Wonderbook: Book of Spells (PS3)

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During our time at gamescom 2012 we got a more in-depth look at the new PlayStation Move experience, Wonderbook: Book of Spells, which is releasing later this year. We also got a glimpse into the history behind Wonderbook’s creation, how it came about, saw some of the early prototypes, and learnt how author J.K. Rowling came to be involved with this project.

Wonderbook’s Game Director David Ranyard, who has been at SCE London Studio for twelve years now, began by giving us a brief history of what the studio has worked on and how the concept of Wonderbook was created. He showed us screenshots of different Augmented Reality PlayStation games, which helped to give a little bit of context as to why they created the AR book experience that is Wonderbook. The studio did a lot of work on the PlayStation 2, most notable of which was the EyeToy Play Series which came out in 2004 and was the first console AR game using the EyeToy. The studio has also worked on PS3 titles including EyePet, SingStar and DanceStar Party.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells Photo

Ranyard then showed us the first story board for Wonderbook, dated August 2005 this was the first time that the concept was put forward in the studio. The story board showed a book based on a genie with a lamp that comes to life and the idea that there’s a child who is the star of the show, which is actually not so different to what they ended up creating with Wonderbook. There has been a technological roadmap since this creative thinking, with a number of things en-route such as the EyeToy Play AR which was based around motion and then the first EyePet which used an AR card and then moved on to being the PlayStation Move controller. According to Ranyard, having the technology for the AE card helped make Wonderbook ,and all these advances were stepping stones on the journey to deliver Wonderbook.

Next up was an interesting look at the different prototypes of the Wonderbook that were created. The early prototype had AR markers on the book to track the book’s movement – these were important to track where the book was, not just the markers. The second prototype allowed them to turn the book around – this was vital to allow different types of interaction to be achieved. We saw two characters playing hide and seek behind pillars where you could rotate the book to see them, a kind of interaction that was very different to conventional videogames. The third prototype was based on simple puzzle gameplay, where the pieces only made sense when aligned, showing how they were looking into how to use the Wonderbook in a fun and engaging way. The fourth prototype he showed us had the developer experimenting with a paper dinosaur, while the fifth and last one showed a paper house that opened and collapsed as you opened and closed the Wonderbook.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells Screenshot 2

The Wonderbook consists of 12 pages of paper and card, it’s relatively simple with no electronics and it’s all tracked through the camera. We got a glimpse of the early page detectors which allows the Wonderbook to start showing the next page as you are turning the page. The studio went through multiple iterations of the cover before arriving at the final one. The concept art showed us how the book was designed and how it had evolved. Raynor said “there’s a lot going on under the hood as the tracking code evolved to the current state.”

Raynor went on to explain how the Wonderbook concept was shown to J.K. Rowling after Sony had partnered with her on the Pottermore social network, which is based around the world of Harry Potter. “The studio showed her this idea of the book coming to life, she had an idea of a spell book, and at the same time the PlayStation Move was in our offices – so the two concepts got married very quickly with the Move controller becoming the wand for the spell book. The idea is that you are the student at Hogwarts, and to be a student you need a spell book and a wand, so it all fits together really well.” The studio then started working collaboratively with J.K. Rowling, creating concepts, animatics and code to demonstrate to the author.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells Photo

Even though Wonderbook is just one book, it can create a thousand stories, and you can use the one book with multiple products to have lots of different experiences. Book of Spells is the first book that will be released in the Wonderbook series, and will be bundled with Wonderbook when it releases. New experiences, like the recently announced Diggs Nightcrawler, will also be available in the future, either at retail or digitally from the PlayStation Store.

Authenticity was vital to London Studio, the Book of Spells makes you are a wizard in the world of Harry Potter, not your avatar, and the development team wanted the art style and music to support this goal. They did a lot of play testing with both children and adults, making sure that the book felt real, felt like a 200 year old book. They achieved this by looking at the type of text, paper and ink used in older books, and then adding the magic element with pictures and words able to be grabbed and drawn out by students using the wand. The chapters feature a range of colour palettes and settings from morning to night. The inspiration behind the music featured is romantic classical, including great musicians like Mozart and Braam, while the sounds of magic are natural, with ideas taken from the sounds of water, wind and weather.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells Photo

We got to see the forward from the Book of Spells, which was written by J.K. Rowling and was being shown for the first time. It was an interesting introduction to Book of Spells and set up the theme for the game. As the story goes The Book of Spells was written by fictitious author Miranda Goshawk, is 200 years old and is kept in the restricted area of Hogwarts’ library. Goshawk had asked her sisters to help her with her magic and when they declined she wrote this Book of Spells. Over the years students at Hogwarts have written in the book, adding notes and anecdotes about the spells.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction that stuck in my mind:

“Hand me down robes are merely embarrassing, hand me down spells can be dangerous. The Book of Spells will enable you to form a range of basic and not so basic spells that will enhance, protect and enliven your life. Make good magic!”

Raynor then took us through the experience flow, which was a key part of the studio’s creative, development and production process. First you discover the spell (learn some of the history behind the spell, how it can be used and enjoy a funny story of how it was discovered through an interactive paper theatre), then you learn the incantation and the gesture to cast the spell (using the PlayStation Move controller), next you practice the spell in different environments, and finally you test the spell casting. In each chapter you will learn four or five spells, you’ll need to use the spells you have learnt to overcome the challenges in the test at the end of each chapter, which unlocks a piece of the conundrum, a series of humourous poems that J.K. Rowling wrote about students that didn’t live up to expectations at Hogwarts.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells Screenshot 1

We were then shown a short demo of the game, where we learned more about the Levitation charm known as Wingardium Leviosa. There was a jar of eyeballs which we had to levitate, but it was dropped and the eyeballs went rolling around on the floor. Fortunately you could still levitate the eyeballs individually as well! We then saw the Engorgement charm, Engorgio, in action, and saw how using it we could get a pumpkin to grow bigger. Finally we saw how the Disarming charm, Expelliarmus, could be useful in making a troublesome wizard drop their wand.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells will be available for the PS3 later this year. Read our preview from E3 to find out more about the game, and watch the trailer below to see the game in action: