Friday Feature: Ingress

We missed this week’s main post, but fear not, we’ve got your geekworthy recommendations still coming at you every Friday (mostly).

It would definitely not surprise me if you’d never heard of a genre of game called “AR” or “augmented reality.” Even with my enthusiast-level commitment to games, I’ve only encountered a few (one notable one was the AR game run by Steam/Valve leading up to the release of Portal 2).

Augmented Reality games integrate game experience with the real world to give the players the sensation that the (clearly fictional) events of the game are a part of the real world – hidden just out of sight of everyone who isn’t playing. As a result, many AR games are often centered around revealing information, piecing together puzzles, and collaborating with other players who are trying to do the same.

I recently discovered an AR game that operates in an entirely new and interesting way from anything I’ve ever seen before: Ingress.

The main crux of the game is around a fictional substance called Exotic Matter. It’s brought to earth by a mysterious alien race called the Shapers. Following the game’s framework, some humans believe the Shapers are benevolent beings, using exotic matter to uplift humanity into a new enlightenment. Thus they call themselves The Enlightened. On the other end, there are humans who believe the Shapers are here to use exotic matter to enslave humanity. They call themselves The Resistance.

No matter which side you’re on, the practical objective of the game is to capture and hold Portals through which exotic matter makes its way to earth, and then to link portals together and create portal fields where humans are either exposed to Shaper influence (in an Enlightened-controlled field) or protected from it (Resistance).

What makes Ingress an augmented reality game, however, is that the portals are tied to real-world locations (often monuments, public art, or historical buildings). The game utilizes your mobile device’s GPS signal to pinpoint your location on a street-view map (which, I think, uses Google’s framework) which reveals nearby portals, links, fields, and inventory items (which can be dropped on the map and picked up by other players).

Some Enlightened-controlled portals trying to make it in the middle of a large Resistance-controlled field.

New players, called “Agents” in the game lore, can move around their town capturing neutral portals, but by and large, taking down enemy portals is something that can only be done by teams of cooperating higher-level agents. That means using the game’s in-app comm system or, more likely, using a Google+ hangout or some other more “secure” (as far as in-game counter opps are concerned) channel to organize and coordinate an attack on enemy portals.

The Ingress in-game interface. Each portal is tied to a physical landmark.

Even leaving the story lore aside, you’re left with a pretty entertaining game of capture-and-hold played across the entire world. Portals are more dense in more highly populated areas, so if you’re living in a big city, you’re really missing out by not playing. My town isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to have a good handful of dedicated agents – most of which are helpful and excited to see new agents pop up in the comm.

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