Wonderbook Preview (PS3)

Granted, the live-demonstration for the first “book” for Wonderbook, J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells, didn’t go so well during Sony’s E3 press conference, and generally left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. But beyond that, the Wonderbook itself is an interesting piece of tech, it’s unique, and it’s innovative.

A Book of Spells by the author responsible for one of the greatest literature franchises in recent memory, creating an interactive augmented reality book for Sony’s Wonderbook is a huge deal all on its own. The potential to reach consumers in a new, never before seen way, through storytelling, however, is immense. In essence, the Wonderbook is merely a bounded set of large AR cards, similar to what is found bundled with the PlayStation Vita. But in combination with the right software (the book), the PlayStation Eye, and the PlayStation Move, normal everyday reading can be transformed into an interactive experience.

From the moment the Wonderbook was in the PlayStation Eye’s range of visibility, a vivid storybook with a tale of spells and dragons appeared on a once, semi-blank canvas. Without moving from its stationary position, the PS Eye seemed to zoom-in and stay focused on the Wonderbook, even though it was being moved purposely to see how well the AR was mapped onto the pages. Again, while exciting in its own regard, I was more interested in testing the tech behind the Wonderbook.

The Wonderbook itself was only 12 pages long. For Book of Spells, which consisted of five main chapters, the Wonderbook would go through those 12 pages ten times, two per chapter. Reaching the end of the book means nothing more than restarting again from the beginning, the software itself determines what page in the actual story you will be on. The PS Eye projects augmented reality images onto the pages of the Wonderbook, and onto the PlayStation Move, giving it the appearance of a magic wand in which you will cast spells. The book pages then come to life. Text jumps right off the pages and is read aloud. Still pictures turn into moving, flying dragons in a matter of seconds.

As a gamer, this may not be the exciting stuff you want coming from the PlayStation brand. But simply from a technology and consumer reach standpoint, the Wonderbook is ground-breaking. We’ve seen AR again and again with PlayStation products, but this time, it’s made accessible through the simplicity of a book. It’s not going to replace the text novel or e-readers any time soon, or ever, for that matter—but could transcend into a new form of entertainment, specifically for children.

I myself have a three-year old, and tried to look at the Wonderbook from a child’s view. The ‘wonder’ and amazement you must feel to see life breathed into your favorite storybook right before your very eyes is incredible. J.K. Rowling’s support for a Harry Potter spin-off is certainly the right way to start, but it’s easy to see how this could work with a number of franchises, brands, and experiences. It’s very early to tell, but the Wonderbook very well could offer a new medium for storytelling, albeit an expensive one (PS3 + PS Eye + Move + Wonderbook + Book of Spells = $$$).