I’ve been trying out Sony’s new PS3 book peripheral, Wonderbook, at home. As you can see above, the technology is impressive and reliable and looks pretty tasty. However, it’s the simple psychology of turning a page and seeing that on the screen that really hooked our family in to this new way of spending time in a story.
As you know my family is quite excited about Skylanders, as I type this the kids are leveling up their figures ready for the new game. But with Christmas approaching there are plenty of other entertaining experiences to enjoy. I’ve been trying out Wonderbook and seeing how easy it is to tempt them onto something new.
Wonderbook is similar to Skylanders in that it offers a real world object that grants access to magical characters and stories in the game. Each of the 12 pages of the book are blank until you place them in front of the PlayStation Eye camera. It then springs into life so the pages are full of monsters, stories and adventures. They go from flat blue pages to a full pop-up book style experience.
Like Skylanders, that not only augments its game with physical figures but also lends the toys a more magical feel, Wonderbook goes a step further than other interactive book experiences. Because the pages exist in real space, and the PlayStation 3 can adjust depth with its Move controller, interactions feel genuine and believable.
The final similarity here is in the unexpected build quality of the physical object. I’m a big fan of the level of craft and creativity that has gone into each Skylander toy. Similarly it’s not until you hold Wonderbook in your hands that you get a sense of the materials used. It has a satisfying heft to it, and a plush squishy cover — which my daughter tells me is very important. It really does feel like a pop-up book; apart from here you are not tied to one story.
Wonderbook is the peripheral, and for it you will be able to purchase a whole series of different books. These will start with Book of Spells that teaches you how to be a Harry Potter wizard or witch, but go on to include all sorts of other titles. Diggs Nightcrawler combines some endearing animation with a detective story. Walking with Dinosaurs from the BBC brings their popular prehistoric series to life in a totally new and original way. Some of these books also make use of the PlayStation Move controller, Book of Spells being the first — where the controller becomes a wand. It’s no small coup for Sony to snag this title, not least because of J.K. Rowling’s enthusiasm and considerable amount of new content for it.
I’ve been a fan of Move for some time. The best games are those that make use of its unique depth perception — the flashy ball lets the PS3 know how close you are to the screen in a way that the Wii cannot. Tumble is a great game for Move that demonstrates what a game-changer this depth feature is. Combining this accurate pointing ability with Wonderbook’s page-turning magic is a perfect combination for Book of Spells. It simply makes sense to use the controller as a wand. You can see in my Wonderbook preview that the kids took to it straight away and with almost no instruction.
The Book of Spells demos we tried out included a pop-up story book, a variety of spell lessons that included shrinking, growing, levitating and shooting fire. Each worked well, and I was surprised that the kids enjoyed the slower storytelling elements just as much as the more exciting shooting and exploration. It had the same surprising quality of the iPad pop-up books, although with the added augmented reality aspect.
It was really good to try this out in a home environment rather than a more controlled demonstration at a show. We played during the morning and evening with a variety of lighting setups. Wonderbook performed very well. It also didn’t need as much space to play it as Kinect which is good for those with smaller houses. The combination of playing Wonderbook with it placed on the floor in front of the TV and the larger size of the book meant that it worked with minimal setup and at pretty much all times of day.
However, the most compelling aspect is not the camera technology, or the great partnerships Sony have snagged for the peripheral, or even the intelligent use of their Move controller. The physical act of turning a page is the real magic of this experience. It’s something we have all done since we held our first board books as a baby. Books and pages are ingrained deep in our psyche, and represent something accessible, engaging and often intimate. Placing Wonderbook in front of your PS3 and turning a page is more than enough to hook you into its magical world. From there the technology makes sure you want to stay and play.
The real challenge for Sony is continuing the high quality of content for Wonderbook in the long term. Breadth as well as depth and quality will be key for this to become the go-to tech for story time in our house. Book of Spells, Diggs Nightcrawler and Walking with Dinosaurs are a great start, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other innovative uses they make of the peripheral.