In our staff predictions for E3 2012 I focused on Sony and how various little clues were pointing to “daring new things.” While their day zero press conference wasn’t quite as bold as I had hoped it would be, one surprise that came out of left field was the Wonderbook. When Andrew House (president and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment) announced the peripheral as an evolution of books, jerk-faces around the internets gathered around to get their ‘hurr durrs’ out. Would we see a 50 Shades of Grey Wonderbook edition? Mein Wonder-Kampf? A Heartbreaking Wonderbook of Staggering Genius? I’ll spare you the rest of the lame jokes as they all rely on the same premise: the Wonderbook won’t have any literature aimed at an adult audience.
Before we go any farther, let me describe the device for those who are unclear as to what it is. It’s a collapsible slate that acts as a sort of green screen with the PlayStation Eye, allowing augmented reality experiences. Despite House’s claims of innovation, AR coupled with video games isn’t quite as revolutionary an idea as he’d like you to think it is. The DSiWare store sold a couple of games that used the system’s camera to create a shooter that takes place in the environment around you. The 3DS comes packaged with AR cards. In fact, SCE London (the development group responsible for this project) released the EyePet less than two years ago. I’ve also no doubt that by the time you’re reading this, Nintendo’s press conference will have happened and will include some AR applications with their tablet. In short: it’s been done.
After Sony showed the concept video for the Wonderbook, House described how they were working with Moonbot- an Academy Award winning animation house that has created an iPad app to go along with their short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Lessmore. Though they didn’t show anything besides a few bits of concept art, they revealed the name of the project as Diggs Nightcrawler. House then mentioned an author they were working with that made people pause: J.K. Rowling. That name carries a certain amount of legitimacy within the world of children’s literature and the fact that Sony was willing to tap her for the project certainly makes it seem like they’re acquiring the right talent for a young audience.
In a demo of the new project they are working with Rowling on- The Book of Spells- was then presented and promptly dropped my spirits. Sitting in front of the television and PlayStation Eye with the Wonderbook placed on their laps, staring at the screen, the demonstration consisted mostly of users waving around a Move controller- which appeared on screen as a wand- to highlight words, and then waving their hands around- which appeared on screen as… hands- to set out imaginary fires. In addition to this wild gesticulating, users moved their wands in particular patterns to cast spells, an implementation reminiscent of Okami.
As it stands right now, the Wonderbook is clearly a product aimed at children, though the potential for mechanics focused experiences aren’t necessarily ruled out. In an ideal world, they would get Jonathan Blow to create an adaptation of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, but I suspect we’re more likely to end up with just kids’ story books.