by Davneet Minhas
previewed on PC
Teotl Studios’ debut game, The Ball, has traveled a path from conception to release not very typical of commercial games today. But its path isn’t unprecedented either.
The Ball was first introduced a few years ago as a mod for Unreal Tournament 3 and an entry in the “Make Something Unreal” contest. It went on to win half a dozen awards from Epic Games and placed second in the contest’s Grand Finals. It also won Best Singleplayer Mod of 2008 in ModDB’s Mod of the Year awards, and the developers were even awarded a grant from the Nordic Game Program. Now, The Ball is a standalone Unreal Engine 3 game being released on the PC by Tripwire Interactive, which also published Red Orchestra, another commercial game that resulted from the “Make Something Unreal” competition. See, not unprecedented.
Given its path, The Ball is clearly an indie game, and its indie status is reinforced by its indie price: $19.99. But even more convincing is the size of its development team – Teotl Studios consists of only three full-time developers.
I’ve had the opportunity to play a preview build of The Ball, and it is entertaining for the most part. Its mechanics are innovative, and its graphics are impressive at times. When you consider that only three people worked on this game full-time, you can’t help but be inspired.
The Ball is a physics-driven first-person puzzle game with some action elements. You play an archaeologist in Mexico who stumbles into vast Aztec ruins hidden within a dormant volcano, and your only way out is to venture deeper into the ruins using a giant, mystical ball of gold and metal to open doors and remove barriers. You’re able to manipulate the Ball by using a device that can hammer it away or attract it towards you.
The start of the game introduces you to some very basic mechanics: hammer the ball into a button to open a door, hammer the ball into a wood barrier to remove it. But the puzzles quickly increase in complexity as more mechanics are introduced. You have to use the ball as a stepping stool, use it to activate and deactivate elevators, and use it as a shield to block arrows from hitting you. Many of the puzzles revolve around finding convoluted ways to maneuver yourself and the Ball from point A to point B when the Ball must seemingly stay at A for you to reach B.
On many occasions, the Ball was ripped away from me by a giant magnet on a nearby wall, and I couldn’t move on until I turned the magnet off. Doing so became more and more complicated every time.
The Ball can even pick up and leave a trail of liquid – coat the Ball in oil, send it through a fire, and use your newly developed giant match to light a fuse. I may have just ruined a puzzle for you, but don’t worry, there are plenty of mechanics I haven’t mentioned.