The book. It’s the purest, and simplest, form of media available to the world. Give a book to a 5 year old or a 95 year old and they’ll be no confusion in how to interact with it. Its nature as a physical object also gives back the tactile feedback that so many people wish for when they interact with something. Over the hundreds of years that the book has existed, nothing much about its design has changed, the largest being the rise of the e-book in our modern technological age. Now though, it seems that Sony are attempting to re-invent the book with the help of the PS3, and they might well be on to something.
Announced during a rather uncomfortably lengthy showcase at the PlayStation Keynote conference at this years E3, Wonderbook takes the book to a realm where it’s never been before, allowing for unprecedented interactivity and limitless possibilities for readers everywhere – at least I’d say readers, they could well be players too. At Gamescom Sony gave another fair chunk of their conference to Wonderbook showing off an exciting new story as well as announcing that both the BBC and Disney are strong backers – which shows not only how serious Sony are taking Wonderbook, but it also shows how serious companies are taking it too.
Created by SCE Studio London, the same minds behind the Eye Toy, Singstar and EyePet series and tech, I sat down in a presentation with Wonderbook‘s game director David Ranyard to take a look at how it all came about, and what we can expect from Book of Spells - the JK Rowling Harry Potter tie-in.
While it may have seen like a completely random thing for Sony to whip out on stage, Wonderbook has in fact been in the idea stages for a very long time – from as early as the PS2 era – and after having been refined through each piece of tech that has graced the PS3, Wonderbook was finally realised. It’s hard to see just how impressive the technology working behind Wonderbook is, as for the most part all you’ve ever seen is the image shown on-screen – not the book placed on the floor or in users hands.
Although it may be made like any other book out of paper and card, underneath it all is some incredibly fancy tech. Each page has ‘page detectors’ that show smooth page changeovers so animations could happen accurately, and it’s also got markers on each page that lets the book know when it’s being held upside down or being turned around so you can explore whatever the other side has to offer – as some examples showed 3D worlds and objects that had secrets hidden within. Because the book knows it’s orientation, it also means that the objects within the book are also altered, such as rain falling in different places, water running off the book in a different way or items and objects falling, it really does create an atmosphere of holding something real – even if it is mostly in the television.
So, how did Book of Spells come about then? Well, thanks to Sony’s partnership with JK Rowling for the online book world of Pottermore, that gave Studio London a chance to show their idea off to JK which led to Book of Spells.
Taking place in the realm of Harry Potter, Book of Spells is written completely by JK Rowling herself, and so is a guide to spellcasting by fictitious writer Miranda Goshawk. It’s completely canon to the HP franchise, and to make sure that it doesn’t waver from fans expectations the Studio London team went to a lot of effort to create an authentic experience for readers. You may just think it’s a book for kids and overly eager Harry Potter fans, but it just oozes that magical vibe right from every 200-year old virtual page.
Along the path of the book you’ll learn 21 spells across the games five chapters, and each spell works through the same model of discover, cast, practice and then test, with a “conundrum” being unlocked at the end of each chapter for you to solve and enjoy. The practice sections can teleport you into a world inside the book, or make you interact with objects that appear to be in reality too. The same goes for tests, which are designed to put your wizarding skills up to the toughest challenge.
Seeing the book in action, it’s hard not to be wowed at the pull-able tabs, interactive text, and the pages and worlds that look like they’re actually made of paper and ink. The stories are as fantastical as you’d expect as they’re draped in weird and wonderful creatures and scored with an incredible and original orchestral score. It’s also nice to see that the book just feels alive too, with ambient movement and loads to interact with too.
With a simple interface, clear instructions and plenty of content directly from JK Rowling, this 7 year concept has finally come to life with one of the most fitting titles for something so wonderful like Wonderbook.