INTERVIEW: Firemaster and The Archmage Tower, by Soren Jonsson

GBN was excited when Soren Jonsson – a creator of two augmented reality gamebooks – got in touch and offered to talk about the first two installments in the Peasoup Smartbook series: Firemaster and The Archmage Tower.

Aimed at 9 to 13 year olds, these books use the Firemaster app (available via Google Play or the App store) to allow readers to solve story driven puzzles. This is done by scanning one of the tablet or e-reader displayed smart books with a smartphone and interacting with the challenges on the screen, for which there are three icons: a magnifying glass that can be used to scan the book for magic symbols that take you to an interactive scene; a hand that allows you to draw with your finger on the screen of your smartphone to cast spells; and an eye that allows you to search for interactive tasks. These symbols will be familiar to almost everyone, and should allow for a satisfying degree of interactivity without proving too daunting for readers.

Here is a description from the Firemaster Amazon page for those of you whose interest has been piqued:

IT’S UP TO YOU: In this Choose Your Own Adventure Book the course of the story depends on your decisions & smartness. Look forward to an entirely new reading experience and challenging puzzles. The Firemaster counts on you!

2-IN-1 ADVENTURE & ACTIVITY BOOK: Firemaster is not only a captivating interactive adventure but also a brainteasing activity book with tricky mazes & maths games.

AUGMENTED REALITY: Wouldn’t it be great, if our kids would read more? And wouldn’t it be terrific, if they could learn to use new media in a meaningful way? Firemaster is the answer! This magic augmented reality adventure brings back the joy of reading and puzzling to girls and boys, using fascinating state-of-the-art technology.

IDEAL BOYS TOY: Firemaster is more than a book. It is both smart book & toy made to delight children from 8 – 13 years old. It’s the perfect gift for birthdays, Christmas or the start of a new school year.

PERFECT TRAVEL GAME: All you need is your Firemaster Smart Book and a smartphone or tablet. The optimal kids activity for long car rides & flights.

GBN was also pleased to interview Soren Jonsson about his interactive gamebooks!

First of all, can you tell GBN more about yourself?

Hi, I am Soren Jonsson, or in Danish Søren Jønsson. I am 50 years old and have been working in the games industry for more than 20 years, mostly as a producer, manuscript writer and game designer on edutainment PC games for kids (aged 5-13). I have also made PS2 games, Nintendo DS, iOS/Android apps and a Wii game, all of them in Danish companies. My hobbies are pen and paper RPGs, fishing (or more accurately just being close to water with a rod, as I don’t catch very much) and writing. I am also the CEO of the company Peasoup and father of three kids.

You describe yourself as a long-time fan of gamebooks. Which gamebook was the first you ever played, and is there a gamebook or franchise you hold most dear?

Gamebooks were my first introduction to roleplaying, and I was actually reading everything I could get my hands on, from lexica to gamebooks and even Miss Marple stories. I read Fighting Fantasy first and hold them very dear, but I also like the “Be an Interplanetary Spy” series a lot as they have inspired me to make my own gamebooks for kids. My first gamebook must have been “The Citadel of Chaos” but could also have been “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” as I probably had them both on loan from the public library for weeks.

Can you tell us more about the gamebook scene in Denmark?

I think that gamebooks are having a revival in Denmark. Faraos Cigarer, a Danish web-shop and comic store, has even reprinted the old Fighting Fantasy series in Danish and with new covers.

GBN understands that your gamebooks were written in Danish before being translated into English. Are there any particular challenges in doing this for gamebooks as opposed to more mainstream publications?

There is always a challenge as my English is OK, but not good enough that I can do the translations myself. And as I like to play with words, I need to make sure that the puns are coming through as intended. As a result, working closely with a translator is a necessity. I became aware of some of the traps you can fall into after translating PC scripts, and have since then tried hard to ensure that the English that appears in my work is understandable from the outset. Doing this also reduces the amount of editing that needs to be performed on any projects.

Firemaster and The Archmage Tower make use of augmented reality elements. Can you tell us more about the application of smart technology to the creation of gamebooks?

A Smart Book is a printed book that works together with an app. The smart device camera can scan the illustrations and will recognise where you are in the book. You then solve a digital task (e.g. a battle, a puzzle or just pulling a lever) and you are then sent to a new chapter in the book where you continue reading.

I come from a digital game background, but also retain a great love for reading. The goal with the Smart Book series is really to make kids read more. Therefore I chose to design the app tasks so that it is an integrated part of the story, and you need to solve the tasks to be sent to the next chapter. At the same time I don’t want the reader to be stuck in the app too long, as the experience is meant to be one of reading. In Denmark – where all kids aged 9 years or older have a smart device – the use of apps is a part of daily life and entirely natural. I wanted to integrate that with a reading experience and to enhance the reading experience with Augmented Reality. Working with narratives is really fun when you have this extra tool, especially when it is well integrated and more than just a gimmick. 

We are also just at the beginning of what is possible in AR, and we are using the technology only at the lowest levels. This means that even older phones can be used to run the apps. At the same time, advancing technology will give us even cooler tools to use in the future.

Some classic gamebook series such as Fighting Fantasy have been developed into apps and video games. Do you think this transition has been performed successfully?

I like most of what Fighting Fantasy have made, and they sell to an audience that loves them. I think it is great to experiment and be bold, testing and trying new possibilities – that is great.

How do you think the more classic paper, dice and pencil gamebook format (of which we are seeing a healthy proliferation today) will fare in the future? Will they coexist with augmented technology gamebooks, or ultimately become obsolete?

I hope there will always be books as we know them. Just a book and you. The reading experience is really, really important as a life skill. I think books will have many forms and the classic gamebook will always be attractive. There is something about the feeling of having a book in your hands – the tactile element is extremely important. It is also much cooler to have a collection of books on your shelf, than just a virtual library. Our take is that high tech gamebooks are just an addition to classic gamebooks, not a hostile takeover 🙂

What are your long-term plans for the Peasoup Smartbook series?

We are planning and actually working on the third book in the series – The Gloomdragon – where we have added a fighting system, and you get to collect treasure and gold, and perform new and cool kinds of tasks. It will be available in Q1 next year.

GBN would like to thank Soren for getting in touch and for sharing his thoughts on AR gamebooks with us! You can buy Firemaster at Amazon.

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