Sony's Wonderbook technology was revealed at last night's press conference along with the big news that the first book, the Book of Spells, would be written by J.K. Rowlings and be set in the Potter universe.
Wonderbooks is an all-new Sony PlayStation peripheral that introduces a whole new way of telling and sharing stories for families. It engages directly with the story as images come to life off the pages of the book – think a hard bound book in your hand, and when held in front of the PlayStation Eye camera the book becomes interactive, like a pop-up fairytale story. Wonderbook uses the PlayStation Move to control the content in the book – characters, words, environments, etc. The first story released with the new peripheral is Book of Spells – an interactive book written by J.K. Rowling and exclusively available on Wonderbook. Book of Spells brings stories to life with all the magic and mystery of becoming a Wizard at Hogwarts.
Immediately following the E3 Sony Press Conference last night I sat down with Dave Ranyard, the game director of Book of Spells.
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JamesGames: This new concept is one of the biggest surprises at the show. Has it been in the works for long? Raynard: We've been working on this technology for a long time and on this project for the best part of a couple of years.
JamesGames: Are you just working on Book of Spells, or the whole technology?
Raynard: No, other Wonderbook products as well.
JamesGames: How many non-fiction, information based titles will be coming this year.
Raynard: That is exactly the type of content we will be delivering for Wonderbook, but at the moment I can't talk about specific release dates.
JamesGames: Will that type of content be delivered through disk or via the Playstation Network?
Raynard: So, as Wonderbook moves forward there will be a mix of disk and digital content.
JamesGames: Why go into children's media when so many other companies are running away from it?
Raynard: I think we feel that Wonderbook is a book. It is just that simple. Everyone in the world knows how to open a book, and how it works. So it is very broad, easy and accessible. Personally, with my children, I sit and read them stories every day and they love books, and we just think it is a great opportunity to get a broad audience.
JamesGames:Can you describe the Wonderbook device?
Raynard: The book itself is about eight inches by ten inches. It is a book made of card and paper. It actually has special markings on it that the camera on the Playstation can see. When you use it is like looking in a magic mirror. So, in the world that we're in you see reality; but, if you look at the TV screen you see augmented reality, this amazing world that is created from the book.
JamesGames: And it uses technology that is similar to that used in EyePets last year?
Raynard: EyePets came from our studio as well. We've actually been working on vision-based camera games for ten years. You may remember Eye-Toy Play that came from our studio as well. We've worked on EyeToy, EyePets, Singstar, Everybody Dance, so we've been in that space. That's our job on Playstation.
JamesGames: What do you see as the difference between traditional books and these new electronic forms?
Raynard: I think it is the reinvention of the storybook. I mean, stories come to life out of the Wonderbook. It is a supplement to the book. I don't think it is a replacement.
JamesGames: During the demonstration I saw that as you move through the book, the words on the page were "read aloud". Is that fundimental to the design of Wonderbooks?
Raynard: We can do whatever we want. We don't have a locked way of doing things. In Book of Spells there is a helpful professor who can read the text out for you. In other products we might want it to be more educational, and have the child read them out loud. So we're not locked to a single way.
JamesGames: How many characters from the Harry Potter books will appear in Book of Spells?
Raynard: The Book of Spells in the world of Harry Potter was written two hundred years ago by Mirand Goshawk who has written a number of textbooks for Hogwarts students. It is a very powerful spellbook kept in a restricted section of the library at Hogwarts. You as a student of Hogwarts take the book out to learn these different spells. It is really about you being a student at Hogwarts; that's where the book of spells fits into it. Everybody's dream is to have a book of spells, to be a wizard, and this is a way to make that dream come true.
JamesGames: Will there be cameos of the Potter characters? Will we see anyone?
Raynard: What we see in the Book of Spells is that it is peppered with different stories about histories of different spells and where they were discovered or funny, entertaining things that happened with them. That is all new writing from JK Rowlings.
JamesGames: A technical question. How close do you have to be to the camera to make the book work?
Raynard: Right within a meter, we tried to make it as easy as possible.
JamesGames: Will this be the only title for Wonderbooks this year?
Raynard: Well, this is probably something I speculate on at the moment, but at the press conference we did mention another title.
JamesGames: I've always thought that children's electronic media went off the track when it abandoned the book paradigm for the cartoon model.
Raynard: The book makes so much sense: It is easy to use; it is about stories. There is something kind of fundamental to human life about books, so I think this new form is very exciting.