The Ball: The Interview

In the relatively thin history of first-person puzzle games, The Ball stands out as having the largest metal ball and also the most terrifying ape. It was knowledge of these two facts which motivated us to speak to Sjoerd “Hourences” DeJong, bossman at Teotl, and project lead on The Ball, and ask him all about matters pertaining to the spooky Unreal-powered puzzler.

RPS: Can you tell us a bit about about the Teotl team? How did you come to be working together?

DeJong: We started the team in spring 2008 with just three people, and within half a year it had grown to about seven people. Another half a year later we reached our peak, 15 people. About half the members of the team were people I already knew, or who were recommended to me by friends. The other half were talented people who just contacted me out of the blue and asked to join.

RPS: Here’s a question that I got out of the question vending machine round the corner: where did the idea for the game come from?

DeJong: When I first played Portal I was impressed by how memorable and unique that game is, despite its very simple nature. Portal has only one “weapon”, there are no real characters, everything revolves around a single core mechanic, and the art style is very simple and straightforward. And yet, it manages to create a more memorable experience than many big budget titles with dozens of weapons and cutscenes do. That is quite an achievement, and that has really inspired me. You don’t need millions of dollars and hundreds of features to make a cool game!

RPS: How important was the Make Something Unreal competition for the development of The Ball? Did you always intend for it to be a commercial game?

DeJong: No we didn’t always intend that. We originally started the project just for fun, but as the game was received so well by both Epic Games and the public, we began to realise that we could do more with it. The contest has been very important for us (thanks Epic!). It strengthened our confidence, got us publicity, and it got us money. We used the money we won in the contest to fund our company and our game.

RPS: Has the launch of UDK been useful for you and developers like you?

DeJong: Definitely! The UDK gives small teams and companies access to world-class development tools and that opens up a world of possibilities. For me personally as well. I am very experienced in Unreal Technology. The more people, companies, and institutions use Unreal Technology, the more opportunities that creates for me. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved! The UDK has been a very good move from Epic Games.

RPS: Have you been pleased or surprised by the critical reception of The Ball?

DeJong: I am pretty pleased with the reception of the game. It is an original concept, so you never quite know how it is going to go down, but people who play it seem to thoroughly enjoy it. Problem is though that a lot of people have prejudice towards the game. Rolling a ball around? Boring! That is a shame, the game is about a whole lot more than just rolling a ball around! It is a game you have to experience to understand. We just released the demo, people should give it a shot. Try it! It is free and it doesn’t bite!

RPS: Is there anything you felt you would have done different, if you’d had more time?

DeJong: There always is. We wanted to do a new enemy for the final level for example, a big robot that would try to steal the Ball from the player. The train rides in Oztoc were suppose to have a lot more collapsing stuff. We wanted to have a few more large puzzles in the last two levels. We wanted to have mummies with swords and spears. And so on. Overall, we are happy with the game as it is though. The large majority of features and content has made it in.

RPS: What was the biggest challenging in building the game?

DeJong: The whole business and marketing side of it was actually the most challenging, not building the actual game itself. The amount of paperwork and chores it brings along is quite significant, while you really need all the time you can get to work on the actual game.

RPS: Do you think there should be more first-person puzzle games? Isn’t it an oddly underpopulated genre?

DeJong: People still seem to largely see first-person to be an equivalent of shooters. If a game is first-person, they seem to expect guns. That perception might by hampering first-person puzzle games. Hopefully games like ours and the upcoming Portal 2 can bring a change there.

RPS: What’s next for Teotl? More of The Ball, or something different?

DeJong: We will see. It all depends on how The Ball sells. We have a couple ideas, and a couple of proposals, but I can’t say anything about those just yet.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. woot says:

    Co-op Balls – make it happen!

  2. StingingVelvet says:

    I love the idea of the UE3 development kit, but is it just me or is there little talk about games being made with it? I generally try and pay attention to the indie scene and under-marketed games and I only know of a couple UE3 games coming out of the deal, which seems odd as I thought that would literally explode.

    Maybe I missed them?

    • stahlwerk says:

      Give it time.
      Time and money. The high image quality of the ue3 (compared to, say, flixel) kind of needs assets of high (or at least consistent) quality, else it would look too jarring and not in a “lofi cute” way.

    • stahlwerk says:

      or in other words: if you can only model on a Q3Arena level (budget or talent wise), you might as well use the GPLed Q3Arena engine instead of going with the free as in beer UDK.

    • noobnob says:

      Video game projects usually have 2-3 years of development time without taking delays in consideration, so you’ll see some more commercial releases by the end of the next year.

      I suppose you’ve already checked some of the already-finished playable demos/showcases here. As for commercial releases, Dungeon Defenders is based on the same Dungeon Defense available in the UDK Showcase. Hazard: The Journey of Life is aiming for a commercial release as well. And there’s also The Haunted: Hell’s Reach, a 3rd-person demon shoot’em up that earned several awards in the Make Something Unreal contest, just like The Ball. Oh, and let’s not forget about Primal Carnage, which recently went from Unigine to UDK. Additionaly, the Renegade X mod for UT3 is under development on UDK, as a free, standalone version.

      You must have heard of most of these, but having all of these projects listed down here shows that a a lot has been done in one year (UDK was released in November 2009), and I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple more. Granted, some of those are mods that were ported to UDK, but that alone was a huge step towards indie development. UDK is big, and the results will definitely be more visible by 2011/2012.

  3. thebigJ_A says:

    I tried the demo, it seems really fun. Nice atmosphere, and it controls smoothly. It runs well on my wimpy PC too, without having to turn anything down or off. I’m wondering if there’s more story in the full game, though.

    If I wasn’t busy with New Vegas and Super Meat Boy I’d probably buy it now. As it is, I’ll wait a week or two. But I definitely will buy it.

  4. Neut says:

    Oh man didn’t realise Hourences made this, he made some awesome single player maps for UT/Unreal back in the day, glad to see he’s doing this professionally now. Very talented guy.

    • jefftron says:

      I thought some of those screenshots had a familiar style! Played quite a lot of Hourences’ levels back in the day. Excited to see what they come up with next, assuming they get the chance.

  5. Linfosoma says:

    Am I the only one who found the demo to be really boring?
    I also find it hard to understand who would consider the game’s insane ambient occlusion good looking. Seriously, they turned it on and simply said “hey look, my gun has giant black smoke all around it, that looks so life-like!”.

    Anyway, I might pick it up in a sale, but I thought it was annoying how the game doesnt even tries to hide the fact that it’s a puzzle game. You start up and ten seconds later there’s already a non-sensical room created with the only purpose of being a tutorial. I wanted to have some more time to simply explore and “get into character”, I wish puzzles were less obvious and a part of the game world rather than the whole game.


    • thebigJ_A says:

      I know, right? Didn’t you hate how Portal had all those portals? Way too little effort hiding its genre. I prefer my FPSs to be in 3rd person for just that reason.

    • Linfosoma says:

      Answer to thebigJ_A:
      Expect in Portal there was a reason for the puzzles to be there. Anyway, seeing that you are being sarcastic and unreasonably I’ll just leave it there.

  6. SquareWheel says:

    Played the demo, I had fun although I probably wouldn’t have purchased the full game. The puzzles were fun, but the combat seemed quite mediocre.

    • megaman says:

      My thoughts exactly. I finished the demo and was rather pleasantly surprised. Then I tried the survival mode. All in all, combat doesn’t make much fun, thinking about the puzzles does.
      For me, it’s a must-buy when a sale comes around.