Gamercast interview with Sjoerd De Jong on The Ball

We recently reviewed the brilliant first person puzzle action title The Ball and couldn’t stop ourselves from interviewing their project lead and creative director Sjoerd De Jong of Teotl Studios, based in Central Sweden The Ball is their first title, we thought we'd get to know a little about Teotl and some of the reasons behind making their inventive game;

Gamercast: For those of our readers that are unaware, what is The Ball?

Teotl Studios: The Ball is a first person action puzzle game that runs on Unreal Engine 3. You play as an archaeologist working on the slopes of a dormant volcano somewhere in Mexico, and a technical malfunction gets you stuck in a cavern. It doesn't take long before you realise this is more than just a cave. You reveal ancient ruins that have been hidden from outsiders for centuries and discover a mysterious artefact, a gold and metal shelled Ball. As you venture deeper into the volcano, you reveal some of mankind's greatest secrets...

GC: One point we were adamant about in our review was that The Ball is very different from other games such as Portal, however it is a stigma that appears to have been labelled on the game. How do you feel the games are different?

TS: The Ball is longer and larger than Portal, it features more action and combat, and it is simply a different game with different mechanics, such as physics driven gameplay. If you want to continue the Portal comparison, look at it like a Companion Cube meets Half Life 2's Gravity Gun, meets Indiana Jones. That said, we are not trying to rival Portal. There are not many FPS puzzle games, I think any addition to the genre is good. We want to complement other games in our genre, and offer a different take on things.

GC: What previous experience does Teotl Studios have?

TS: The Ball is the first game that we have made under the name Teotl Studios, but I personally have been in the industry for many years. I have worked on a whole host of games including Huxley, Unreal Tournament 2004, Killzone, and so on. After all these years in the industry I felt like it was time to try something new, and start up my own studio and game production.

GC: Did you ever believe you’d get so far in the Make Something Unreal contest, or even imagine that your game would be given a full blown retail release?

TS: At first no, and in the beginning it never was our intention either. After a while we realised the potential of what we had going though, and we decided to go for it 100%. We quit our day time jobs, and started working on it day and night.

GC: The Ball is a proper Unreal title, and the gore and brutality of the game is fantastic, is it something that you envisioned from the very beginning?

TS: Yes pretty much. We knew that if we would just have puzzles it would become boring and repetitive. We wanted to counter all the mentally demanding puzzles with something completely brainless; rolling a big ball over monsters.

GC: Your environments and aesthetics are beautiful, what made you choose the depths of a Mexican Volcano?

TS: We needed an ancient civilization and culture and we decided to go for Mesoamerica as it is kind of underused in games. We could have gone for an Egyptian setting for example, but that has been done so many times already. The Mesoamerican cultures are very rich, we had lots of material to work with.

GC: You chose to not include any guns whatsoever other than the flamethrower just before the end, did you want to instil the dependability of the player to the ball, or just change the way a player looks at an FPS?

TS: We discussed adding guns, but then we would have taken away attention from the very focus of the game; the ball. If we would have added guns, we would have risked that either those guns, or the ball, would feel tacked on top.

GC: We absolutely loved the Survival Mode, was it just thrown in at the end or was it something that you saw The Ball having from the very beginning?

TS: It was added fairly early on. It was an idea of our scripter Anton. He came up with the idea and asked if he could implement his little side project into the game. The game type fit in perfectly. We've always had the problem that the single player game is fairly hard to "sell" via screenshots and videos. It is the kind of thing you got to experience to understand. Survival offers us something that is easy to demonstrate, and compared to the subtle atmosphere and approach of the single player campaign, Survival is very in-your-face.

GC: There is a lot of jumping involved in The Ball, and a lot of hazardous environments, isn't that breaking one of the unwritten rules of FPS?

TS: I am not aware of such rule. FPS games have since long had a strong focus on jumping and hazardous environments. Just think about all the trick jumps and dodge moves you can pull off in Quake and Unreal, let alone the many hundreds of pits of lava, slime, and other dangerous substances you come across in those FPS classics. People have always managed to navigate those with ease, in first person and at very high speed.

GC: We loved the consistent aesthetic of moving gears and cogs that work everything inside the volcano, does one of your team love clockwork mechanisms?

TS: Yeah, mechanics are nice. It is always nice when you show how the game world actually works. Think about Portal, when you leave the test chambers. That kind of thing really contributes to the atmosphere and the immersion.

GC: If there was anything that you would change in The Ball, or make better what would it be?

TS: Not sure. Perhaps the start of the game, it starts a little slow.

GC: Teotl currently working on anything at the moment, or do you have your eye on anything?

TS: We would really like to port The Ball to console, so that is something we hope to do in the near future.

We love to support games companies that think outside the box, and cannot wait for a possible port of The Ball for a console like Xbox 360, and after their first title being as beautifully imaginative as it is; we await to see what new title Teotl Studios has around the corner.

If this interview peaks your interest, don't forget to check out our review of the great gory puzzle title. The Ball is available now via Steam or at retail for the SRP of £19.99.