Preview: Book of Spells for PlayStation Wonderbook

5 Jul 2012

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The storybook will never be the same again thanks to the Wonderbook, a new creation for the PlayStation 3 that brings stories to life – starting with the Book of Spells from JK Rowling, the closest a Muggle is ever going to come to a magical spell book.

“Imagine reading a book and then a dragon bursts out of the page and flies around your living room breathing fire, or a dinosaur strides through your room, or the solar system comes up out of the book and orbits around your head.” This is how Suzanne Tee, producer of London Studio’s Book of Spells introduced the Wonderbook, an innovation in gaming, to a very captive audience.

The Wonderbook for PlayStation 3 looks relatively like any old hardback picture book, only the pages aren’t covered with words and images until you sit it in front of the PlayStation Eye Camera.

Using augmented reality technology, the Wonderbook is transformed on-screen with stories and illustrations that leap out of the pages and surround you as you read and play.

PlayStation Wonderbook

“Wonderbook makes the impossible possible, and brings to life words, pictures, stories like never seen before,” says Tee. “It puts you at the centre of the action and you’re the main character in the story – it’s the reinvention of the storybook.”

A match made in magical heaven

A perfect fit, Wonderbook’s first release comes from the world of one of children’s literature’s most-loved characters, Harry Potter. “We’ve been very privileged to work with JK Rowling on the very first book, which is Book of Spells,” says Tee. “Book of Spells takes you on a fantastic journey to read and learn the secrets of wizardry and the art of spell-casting, just like a student at Hogwarts.”

The 200-year-old wizarding textbook comes to life through the Wonderbook. It’s a magical book so, of course, the illustrations move across the pages and the text lifts up off the page and floats before your eyes.

Wonderbook

With the Wonderbook open on Book of Spells, the PlayStation Move Motion Controller becomes a magic wand and, as you turn the pages you are taught how to cast spells like Wingardium Leviosa, Alohamora and Incendio. The spell-casting lessons come with games to help you practise your new skills, and stories of the spell’s origin, all of which were written by JK Rowling herself.

“A couple of years ago we showed an early version of Wonderbook to JK Rowling, and she thought it would be a perfect fit for a magical spell book, and so she created brand new wizarding stories and enchanted poems that come to life in the book,” explains Tee.

Seal of approval from JK Rowling – and Voldemort

Rowling wasn’t the only person excited by Wonderbook, either. “When we announced this at E3, straightaway there were people on the fan sites saying they had to have it now, they were going to buy a PS3 just to get it – we even had Lord Voldemort on Twitter saying that he wanted it as well!” says Tee.

Voldemort tweet

Having such an ardent fan base can be intimidating, though, as you don’t want to let them down. But Rowling is known not to put her name to anything that she doesn’t directly approve, so having her stamp of approval is sure to assure fans of the Wonderbook’s loyalty to the original story.

“That’s the great thing of working directly with JK Rowling,” says Tee. “She automatically adds that authenticity to it.”

Syncing your Pottermore account

Luckily for London Studio, an in-house development team working for Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony already had a relationship with the noted author through its collaboration on the Pottermore website.

And fans of Sony’s online Harry Potter community will be happy to know that Book of Spells syncs with their account, sorting them into the same Hogwarts house, assigning the same wand and transferring any house points.

Making magic

In all, Book of Spells has 20 spells across five chapters, plus a few hidden extras on the way. Though the physical Wonderbook has just 12 pages, the book can go on as long as the game allows, simply instructing users to close the book and open again on a new page, over and over.

While playing the game, users can manipulate pop-up stories in the magical theatre, solve conundrums, shout out incantations, cast magical fires, and do all kinds of things that are reflected in the alternate reality created around them on-screen.

Wonderbook Book of Spells

A professor from Hogwarts guides players along and, when a lesson is completed, he sends a congratulatory message by owl, which includes a magical photograph (what us mere Muggles might mistake as a video).

To ensure the look of the book was as authentic as possible, art director Joel Smith spent a lot of time in musty old libraries. “There’s a specific library in London that has a collection of magical books from medieval time and it’s real white-glove stuff,” he says. “I used those for the basis of the actual look, of the actual spread-out, the illustrations and the text.”

Durable – for kids who play rough

Despite the medieval look, the technology behind Wonderbook is advanced and complex, yet kids still have no trouble understanding how it works.

“People understand how to use it right away because it is a book, it’s just simple paper and card,” says Tee.

“A lot of the development team have taken it back and given it to their families to play with and, kids, they just don’t look at things nicely and be precious,” says Smith, describing how the book has been scribbled on and torn but still makes it back to the studio in working order.

“We’re really proud of the robustness of it,” he says. “As we move it around, it doesn’t drop out at all, it doesn’t fall away; the graphics stay very much on the book.”

One book, many stories

Book of Spells is just the beginning for PlayStation’s magical book, though. “What we’re trying to do with Wonderbook is that you’d have one book that could be used for a number of different titles,” explains Smith.

“Everybody really knew from the start the potential of Wonderbook, the amount that you can use it for,” says Tee. “You could use it for a magical fairy tale, educational purposes.”

“It is an investment,” explains Smith. “It’s one book with a thousand stories. We want you to use it and play with it for a long time – and you’re designed to play with it: pick it up, move it around, that’s the whole point of it.”

Wonderbook and Book of Spells by JK Rowling are out November this year, exclusive to PlayStation 3.

Elaine Burke is managing editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com