“The world around you is not what it seems. Our future is at stake and you must choose a side.”
Ingress is Google's new ARG & augmented reality game for the Android platform. Like much of what Google does, Ingress is still in beta. I was lucky enough to receive an invite about a month ago. Unfortunately, I live in a fairly rural area. Why does this matter? Well, this brings me to the biggest takeaway of the game: where you live and the choices you make upon joining can dramatically impact how fun the game is for you. That being said, my hometown isn't that quiet, but I still haven't gotten the "big city experience" myself, and as such I can only extrapolate and report the observations of others.
Ingress is really divided into two separate games. The first is the ARG - Alternate Reality Game - which anyone can take part in. A story is beginning to develop, and daily clues are posted on the site. Outside of the game, Niantic is the name of the group within Google officiating the game. Inside the game, Niantic is a mysterious organization that seems to be at the heart of a plot involving portals to other realities, exotic matter, murder, and the fate of the human race.
The daily clues and stories have embedded codes, as is common with ARGs. People throughout the world work together to decrypt these cyphers daily, and communities such as Decode Ingress have cropped up for cooperative puzzle-solving. Almost invariably, these cyphers are a passphrase which can be used within the Android app to unlock goodies. Although anyone can help unlock the codes, only those with access to Ingress can use them. The codes have a limited use and are generally burned out within minutes of being posted to a public site like the Decode Ingress Google group.
The Android App “Ingress” allows users to use their Android app to show a sort of Google Maps with an overlay that shows what is going on in the world of the game. This has expanded to what some call “competitive geocaching." With the app you can interact with "portals" - fixed control points that the two factions of Ingress, the Resistance and Enlightened, fight over. Portals are (supposed to be) publically accessable, and are points of interest. However, the game is in beta, so this is not always the case. They give players tools to both submit new locations for portals and request corrections made for invalid portals.
Interacting with a portal generally means hacking them. Hacking a portal gives you items based on your leve, and the level of the portal. A single portal can be hacked once every five minutes per player, and about five times in four hours. This means that portals in busy areas may be frequently “burnt out”. Portals are claimed by a faction by placing up to eight “Resonators” around the portal. They can also be protected with portal shields, which will defend your portal from attack. Resonators naturally decay 10% of their energy per day, and can be directly attacked by rival players with weapons known as “XMP Bursters”. If a portal loses all of its Resonators, it becomes neutral and can be claimed again by either side. Resonators can be recharged by members of the team controlling the portal.
Resonators and XMP bursters come in levels of power. As you perform actions within the game you gain access points (or AP), which is pretty standard XP. With enough AP you will level up, and gain use of higher level Resonators and XMPs.
Portals can be linked with keys, which are also obtained from hacking. Three portals linked together to make a triangle will form a control field, “freeing” the minds of those within. The larger the field, and the more densely populated the area, the more Mind Units you gain for your team. Global accrual of MU can be viewed from the app and the companion intel website.
While all of this may seem complicated, in practice it is fairly straightforward. Admittance to the game also grants you access to the intel page, which allows you to view Google Maps overlayed with the Ingress information.
As I hinted at earlier, your enjoyment of the game (or frustration with it) is largely based on where you are and who is controlling the area. You gain more AP from attacking and hacking enemy portals than you do from maintaining your own. However, if the enemies in your region are too powerful, low levels will find themselves greatly discouraged as they beat their head against portals that vastly outpower them. The discrepancy in power between level 1 and the max level of 8 is hard to underrate. However, through teamwork and perseverance, an underdog can make their way up the ranks.
Like EVE Online, Ingress has a passionate player base. Even those who have not made it into the game yet are active, creating Ingress related art and posting it on Google Plus in hopes for an invite key. Many have the app and use it to submit portals to work their way towards an invite. While there is a certain amount of cheating going on, the players seem to be pretty good at policing their own, reporting violators and keeping the game healthy and honest. In a month in my little town I have risen from level 1 to level 5 and have had a lot of fun driving and walking around learning about statues in my town I never knew existed, and visiting neighboring towns I probably would have never noticed.
Although the Decode Ingress stuff looks interesting, I pretty much stick to being a man on the ground, fighting for the Enlightenment. Still, those who are so inclined seem to enjoy the puzzles. Many players with extra keys have used it as an opportunity to design riddles of their own and release them on Google Plus or the Ingress Subreddit.
Where the Niantic story & ARG are headed still remains hidden. The focus on the mystery and attendant puzzles has created an enlivened, passionate fanbase. If you own an Android device, love puzzles, or just want an excuse to get out of the house a bit more, you should throw your hat in the ring to try to become an agent of Ingress.