The Ball – p.1 – User article

The Ball - p.1 - User article


Pico del Miedo, Mexico. A group of archaeologists, conducting excavations in 1940, uncover the dark and ancient secret of the mountain, which is not called “Peak of Fear” for nothing…

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Many video games tell a story and therefore need to use various game mechanics to advance the story and make it accessible to the player. Some games focus on the story being told, while other games clearly place the underlying gameplay at the heart of the game. It gets interesting when both are combined – using the game mechanics, obstacles have to be overcome in order to progress in the story. A very well known example is the portalseries (which I will come back to later), but also in Half-Life 2 there are physics puzzles that we have to solve using the Gravity Gun. The one released in 2010 also falls into this category of games the ball. But does it also play in the same league? And will there be any spoilers in this article? I can answer the second question immediately: Yes! And we’re going to focus on the first one now.

In the footsteps of an ancient culture

While excavating, the unnamed protagonist falls down a shaft when the ground gives way beneath him. He survives unharmed but is trapped. His colleagues first have to have a new crane flown in. So we use the time and have a look around. On the ground we find a strange device that resembles a gun. There are ruins all around us; ancient machines that obviously still serve their purpose. By activating blue glowing plates we can trigger mechanisms and thus open doors, for example. So we delve deeper into this strange world from a long-forgotten time and soon we meet the titular ball. It’s a sphere about two meters in diameter that we can control with the device we found earlier. With the left mouse button we give the ball a slight push, if we keep the button pressed, the device is charged and we can give the ball a stronger push. With the right mouse button, a kind of magnetism is generated, which we can use to bring the ball back to us from a greater distance. This rudimentary control of the ball is all we need to solve the puzzles that lie ahead.

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Luminous pressure plates can be activated by us.

Little by little we realize that the ball has more uses than it might seem at first glance. We have to keep placing him on pressure plates that can only be activated by the ball itself. Later we find cubes that serve a similar purpose but can only be pushed. In some places, the ball can be electrified to power machines with electricity, and we’ll occasionally find pools full of oil that can be ignited. So with the ball we can spread the oil and then set it on fire to ignite a torch for example, freeing up another area. The levels are mostly linear, so they dictate when we have to solve which puzzle, otherwise we won’t get any further. In some levels there are several puzzles that have to be solved before, for example, a gigantic gate is opened, behind which the game continues. Later we also find vehicles that use the ball as a source of energy and serve us as a means of locomotion; this includes rail systems with mechanical lorries, but also primitive vehicles with which we can cover longer distances that we would otherwise have to walk. Most of the levels aren’t very big, but sometimes we’ll come across big caves that contain the ruins of a long-lost civilization. And there such vehicles are quite helpful, especially when lava flows have to be crossed.

It’s going to be scary

In Germany, The Ball is approved for ages 16 and over (which of course doesn’t mean anything). So the question is: is there violence? Is it a first-person shooter, as is often wrongly claimed? No, it’s not a first-person shooter, we usually have no way of harming opponents ourselves. The ball becomes our weapon in these cases, so we can only fight opponents passively and must take advantage of the environment. One of the most common enemies are zombies (or mummies, whatever) who like to attack in groups and kill us fairly quickly. With the help of the ball we can squish them (there’s really no other word that fits!), which is also shown in a bloody way. The 16 is therefore quite justified. Later, giant beetles are added, as well as larger opponents against which the ball itself cannot do anything. Here we make use of the properties of the ball again: at one point we have to set two lizard creatures on fire, at another point we fight them with electric charges.

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Later we also meet giant worms, which pose a challenge in their own right, since we can’t do anything against them and can only walk past them. There is always a switch somewhere that grills the cattle, as long as we reach the switch and are not eaten beforehand. At another point, a zombie gorilla attacks us, which must be fought using exploding balls. Later we find anti-personnel mines, which can also be dangerous for us, but are also a good tool against opponents who are too intrusive. If we are attacked, we lose HP, which is only replenished at certain points. Mostly when we have solved the next puzzle and enter a new area. So we can die relatively quickly, so any contact with an opponent should be avoided. It’s auto-saved in certain places so it’s not too annoying if we get killed.

If the zombies are flat like plates, the ball was faster again. Hopefully.

my friend the ball

As the game progresses you slowly develop a relationship with the ball. At first, it’s just a tool that we use to solve puzzles and advance. But that changes with the appearance of the first opponents; the ball becomes our protector. So it gets particularly bad when we are separated from each other. Due to its size, the ball doesn’t fit everywhere, so sometimes we have to squeeze through a gap or climb a hole in the wall on our own. And then we are on our own and can only hope that we will not be attacked. There could be an enemy lurking around every corner, so let’s hurry to get back to our best and only friend in this game as soon as possible. Often the puzzles consist of finding a way to, for example, bring the ball to a higher level and thus reach switches that open more doors.

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In a way, the player and the ball become a well-rehearsed team. While the ball is big and strong, if you will, but passive ourselves, we are rather weak ourselves, but we can get through everywhere and figure out how to solve the puzzles and get the ball through the level. Not only does a functioning mind play a role, but of course also dexterity. Especially when we are attacked by hordes of opponents, we have to dodge them and at the same time position the ball to defend ourselves. This is made more difficult by the fact that some opponents deliberately avoid the ball. Other enemies cannot be reached and shoot fireballs at us from a distance. We can prevent that by hiding behind the ball. In this way, little by little, we get closer to the end of the path, while the enemies get bigger and more, and the difficulty of the puzzles increases.

Some blocks can be moved using the ball.