Full of wonder?
A few weeks ago at E3 2012 I was shown a presentation of Sony’s new interactive title Wonderbook in action. Unveiled during Sony’s conference, not many could’ve predicted the announcement of the title. It was a genuine surprise, one of the few at this year’s E3. “What is Wonderbook all about though?”, I hear you ask. Well, put simply, it’s an interactive book that requires the use of the PlayStation Move and a PlayStation Eye camera. By using these in conjunction with the software, an augmented reality book and (of course) a PlayStation 3 console, an experience like no other comes alive on your TV screen. The PlayStation Eye camera displays you on-screen with the Wonderbook and PlayStation move controller, with the latter acting as a magical wand.
Sony has struck up a partnership with the creator of the hugely successful Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, which instantly means that universe will be a massive part of Wonderbook’s success or failure from day one. The first interactive book to be shown was a title from J.K. Rowling herself called Book of Spells”, tasking you with using the magical wand to become the best wizard possible. The whole experience is incredibly interactive with dragons flying around, fire, sand and various other elements thrown into the mix to keep players occupied. Be it from putting out fires, wiping soot from the book or eliminating dragons, the whole idea behind Wonderbook and the Book of Spells is to give you the ability to interact with an object (the book in this case) and your PlayStation 3 in an entirely unique way. Each chapter of the book also includes a quiz at the end to keep you on your toes and show you what you have learned throughout the experience. If don’t feel your ready yet and feel the need to go through sections you’ve struggled on, you can do exactly that via the built in practice room.
As you’d expect, the PlayStation Move controller is your main tool used to interact with the software. Your motions with the Move control what happens on the screen, but the game would not work without the Wonderbook itself. On first glance, the book itself looks just like a normal hardback book, but once you take a look inside you realise that the magic is comes courtesy of the shapes that are printed on the pages. If you own a PlayStation Vita, then you’ll recognise the type of shapes I’m talking about here. They are very similar to the augmented reality cards that come bundled your Vita. Each page of the Wonderbook has different shapes that correspond to each chapter of the story, and once you have seen it in action, only then will you get a true idea of the amount of care and dedication that has gone into making the Wonderbook happen.
The above statement might be a little surprising to some, especially given the negative reaction from many hardcore gamers. Don’t get me wrong, I know that many hardcore gamers will not be interested in what the Wonderbook experience has to offer, but let’s be honest, this isn’t a product that is aimed at the type of gamer who spends most of his gaming time shooting aliens. Wonderbook is aimed at a market that is more focused towards families and a younger audiences. Just because you don’t fall into that bracket, it doesn’t mean you should instantly dismiss Wonderbook as a gimmick. One of life’s joys is seeing children interacting with books, words and shapes, and this is something that is shown in abundance here. Sony hasn’t reinvented the book as such, but they’ve given children, families and younger audiences the chance to interact with the medium via a brand new method, the PlayStation 3.
Children are renowned for having short attention spans, even the most bright and colourful books don’t manage to distract them for too long. The interaction element of Wonderbook could be (if done right) a masterstroke, helping keep the attention of a child for much longer than usual. I strongly believe this is a fantastic tool. Anything that helps in a child’s development from an educational point of view is a good thing in my eyes. The potential for Wonderbook is huge and the first time I witnessed it in action it really hit home why. In addition to families playing around with it in their living rooms, Wonderbook could be used by nurseries, schools and organisations that help people with disabilities. The possibilities are endless, it has so much potential.
The interaction is complimented by some impressive visuals too. Its clean, colourful and bright presentation in conjunction with a beautifully rich user interface works exceptionally well. The Move controls have come under fire since the not-so-perfect showing at the Sony conference, so it would only be right to address that particular part of Wonderbook. For the most part, with the Move controller in hand, a shake, swipe or thrust is all it takes to bring the magic alive. There are time where more than just a simple motion is required, but the majority of the actions are natural and very easy to pull off. I did see the Move controller not responding on a few occasions though, which could be frustrating for the user (especially children) if still present in the final product. Hopefully, it’s just a bug at this early stage and the development team eradicate it in time for release. It would be a crying shame for a product with such massive potential to be struck down by an issue like this.
I realise that Wonderbook won’t appeal to all audiences, but for the market that Sony are targeting it has the potential to be a huge success if it’s marketed in the right way. Wonderbook is brilliantly put together, with its interactive nature giving it a massive amount of charm and originality. If the occasional control issues are eradicated, Wonderbook has a very bright future ahead of it. I just hope people don’t instantly dismiss it as gimmick, as its something that needs to be seen to be truly understood.
Check out a video of the demonstration I was shown at E3 2012 below. Enjoy!