The new Android app from Google is difficult to categorise when referred to as simply a game. In actuality, Ingress is a highly developed, massively-multiplayer online game, except the gaming area is the real world - and when I say massively-multiplayer, I mean just that. With hundreds of thousands of players globally, even though the game is still in an invitation-only beta test phase, we could be looking at the next gaming phenomenon.
So then: what exactly is the Niantic Project? Beginning back in June, hints and clues have been appearing around the internet; some easy to decipher, others fiendishly inventive, still others requiring an intimate knowledge of maths, computer coding and cryptography skills. They point towards the possibility that Exotic Matter, or ‘XM’ may have some form of intelligence, and is part of an other-dimensional incursion into our dimension through special ‘portals’. The portals these entities want to use are located near to areas of art and creativity - which in the real world, translates to statues, monuments and other such points of interest. Of course, portals and XM are invisible to the naked eye, but using the technology that has secretly been incorporated into many modern smartphones, one can track, hack and even claim portals.
In the real world, you first need an invite - www.ingress.com or a charitable friend are your only options there. Once you’ve been invited, you install the Ingress app from the Google Play market (sorry iPhone users, no iOS support yet, but rumours suggest you won’t have to wait very long). When you first open the app, you’ll be prompted to run through a few tutorials to prepare you for your regular tasks. When these are completed, you need to choose a faction - there are two: The Enlightened and The Resistance. Enlightened players believe that whatever’s coming through the portals is benevolent and good for humanity - the Resistance believes otherwise. In gameplay terms, your choice affects whether you’re green or blue, but little else. You are then required to venture out into the real world to find portals. I found a few nearby, but the majority are located in larger cities - London being the most populated in the UK. You can then ‘hack’ the portal, from which you receive useful items, or you can deploy ‘resonators’, which means you have claimed that portal.
There are many other intricacies, like upgrading and linking portals to gain ‘mind-share’, bombing the opposition’s resonators to remove them and take over the portal, and an inventive chat system that can be filtered by distance - in all, plenty of things to keep you occupied.
Using the unique platform features of the modern smartphone, including GPS, WiFi & mobile data and high resolution 3D graphics, Ingress (and Niantic Labs/Google) demonstrates exactly what can be accomplished when you hold mapping data for the entire world, along with the infrastructure to create a truly global MMO. In short, it’s a technical marvel, and a sign of just how advanced mobile devices have become.
Being new to this type of game, I’m finding the whole thing fascinating. Innumerous groups have sprung up on the web, trying to deduce the secrets of Ingress and Project Niantic as clues continue to be released daily - one of the best maintained is at www.niantic.schlarp.com. The two factions are starting to coalesce into hierarchies, and tactics are being discussed. It’s fantastically easy to become embroiled in the territorial nature of the game, and the option to submit potential new portals keeps players in less well populated areas busy.
The cynic in my head hasn’t stopped shouting since I started playing, however; as a way to gather user data, this could be Google’s finest invention. Ultimately though, I long ago gave up on the concept of true privacy, and can easily quiet those early internet fears. If you can do the same, and enjoy a good X-Files style conspiracy, along with some real-world interaction, this might be the mobile game you’ve been waiting for.
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