While the digital mobile industry errs on the side of caution when it comes to investment in Augmented Reality, PlayStation have been far less reserved about its potential and have put years of development to use by creating one of the boldest additions to their gaming roster; Wonderbook.
The EyeToy was released as a supplement to the PlayStation 2 way back in 2003, allowing users to engage in what was then called “mixed reality” gaming, and while physical interaction platforms [Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect and to a lesser extent PlayStation Move] have flourished, it’s only PlayStation that have moved to establish genuine Augmented Reality Gaming.
Introduced to the new platform [a blue book, coffee-table worthy in its own-right] via Book of Spells, PlayStation’s collaboration with Britain’s most successful author J.K. Rowling, it’s clear that the early target for the new platform is a younger audience than you’d usually associate with the brand. Quite open about their willingness to change the PlayStation identity by opening it up to a more youthful, less ‘game-obsessed’ user; moves in that direction have included lower price-points for the PlayStation 3, smarter packaging and re-engaging with the lost generation with their purgatory-bound PlayStation Move concept.
Combining the PlayStation 3 [your base console] with the PlayStation Move Motion controller [your magic wand], Wonderbook: Book Of Spells allows fans of the Harry Potter series to learn the “secrets of wizardry” and “the art of spell-casting” which kind of goes over our heads as a point of sale, but we’re all too aware of people far cooler than us who are genuinely obsessed by young Potter’s world. The title itself wasn’t really our inspiration for spending time with the Wonderbook though; we wanted to see it in its element and dream to speculate about its potential.
Expectations were low. Mobile Augmented Reality is an exciting but malnourished industry, boasting moments of genius but in general, a clunky and derivative experience. The Mobile AR stigma was strong enough for us to doubt Wonderbook’s potential even as a gimmick device with an intentionally short life span. With rumours of the PlayStation 4 rife, will the Wonderbook be the one last hurrah for the soon to be defunct PlayStation 3 console? We’re reassured before engaging with the Wonderbook that the PS3 has life in it yet, that the next generation console standoff has a while to run. So this is to be PlayStation’s official play for the youth-gamer market, a standalone concept in a pre-Wii-U world, with the magic of Harry Potter in tow, anything’s possible.
With all the cynicism expected of a 20-something journalist who was never particularly enamoured with the magical world of Hogwarts and doesn’t particularly like anything in the world anyway [Frozen Yoghurt is good], what we were greeted with could be considered a revelation. Our blue Wonderbook appeared on screen [a Sony Bravia, of course] to be a worn, leather-bound spell-book, Golden buckles and all, upon lifting, the buckles shone, in the light, the shadows cast upon movement were jaw-droppingly realistic [again, our standards had been set somewhat by the frequent failures in Mobile AR] and we hadn’t even started the game. Grabbing our PlayStation Move Motion controller, we’re now in possession of a spell-book and a magic wand. You don’t have to be a Potter fan to feel the immersive universe of Muggles and Quidditch, pulling you in.
The gaming element is fairly rudimental in its early stages [chapters], allowing for foolproof tutorial. Featuring the original writing of J.K. Rowling; fans will likely be more engaged by the whimsy of the world than I was, and I was fairly engaged by the whimsy. With dragons emerging from the book and making nuisances of themselves in the real/augmented world, there’s a genuine thrill in whipping your wand and exploding the winged pests; on a fairly basic level, exploding things is something to be enjoyed on a fairly consistent basis.
When a spell goes sour and our page is morphed into a desert from which emerges a giant scorpion, we’re asked to first defeat the arthropod with our freshly learned spells, and then brush the sand from our Wonderbook before we proceed. The magic of Book of Spells is in making such a basic task something you actively want to do, which we did. The effect the brushing of sand from your Wonderbook will have on a Potter-obsessed nine-year-old, we can only imagine.
The potential of the Wonderbook has revealed itself to us. With whispers of a Disney development for the innovative PS3 peripheral, we can only imagine how a tailored X-Men story could work, or what Pixar could do with the device. As an introduction to the Wonderbook, Book of Spells is an incredible achievement and will top a lot of Christmas wish lists. Unashamedly targeted at a pre-teen market, the device will probably inspire as many parents as it does children to reimagine reading, the task now is to plant Wonderbooks in as many homes as possible, growing its reach and therefor potential. As a [very] late play for a new demographic, PlayStation impresses with its developed and considered peripheral and we’re hopeful that a great idea is in the offing for the older gamer.
Book of Spells, the launch title for the Wonderbook, hits the UK in November.