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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: The Ball

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game site has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Sjoerd De Jong, Project Lead at Teotl Studios, about how his team has spent one-and-a-half years polishing The Ball.

Joystiq: How did you or your company get started?

Sjoerd De Jong, Teotl Studios: Our game started out as a mod for Unreal Tournament 3, and was originally made for Epic Games' Make Something Unreal contest. Our first version was released in May 2008, and it was received so well (double first place in the first round of the contest), that we decided to carry on. We continued working on our project and we regularly released new versions all the way until the end of the contest, one-and-a-half years later. By the end of the contest The Ball had secured five first places, and won the second place in the Grand Finals. That gave us the confidence to quit our day time jobs, and start up our own small game development studio: Teotl Studios. We used the money we won throughout the contest to fund our company, and we have recently also been awarded a government grant. We are very happy with that, it has given us some financial stability and allowed us to get this far with no publisher or investor breathing down our necks.

Why did you want to make games?

I kind of just rolled into it. I started out by making custom levels for Unreal back in 1999. I never expected to actually achieve anything with what I was doing, let alone earn money with it. I really liked making levels though. So much so I started staying away from school so I could work on my levels. My work was consistently well received, and before I knew it I got into the games industry. I like how I get to create entire worlds out of thin air, capture people's imagination, and give them a place to relax after a bad day at work.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

Oh I have done that for many years. I have worked for a couple of big studios on big budget productions, but I never felt like I had the creative freedom I craved. I always felt like a little screw in a huge machine, and that is not why I got into game development. So after all those years working for others, I basically wanted to give it a shot myself, see how that works out. Back to the roots basically. A small group of enthusiastic developers, no management, no politics, just the game and our passion!

By the time we release we will have spent roughly 2.5 years of our lives on the game.- Sjoerd De Jong, Project Lead

What's your game called, and what's it about?

The game is simply called The Ball. Don't let the very simple name deceive you however, our game is actually quite large (six-plus hours) and we honor high production values. The game is kind of a mix between Portal (first person puzzle game), Indiana Jones (the theme), and the Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun (gameplay). Playing from a first person perspective, you solve puzzles and crush monsters with a large, physics-driven ball, manipulated by the pushing and pulling forces of an ancient device. Imagine crushing an army of mummies with a big metal ball rolling straight over them! Or fighting a zombie-gorilla the size of a building! We try very hard to make every puzzle in the game feel fresh and utilize the Ball in a new and original way.

How are you handling difficulty in the game?

The focus is on the experience, not the difficulty. As of such the puzzles and challenges in the game are challenging, but not frustrating. We really wanted to make a game that will help you relax after a hard day at work or at school, rather than stress you out even more. There are almost no time-based puzzles for example, there is no penalty whatsoever for dying, and we have even gone so far to incorporate an in-game walkthrough you can bring up with the press of a button, in case you get stuck and just want to move on. The player should be able to sit back and enjoy the experience, that is our philosophy.

For how long and with how many developers have you been working on the game?

We have been working on the game since April 2008. By the time we release we will have spent roughly 2.5 years of our lives on the game. During full production our team was about 20 developers big, but since the game is nearing completion just eight devs are still working on the game, and half of those are working on the game full-time.

When will the game be released and how much will it cost?

Late summer or early fall, and it will cost around $20. Windows/PC only, for now. The exact release date and price will be announced later.

Want to see more of The Ball? The official site's right here. If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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