The ghost of Abraham Lincoln floats around the Oval Office, hovering near the desk before turning to cross the room again, placing his hands behind his back, deep in thought. Turn the page and the sounds of a horse whinny and hooves on cobblestones precede the arrival of the headless horseman, holding his bloody severed head and moving ever closer to the reader. A few pages later the Amherst Poltergeist haunts a Victorian bedroom, where an invisible hand writes, “Esther Cox, you are mine to kill!” on the wall above the bed. Trace a finger on the iPad screen and the poltergeist sends objects – chairs, an umbrella, vases, and chamber pots – flying around the room.
Horrible Hauntings: An Augmented Reality Collection of Ghosts and Ghouls by Shirin Bridges illustrated by William Maughan (Goosebottom Books, October, $21.95) is viewed in tandem with an app that enhances the story using both visual and audio effects. “As far as we can find,” author Bridges says, “Horrible Hauntings will be the first book that uses this latest generation of AR.” The app can be downloaded via iTunes or GooglePlay, and runs on iOS or Android. When a tablet or phone is held over the book’s pages, the app is activated and one of ten historical ghost stories comes to life.
The project is a joint effort between Bridges, founder of Goosebottom, and Jason Yim, president and executive creative director of mobile and new media company Trigger Global, who is also her brother. “Jason conceived of Horrible Hauntings,” Bridges says. “When we were growing up we both loved ghost stories, and he wanted me to publish a great ghost book for kids.” Moving beyond their initial hesitation about working together – “we’re both used to calling the shots in business,” says Bridges with a laugh – the siblings started the project in January 2012. Happily, Bridges says, “It was a real collaboration, and everything worked out.”
Trigger Global, based in Los Angeles, creates online games and apps for clients such as Nike, Sony Pictures, LucasFilms, Sesame Street, and American Apparel. Horrible Hauntings uses Qualcomm’s Vuforia technology, which is license-free for developers. “The programming we created on top of that technology, though, we are free to license or apply to different industries and publishers other than Goosebottom,” Yim says. After his company worked on several Vuforia showcase projects for Qualcomm, the technology giant invested in Trigger; the relationship between the two continues to grow, and Yim speaks enthusiastically of Qualcomm’s product. “Vuforia’s augmented reality technology provides a broad spectrum of interactivity,” Yim says. “The most simple is [the ability] to make text, video, or 3D animation appear over the page. Horrible Hauntings even has simple game play, like the skeletons that play ball or the sails of the Flying Dutchman, which fill up when you blow on them.” The technology supports much deeper game play too, he says, including multi-player or episodic games that can be synced to broadcast.
Horrible Hauntings has been content leveled for 5th and 6th graders, but Bridges, who has given demo presentations of the book, says that adults have also responded enthusiastically. “The first reaction to the book is to the technology,” she explains. “But then, everyone I’ve shown it to always goes back to read the text to find out who the ghosts are.”
Bridges, the author of Ruby’s Wish (Chronicle, 2002) and other books published by mainstream houses, founded Goosebottom in 2010. The press, which is distributed by IPG, has since published two series, The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Real Princesses and The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames. Bridges will add more AR titles to her list, possibly one about mythological animals, “if it makes sense for us. The business model has to work,” she says.
Both Yim and Bridges have high hopes for their collaboration. “The first time Bloody Mary popped her head out of the cover of the book, it was a eureka moment for me,” Yim says. “This was what we had always imagined as children as we flipped through a spooky book. Shirin and I both believe that printed books are here to stay, and we know that smart phones and devices will soon be ubiquitous. Augmented reality provides a unique experience that lies at the intersection between those two mediums. We’re lucky to be part of the innovation.”