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Category: video games

Harry Potter 'Book of Spells' by J.K. Rowling launches Wonderbook

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As the publishing business is gathered in New York's Javits Center for Book Expo America, some of the most exciting book news of the week was being announced 3,000 miles away. It was at the E3 electronics conference in Los Angeles, and the company with the news was Sony.

The Harry Potter universe just got bigger, and more interactive, with an impressive new game-slash-ebook for Playstation. The tool is called the Wonderbook; its first book is "Book of Spells," written by JK Rowling herself.

Rowling has been trying to forge a unique path for bringing her Harry Potter books to life. Of course, there was the movie series. Then in 2011, she launched Pottermore, an interactive website designed to allow fans to do their own Harry Potter-inspired storytelling. If that was a bit of a disappointment to some, "Book of Spells" may pick up the slack. It does seem to be a leap forward.

"Book of Spells" for Wonderbook lets readers -- or is it players? -- use a wand and an interactive book to make things happen on the screen. In the demonstration Monday, players released a video dragon, which lighted  the book on fire, and players patted  the book with their hands and put the fire out. Apparently, after reading more of the book, a player could learn spells to put the fire out.

The demonstration is pretty impressive. And it's interesing that as e-books continue to evolve, the place to find the most innovative new books may not be in the hands of publishers, but the industries that put the "e" in "e-books."

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Photo: Two players demonstrate "Book of Spells" and the Wonderbook. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images.

See a video of the demonstration after the jump.

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Not from the Onion: Martin Amis' 1982 video game guide

MartinamisspaceinvadersMartin Amis, the brilliant British novelist, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for best first novel and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography, who has been longlisted and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, long ago wrote a how-to video game handbook.

"Invasion of the Space Invaders" was published in the U.S. in 1982. With an introduction by Steven Speilberg -- that Steven Spielberg.

For reals.

The Millions writes about the book, quoting its premise: “What we are dealing with is a global addiction. I mean, this might all turn out to be a bit of a problem. Let me adduce my own symptoms, withdrawals, dryouts, crack-ups, benders ... " Language worthy of the son of writer Kingsley Amis, certainly -- but are his talents misapplied?

Not that there's anything wrong with writing about playing video games. 2010 saw Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" make a highbrow literary play to take video games seriously. But after more than 20 years, the games had gotten considerably more complex.

Those familiar with the arcade games of the early '80s are likely to be amused by the way Amis approaches Space Invaders and Pac-Man. To him they present serious challenges, deserving of careful, carefully articulated strategies. The Millions quotes from the book:

Amis on Space Invaders: The phalanx of enemy invaders moves laterally across a grid not much wider than itself. When it reaches the edge of the grid, the whole army lowers a notch. Rule one: narrow that phalanx.

Amis on Pac-Man: Do I take risks in order to gobble up the fruit symbol in the middle of the screen? I do not, and neither should you. Like the fat and harmless saucer in Missile Command (q.v.), the fruit symbol is there simply to tempt you into hubristic sorties. Bag it.

More Amis on Pac-Man: PacMan player, be not proud, nor too macho, and you will prosper on the dotted screen.

Copies of "Invasion of the Space Invaders" can be secured for $70 to $150 -- a signed edition goes for even more, $250 -- if you can find one at all. It's hardly Amis' favorite work; it often goes without being mentioned, and didn't appear in Richard Bradford's new biography of the writer.

At the Millions, writer Mark O'Connell concludes, "for all its contextual aberrance, this strange and disreputable book actually makes a certain kind of warped sense. And if for some reason you happen to be looking for a guide to arcade games of the early 1980s, you could probably do a lot worse."

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Photo: A signed edition of Martin Amis' "Invasion of the Space Invaders." Credit: Jeff Hirsch Books

The new Lord of the Rings video game

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The new Lord of the Rings video game, "Lord of the Rings: War in the North," takes its cue from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return of the King." The Warner Bros. Interactive title, developed by Snowblind Studios, was released Tuesday. It features, as you can see, some pretty fearsome graphics.

Our sibling blog Hero Complex talked to the game-makers. "The Tolkien story has so much depth to it, and it's really important to be accurate to that and keep things true to Tolkien's vision," says lead game designer Andre Maguire. "There’s a dichotomy with it being an RPG, since they are choice-driven, while the Tolkien vision needs to be a very true and accurate thing."

Nevertheless, Maguire explained they had "different characters that weren't in the movies that we've been able to visualize and bring in. Also different areas of middle-earth that were never before in a game. So we've been able to invent the looks of these places that were described in the books in a unique way."

Some video game fans have found "Lord of the Rings: War in the North" disappointing. At G4, Morgan Webb writes that it's "an action RPG that fails on many levels." Well, if it's really that bad, they can always check out the action-packed "The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of Lord of the Rings"  in its original 544-page version.

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Image: Farin the dwarf champion faces off against a troll. Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive

Will L.A.'s classic detective fiction surface in Rockstargames' 'L.A. Noire'?

When given the controls of Grand Theft Auto, I can do little more than veer into buildings until I get busted. Once an expert at video games -- the seriously uncool kind, like Ms. Pacman -- I've fallen almost entirely out of the Playstation-Wii-Xbox loop. And yet: I cannot wait to play "L.A. Noir" from Rockstargames.

"L.A. Noire" is coming May 17 from Rockstargames, the same company that makes Grand Theft Auto; it's is available now as a pre-order for Xbox and PS3.

In the game, you are Cole Phelps (portrayed by Aaron Staton, Ken Cosgrove in "Mad Men"), a patrolman whose task is to work his way up through the ranks of the corrupt late-1940s LAPD. It was a violent time, full of big, stylish cars -- which I no doubt will smash into any number of buildings. Those buildings are said to be an incredibly fully realized reproduction of Los Angeles circa 1947. Some experts quibble, but chances are the landscape will be close enough. Close enough for me to crash a Packard into Echo Park Lake, I hope.

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