Wonderbook: Book of Spells – Impressions
A few weeks ago, at the Sony preview event in New York City, i got a much closer look at Wonderbook and the first title being released for it, J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells. Set apart from the rest of the hubbub of the preview space, Wonderbook was given a more intimate setting with a couch and a rug and a curtain blocking out the frenetic pace outside.
People were encouraged to come sit on the rug in front of an open Wonderbook where they could try it out for themselves. I wandered in with our friends from PSNStores.com, Eric and Elle. The setup was much the same as we saw during the E3 Press Conference. Eric sat and got a hands-on demonstration while I watched and talked to one of the other reps for the game.
The book itself feels,really sturdy and well made, there’s nothing cheap about it, which makes sense when you consider that the target audience for Wonderbook is kids. It’ll have to stand up to the punishment of kids playing with it over the long haul. The cover itself has a matte finish and a rubbery texture which serves a twofold purpose. The first is to cut down on glare and reflections so the camera will be able to see it in varying lighting conditions. The second is to give the book some grip on coffee tables and such so it isn’t sliding around all over the place while it’s being used.
As you can see from the pictures I took below, the pages are all essentially AR cards similar to what came with the Vita but more sophisticated. The book is twelve pages long giving you six ‘spreads’ side by side when you lay the book flat. When setting it up, you need to ensure that the camera can see both you and the book. At that point, a digital zoom is employed to focus on story elements and bring everything to life.
Book of Spells will have seven chapters in total and each chapter will be a full pass through of the book, at which point you close the book, open to page one and start the next. Each chapter has four spells to learn and you’ll start with a history of the spell in a paper theater style presentation. You’ll learn the incantation (Forgetticus!) and how to cast the spell using the Move controller which is overlaid with a wand on screen. While I watched, someone yelled out the spell while flicking their wand. I asked if that was necessary, did the microphone in the PlayStation Eye pick up what they were saying? The answer given was, sadly, no. Since the game is aimed at a younger crowd, they didn’t want them to get hung up on pronunciation of some of the stranger spells in the Harry Potter universe.
At the end of each chapter, you’re given a test where you’ll need to combine the four spells you’ve learned in order to pass. The view on screen changes to a picture in picture where you’ll see yourself looking into the world and you’ll need to successfully cast spells through the opening to complete your task. If you do, you’ll get a conundrum in the form of a poem written by J.K. Rowling which will open up something special for fans of the series that’s being kept under wraps for now. With twenty spells in all, that would mean that two chapters are unaccounted for. We do know that if you get through all the chapters and pass all the tests, you’ll get to a hidden chapter at the end of the book with a surprise aimed squarely at hardcore Harry Potter fans.
Watching people play it was, pardon the pun, a magical experience. Faces would light up with a sense of excitement and wonder. Seeing pages come to life in a 3D space in front of you on screen is very exciting and feels like more than a novelty. You can actually pick up the book and move it around and it doesn’t skip a beat. You can even see the next pages if you open them just a crack, it just never breaks the illusion. Wonderbook is shaping up to be another one of those Sony products with incredible potential.
Two more books have already been announced, the first of which is Diggs Nightcrawler which is a more narrative driven story about a detective who’s a bookworm. He lives in Library City and somehow, all the stories have been messed up. It’s up to you to help him in figuring out what happened and how to set it right. It has a fantastic noir feel to it as you can see in the screens below.
The second, just announced at Gamescom, is Walking With Dinosaurs in a partnership with the BBC. It’s another outstanding idea with loads of potential to draw in families in an educational and fun way. The key to all of this, as always, will be in the marketing, a place where Sony has fallen short in the past. More often than not, Sony seems content to let a product stand on its own with minimal marketing to back it up. I believe it hurt the PS3 at launch, it hurt the Move controller and it’s hurt the Vita so far.
A major marketing push will be critical to the success of Wonderbook. Sony can’t kick back and assume it’ll sell simply because it has J.K. Rowling’s name attached to it. This needs to be shown off in as many outlets as possible leading up to the first release and bundling it with a PS3 would be a big help as well. Parents need to see it in action to understand it’s value and special nature. Wonderbook has massive potential but it’ll only take off if people know it exists and understand what it can do.