Monday, December 24, 2012

Ingress: Google's augmented reality MMO

Ingress logo
+Ingress is Google's new augmented reality game that's currently in beta. It brings together a few things: first off, it's Android-only at the moment and has a strong preference for players and developers communicating via Google+. This is an obvious play for increased adoption of both platforms.

That aside, however, Ingress is the first MMO that I've played where the first step is, "go outside," and as you play the game you get a definite sense that Google isn't kidding about that. The game won't allow you to set your phone in location debugging mode (I suppose if I loaded a custom Android image, I could defeat that, but realistically it would be self-defeating) and they choose locations that are artistic or historical for elements of the game.

In a nutshell, you walk around to "portals" (glowing spots on the in-game map) and either "hack" them to get items and experience or, depending on which of the two teams owns them, attack or defend them. Attacking a portal and taking it over gets you experience, as do certain kinds of defense actions (it looks like just refreshing the power-levels of a portal's defenses doesn't though).

Some things can be done remotely once you get a portal's key (usually by hacking). This includes refreshing the power-levels of its defenses. But to really attack or defend, you have to go there. Your local post office and fire station are probably portals in the game, but if you want to find lots of portals, you need to go to major historical or cultural attractions. The other day, I went to the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, MA, and there were at least 6 portals on the grounds of the park and another dozen or so between there and the shipyard a short way off. You can rack up lots of experience, just going on a day-trip to a historical site and touring around.

Experience levels get you access to better defense and attack items. As you go up in level, you'll find that more and more portals have defense "resonators" that you can upgrade and you'll do more and more damage against higher level portals.

There's a few other things that Google is doing: the "Niantic Project" is both the code-name for the game and the fictional organization responsible for releasing the energy called "exotic matter (XM)" into the world. The plot is slowly being unfurled via images, videos and transcripts that they leak out. Some of the messages have hidden codes that can be redeemed for items in the game. Most of these show up on the Niantic site in hidden HTML or data fields in images that are usually used to indicate what kind of camera a photograph was taken with. This sort of clever messaging has been used by Google for recruiting and limiting developer access to conferences, but this is the first time that they've used them in such a public-facing way for entertainment, to my knowledge.

If all of this sounds interesting to you, then see if you can get an invite. Here's how:
  1. Go to and submit the email address that you use for your Google+ account (that would be any ordinary gmail account)
  2. Using that same account, post to Google+, a photograph or screen shot of something interesting that you create that incorporates the Ingress logo and tag it with "#ingress #ingressinvite"
  3. Also search G+ for groups and people that have invites to give out. I'm sure Google will start pushing invites out through third parties, soon!
As I learn to play the game (I've just reached level 2... no quick starter levels for this game) I'll post more reviews and tutorials.
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