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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 4, 2012 at 5:51 PM

E3: Sony making “Wonderbooks,” with J.K. Rowling

LOS ANGELES — Sony may have lost $5.6 billion last year but it’s still got enough jingle to put on a huge party at the E3 conference.

The company still held its annual food truck rodeo to grease up the audience before its press event in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s arena.

Apparently it works: Through an on opening video montage of PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 games shown on a massive screen, the audience whooped and cheered. It even hollered welcomes to Jack Tretton, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

“If that video didn’t get your heart pumping you came to the wrong place,” he said.

Sony said little about new hardware, other than a new line of augmented-reality books starting with a J.K. Rowling spell book going on sale this holiday season. There was no word at all about the PlayStation 4, only previews of games for the PS3 and Vita.

After introducing former PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai — now chief executive of Sony — Tretton moved to the first demo, an new hyper-realistic, supernatural thriller called “Beyond” that will feature actress Ellen Page as the lead character.

The game is being developed by studio Quantic Dream, creator of the 2010 hit “Heavy Rain” and the striking “Kara” tech demo releasesd in March.

Then came a demonstration of the ability to play “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale” between a PlayStation Vita handheld and PS3 console when the game comes out in the holiday season.

Cross-play between the systems was a promise of Vita that’s just starting to be realized. Tretton said Sony’s also going to release a software download that will enable cross-play with “Little Big Planet 2” later this year.

Tretton also talked up Sony’s pipeline of games, saying that more than 200 games are coming via the PlayStation Network over the next year.

The Vita also is getting more triple-A titles, including double-colon “Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified” this holiday season and “Assassin’s Creed III Liberation” with a female assassin and full open-world experience on the handheld. It’s coming out in October, along with a bundle with a new white model of the Vita.

The console version of “Assassin’s Creed III” — Ubisoft’s breathtaking historical action game set in the American revolution — is also coming to the PS3. Ubisoft used Sony’s press event to demonstrate naval action in the game.

Players captain an 18th century ship, controlling navigation and cannons as they battle the British. Despite the international E3 audience, cheers continued as the American ship swung broadside and blasted apart an enemy ship.

Sony also introduced a new product called “Wonderbook,” which works with the PS3 and its PS Eye camera and Move motion control accessory. It’s a line of physical books that use augmented reality to generate animated action when a controller is moved across them. The action is displayed on the TV screen.

J.K. Rowling is working with Sony on the first title, “Book of Spells,” which will use the Move as a wand.

It’s a clever extension and packaging of the augmented-reality cards that are provided with the Vita and Nintendo 3DS. The cards generate animated games or characters when the devices’ cameras “see” patterns on the cards.

In images and videos on the big screen, it looks like the books generated three-dimensional structures and magical effects like fire when spells are learned. That’s what’s seen on the TV during play.

Two demonstrators on the stage were kneeling in front of TV sets with a flat, open book over which they waved the Move wands. Sometimes they held the books up to the PS Eye for a better angle.

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Rowling in a statement said it’s “the closest a Muggle can come to a real spellbook.”

More details will come closer to the books’ launch this holiday season.

Andy House, group president of Sony Computer Entertainment, announced that Sony’s PlayStation Suite gaming platform is being renamed PlayStation Mobile and HTC will develop the first non-Sony devices using the platform.

The biggest applause may have come at the end, though, after a demo of “The Last of Us,” a new adventure game by Naughty Dog, the studio behind the hit PlayStation franchise “Uncharted.”

The game had cinematic style similar to “Uncharted” — it looks like a movie — with a man and pre-teen girl fighting their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape.

It was a rousing ending to the Sony press conference, though not as rousing as last year, when the stage opened up to an elaborate party with stage dancers and an open bar.

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