Production credits: Sony Computer Entertainment UK & Pottermore
Launch date: 16th November 2012
Finally, the much anticipated launch of Wonderbook: Book of Spells – the collaboration between Pottermore and Sony that fuses JK Rowling’s storytelling prowess with the very latest augmented reality technology. The end result provides a glimpse into a future world of storytelling. Here the author and the book is centre stage, supported and enhanced by cutting-edge technology, and an insane user experience. Together they create something quite new and utterly spellbinding.
The premise for the Book of Spells – and this is where JK Rowling comes into her own – is that it was compiled over 200 years ago by Miranda Goshawk as a sort of school textbook for fledgling witches and wizards. So powerful are its contents that, in the world of Harry Potter, the book is housed in the restricted section of the library at Hogwarts.
Now, the user is given special permission to collect the book and look inside (exciting!). First, you must brush off the virtual dust – one of many tasks faced on this interactive journey – and open it up amidst warnings of the powers contained within and the book’s unpredictable nature. A softly-spoken Scottish narrator (it’s not Ewan McGregor but certainly sounds like him) becomes your trusted guide.
Without dispelling all the Wonderbook’s charm, the ‘book’ in real-life is a monochromatic 12-page boardbook full of geometric patterns and shapes. This will come as a disappointment to a child used to beautifully-produced volumes. But they’ll soon get over it.
Once you’ve set up and angled everything – that’ll be your TV, Playstation 3, camera, and ‘move motion controller’ – you place the book on the floor and sit behind it.
Then: boom! Suddenly you’re on the screen. The plastic motion controller has transformed into a wand and the book into a glorious landscape of swirling words, images, and shapes. A swipe of the wand and you’re lifting words from the page into the air.
What follows is a series of tasks and challenges as you learn enchantments and incantations that will equip you with essential wizarding skills. The first – and arguably most exciting task for any Harry Potter fan – is to assign yourself to a house: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin. No sorting hat here, you get to choose.
As your narrator patiently guides you through the book, you learn a Levitation Charm – and get to lift a misplaced toad from the open pages – a Water Making Spell that shoots water from the end of your wand (if you accidentally spray the book’s pages you simply tilt the physical copy and watch as the water runs off. It’s also fun to douse the TV screen or an opponent), an Unlocking Charm, Wand Lighting Charm and lots more. Along the way you earn house points, trophies, and if you pass the end-of-chapter challenge you can move on to the next chapter. There are five chapters in total. And if you take in all the stories, pull-up notes, as well as the tasks and challenges, it’s a substantial piece of work. As a guide, it took us just over an hour to move through Chapter 1.
Along the way there are opt in/opt out stories which give background information on the various spells, their origins and inventors. These are, as you’d expect, witty, slick and perfect adjuncts to the world of Potter. The stories are presented like medieval pop-up theatres in keeping with the oldy-worldy nature of the book.
The technology and graphics are highly sophisticated but intuitive and users will be utterly absorbed. There were a few awkward moments when the wand disappeared from the screen or the challenge itself required greater dexterity – we can tell you that trying to fit a virtual bridle to a irate Kelpie (a shapeshifting water demon) is hard!
The risk with a game changer like this is that because it is neither a book or a game, it misses the mark with both advanced readers and sophisticated gamers. However, the immersive nature of Wonderbook, the Hogwarts setting, and all manner of magical features, mean that most children will quickly adapt and relish taking their first steps towards wizarding greatness. As Rowling comments, ‘Wonderbook: Book of Spells is the closest a Muggle can come to a real spellbook.’
Book of Spells is the first outing for Sony’s Wonderbook technology. New collaborations are already underway with the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs franchise, Disney, and one we’re rather excited about, Diggs Nightcrawler from Moonbot Studios. Exciting times.