know a bit more about the people behind the game, and chat about how this indie game came to be. We’ve interviewed Sjoerd De Jong, Project Lead of Teotl Studios.

Mana Pool: For readers who are unaware, could you tell us a little about Teotl Studios? Who are you and what other games have you developed in the past?

De Jong: Teotl Studios is a small young game development studio located in central Sweden. We are three people, and we’ve made The Ball backed up by an additional half a dozen to a dozen freelancers. The Ball is the first game we’ve made as Teotl Studios but I have personally been working in the games industry for many years, and I have worked for many major developers such as Guerrilla Games, Starbreeze, and Epic Games.

The Second City of Gold

The Second City of Gold

From UT mod to standalone game. When / Why did you decide to take things a step further and how did it affect your progress?

After about a year of development we realised we really had something going here. The reception of the mod was great. The public liked it, Epic Games liked it, and we began to believe in what we had going. We began to investigate what it would take to turn our mod into a full blown game, and we started talking to Epic Games about acquiring an Unreal Engine 3 license. They told us they actually had something going called “Unreal Development Kit”, and they asked us if we wanted to make a demo for the launch of the UDK. And off we were basically.

Could you let us in on a bit of the background story?

Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in Mexico, a gigantic underground world was constructed and excavated by an advanced and unknown civilization. They built a technologically advanced society deep inside a volcano. They lived in cities of gold, and enjoyed seemingly great prosperity, but something went wrong… Their society collapsed. A civil war broke out… You play as an archaeologist who in 1940 stumbles upon the entrance of this hidden world, and uncovers mankind’s greatest secrets. Where did we really come from? Where did the Maya get their very advanced calendar from? Who really built the Egyptian pyramids? What happened thousands of years ago?

Each puzzle felt unique and the next one even more fun to complete than the previous. Where did you get the inspiration for these puzzles? The physics-based ones in particular.

The puzzles have been designed by about five different designers, and having that variety in designers was key. Every designer had a different take on things, and approached things from a different angle, which resulted in a series of very unique puzzles. Even while the whole game revolves around rolling a ball around, not two puzzles are identical!

Any puzzles or monsters that didn’t make it into the release?

We wanted to make an ancient robot that would come in and try to take the Ball away from the player. The idea was that the robot wouldn’t attack the player, but that he would continuously attempt to steal the Ball from the player, and that you thus had to stop him from doing so, or trick him to move some other kind of object instead.

The ball controlling artifact

Ancient Black & Decker

To us, the game felt a bit like playing Portal, dragging a ball as companion around in order to complete the puzzles. In Portal, the Companion Cube was only a small portion of the game. What was your inspiration for creating the puzzles?

We knew from day one that our game was going to revolve around this big ball, so all our puzzles came forth out of that. Think about it like this; if Portal would have been all about the Companion Cube, how would it have looked? Games like Tomb Raider inspired us a lot. Big old ancient constructions and mechanisms that you have to solve and unlock in order to progress. The curiosity of, “I wonder what is behind this door”, and the drive to solve the puzzle so you can find out!

Were there plans to implement any other abilities in the artifact other than attraction and hammering?

We discussed shooting out a magnet, and the Ball would then roll towards whatever place you shot, but we decided not to implement that. It would have made the control scheme more complicated, and we didn’t think it was worth it. Hammering the ball is brutal. You hit this big steel ball with massive force, and it makes the whole thing feel very brutal and primitive. We didn’t want to disturb that feeling.

We favored playing with the puzzles over fighting monsters. Any thoughts on a Puzzle Challenge mode or an add-on with extra difficult puzzles to solve?

Yeah we are thinking about that, might happen at some point. We are going to do other things first though, in the foreseeable future.

What are your thoughts on multiplayer puzzle adventures? Portal is going co-op, can we expect a sequel with dual ball-rolling madness?

It is technically pretty challenging to do physics in a multiplayer environment. It is doable, but we would have to completely rewrite parts of the game to make that happen. And I don’t see that happening any time soon. If we expand the game, it will be with more singleplayer content.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions about The Ball – and the best of luck in your future endeavors! We look forward to hear from you again.

Thanks a lot for the nice review!

~Sjoerd De Jong
Project Lead – Teotl Studios

the author

Crazy Dutch fella with an interest in mostly action-packed adventure games, platformers and first-person shooters. I love Real-Time Strategy games, but I *really* suck at them (except for Dawn of War II). I also like physics puzzle games a lot, like Portal and The Ball.