I was lucky enough to be invited to visit London Studios last week, just as it was finishing up Wonderbook: Book of Spells. It was fascinating to see how the studio was closing out the game that is hotly tipped this Christmas. I had expected the air to be full of tension and to see various frantic developers rushing around, but in reality it was all very calm.
Although Wonderbook is a new proposition for the PlayStation 3, offering a way to interact with its plush physical story book that gets populated with content on the screen via the PlayStation Eye camera, this technology has been tried and tested here before. London Studio was behind both SingStar and Eye Pet, two games that leverage either voice or motion to create new game-play experiences.
There was a real sense of playfulness in the studio as developers, artists and testers could be seen adopting the position of the player on coffee tables or carpet. Some studio visits I’ve been on have been a little disappointing and dull, but seeing London Studio in full flight was a real treat. Who could help but smile when seeing a developer jump up from his keyboard to squat on the floor with a pop-up book?
Talking to Dave Ranyard, it was interesting to hear how his children (same ages as my own in fact at 4, 7 and 9 years old) had enjoyed Book of Spells (Amazon $39.99) in different ways. My own four year old had similarly latched onto the paper dragon level, where you have to use a fire spell to bring it back to earth. For them this is the “Dragon Book,” while for other players it will be the spell tutorials or the cardboard theater that epitomize the experience.
It was good to hear Ranyard talking about more titles for Wonderbook coming up in the second half of our interview. I am particularly intrigued by the Diggs Nightcrawler detective game. The idea of being able to manually look around a level by moving the book and peering into it from different directions sounds like a great match for the clue-hunting antics required here.
My hope is that this expands the recently popular hidden object games and gives them more of a storytelling bent. Certainly being able to investigate a crime scene in this tactile way will be something I’m keen to share with my kids.
There is also the prospect of content from the BBC in the form of Walking with Dinosaurs. We’ve enjoyed the DVD versions of this series and it will be interesting to see how they expand this into something more interactive with Wonderbook. Using the Move controller as a hammer will appeal to my youngest while feeding various out-sized creatures will no doubt be popular with his older siblings. In fact, he seems to have persuaded his teacher they should play the game in class next year as part of their pre-historic week; who am I to argue?
This ongoing content will be key to the success of Wonderbook, and it sounds like London Studios will be playing a significant role in making that a reality.