food fight! A pre-release view of the most beautiful iOS children's book yet

Note 11/6/10: food fight! has now been released and is available as Food Fight! - An Interactive Book by Glenn Melenhorst. It is on sale for US$1.99 during its introductory first week.

food fight! is the most beautiful interactive children's book I've seen to date. It's currently going through the App Store review process and isn't yet available, but when it hits the iTunes store, it will sell for US$3.99 and be released as a universal app playable on any iOS device. There are a number of things that make this book special, but the most obvious is the amazing 3D graphics found on every page. The book was written and rendered by Glenn Melenhorst, a visual effects artist at the Iloura studio in Melbourne, Australia. Glenn has been instrumental in such projects as The Pacific, Where the Wild Things Are, and Charlotte's Web. food fight! started as a print book called Little Boys which I couldn't find anywhere, and perhaps never made it out of Australia.

The book tells the story of Tim, who would eat nothing but sausages no matter how much his parents tried to fool and cajole him into eating something else. It's also the story of Sammy, from somewhere else altogether, who happens to be a sausage who eats nothing but little boys. Sammy reads about Tim and takes a rocket to earth where they confront each other and come to a workable compromise. It's a very cute story, whimsically told and I'm sure will entertain children four and above.

The app is beautifully designed and has more play value than most of what I've seen in the burgeoning market of interactive children's fiction. There is no musical soundtrack, but it's not necessary, since over 80 interactive elements found in its pages all come with their own sounds, voices, and effects. Tapping on most anything kicks off nicely done animations, some of them, in keeping with the 3D look, spill right off the page. The pages can be turned by a quick swipe as is usually the case, or in a manner similar to iBooks, by slowly swiping which displays a nicely dimensional page-turning effect at the speed of your fingers.

Any page can be pinched and stretched to see bits of the graphics close-up, and when doing so, a magnifying glass appears that when tapped reverts the image to normal size. This is rather important when viewing the book on anything smaller than an iPad since there is so much going on that some pages can be hard to read and fully appreciate on a small screen. The book supports the Retina display, but really comes into its own on the iPad, where the size is about perfect for the graphics. It also works in all four orientations on any device.

A great feature is a simple built-in star search game which can be turned on or off. Enabling it hides five stars somewhere in the pages. When one is found, an animation is played telling you that you've found a star. When all five stars have been discovered a hidden page is unlocked. The page is two leaf coloring picture drawn in simple shapes. When an area is touched, it becomes colored, tap it again and the color changes. I can see kids spending a lot of time tapping areas over and over again to get the colors just as they like them. Once completed, the star search can be reset which hides the stars on different pages, so the game can be played over and over.

The fit and finish of the game is admirable. Everything seems just right, from the amount of animations, to the quality of the sounds. It is well worth the $3.99. I just have a couple of quibbles, which the developer tells me is being worked on. There is no way of jumping to a particular page. Going back to the first page requires you to leave and re-run the app. There is also no optional narration which is a major flaw and one that I hope gets addressed soon, since with these additions I would consider the app to be at the top of its class.

One thing that might prevent the app from getting approved quickly is that it has the same name as a game app called Food Fight!. The developers really should have checked this out before submitting to Apple. If the app name changes before it is released, I'll update the post, but keep your eyes out for it anyway. It's a real treat.
This article was originally published on Tuaw.