So in spite of myself, I appear to now be liking Ingress, the Google Citizen Monitoring System masked as Augmented Reality Game. That it is recording my every move for some sinister future purpose, I do not doubt, but figure that Google already know my… well, pretty much everything that I do online and over email anyway by now, so where is the additional harm?
The thing still seems to be in beta, but I don’t recall any NDA being mentioned and don’t generally care about those anyway. Basic gameplay is somewhat new and interesting to me, never having had a phone capable of this stuff before. Two factions, the Enlightened and the Resistance are battling it out in a secret invisible and made-up world, trying to have the most territory under their control at any given time. Something to do with Mind Units, which isn’t sinister AT ALL!
To do this, players create Control Fields. To do this, players create three Links in a triangle. To do that, players claim Portals by putting eight Resonators around them and then connect them together. New Portals can be submitted using a Share option which the client adds to the camera features of the device, allowing a photo tagged with location data to be uploaded to Google’s Sinister ARG Dept., which a few weeks later, might show up as a new portal for capture.
The phone client shows a zoomable but limited version of Google Maps which updates as you move about, and upon which bobbles of XM (Exotic Matter, apparently) can be seen drifting about. Moving to within about 25m of the stuff will harvest it, increasing your XM bar. This bar can then be spent recharging friendly portal defences, attacking enemy ones, and carrying out all sorts of other actions.
The other required piece of info is the website Portal Map, www.ingress.com/intel A login is required for that, but it looks broadly like this. I didn’t know about that map, which led to me basically assuming that there weren’t any portals out there at all. Everything hinges on the Portals, and so far, Portal distribution seems somewhat hit and miss; monuments and statues seem to be a favourite for starters. The phone client has an inventory, and you get items for this by going to the Portal out there in the cruel cold real world, and Hacking it; doesn’t matter who owns it, it’ll often dispense a couple of items for you.
Resonators are the things you use to claim and control Portals. XMP Bursters are the things you use to attack enemy Portals, draining the energy of Resonators. Portal Keys are interesting and can be used as a method of remotely recharging friendly Portals, saving you having to visit the thing every single day. They can also be used to create Links, but I’ve not got that brave yet! I’ve also sometimes received Portal Shields, items you can add to existing friendly portals to give them limited damage reduction. It’s a lot like MMO harvesting nodes, only with actual walking involved.
Recharging, Bursting and Hacking all give you AP, which is Ingresses experience bar, and what does experience make? Levels! I’m currently level 1, out of 8, and this means that even if I manage to loot Lv2 items (And I sometimes have), I am not allowed to use them. I can only use Lv1 Bursters, which do about 1-4% damage to each Resonator I’ve tried attacking so far, and can only deploy Lv1 Resonators, were I to claim a portal of my own, which makes for very rickety defences indeed. Higher level friendly players can upgrade existing Resonators over the top of those though. The average Resonator level of the Portal determines how long links to it can be, ranging from 160m at L1 to about 160km at L8.
All in all, I feel very much like a newbie in an MMO; surrounded by powerful veterans with no real ways to make a difference, with a long period of ‘doing my time’ before I get to sweep through towns and villages crushing all in my path. At higher levels, my XM bar capacity increases and I can use more potent gizmos, but as a brand new player, it does seem like being on refuelling duty is the thing; scouting out my region and trying to acquire as many Portal Keys as possible, and of course, harvesting as much XM as possible.
Resonators appear to decay about 15% of their power per real-time day, so a big part of the game seems to be maintenance. Coincidentally, using the cloud of XM that seems to gather about each portal, I have enough capacity to carry out three or four Recharges per portal, of about 3-5% for the whole set. In other words, to hold ground, let alone go on the attack, each Portal needs to be visited by at least one defending player once per day to do the top up. Having its Portal Key means that this can be done from more or less anywhere, so as well as biding my time and building up AP, collecting a comprehensive set of local Keys seems a good first move.
I seem to get about 10AP per recharge, and Level 2 is 10,000AP. XMP Bursting enemy portals pays more; 100AP, but is regulated by the number of Bursters of your level that you can hack out, so is more sporadic. Quite a big timesink ahead, although as ever, grinding looks like it pays. A Portal can only be hacked by the same player once every five minutes, but if you have nothing better to do than stand on a windy common next to a piece of inexplicable Civic Art all day, you can apply obsession for great imaginary profit. I expect for most players, one or two visits a day is plenty; passing foot traffic by commuters, that sort of thing. Mind you, if you have to catass, at least this game ensures you do it outside in some fresh air!
The whole thing is hitting all my Skinner Box buttons, of course, but is fascinating to watch as well. The Intel Map shows the bigger picture and the day-to-day cut and thrust of local and wider ‘combat’; for example, last night some powerful Blue chap came through our town and devastated almost everything, flipping most of the well-built up Portals that our more active local Greens had built up there. This feat must have needed dozens of high levelled XMP Burster and Resonators, which must have been stockpiles over some weeks. I get one or two of those per Portal Hack, usually. Will he return? Is he local too? Can he maintain them all? Can we take them back? I find myself fascinated, even if my own participation is, as yet, minimal and limited.
I went out, earlier in the week, on a lengthy pedestrian circuit around town, Hacking away, Recharging and Bursting without real plan or purpose, and quite by accident gave myself a decent bit of brisk exercise, which felt good all by itself! I started to wonder about the other folks staring at smartphones. Were they the Enemy? Unknowing allies? Probably neither; I’d never noticed until I got one myself, but everyone out there is tapping away on their own black mirrors nowadays as they walk and sit, and Ingress is probably one of the least likely things they could all be doing.
It reminded me a bit of the big old sovereignty map games of EVE Online; a huge single game world, territory, control, late-night shifts in power, lowbies like me diligently hauling fuel and mining ice, veterans roaming for easy captures and blobs moving about capping and sweeping away hard work in moments, and of course, none of it ultimately mattering at all in the grand scheme of anything. I expect similar problems of drudgery and burnout await me further down the line, and how interesting would EVE Sovereignty be with only two Alliances anyway? But for now, I’m intrigued.
I suppose, like EVE, the real way to achieve anything substantial, is to organise, and there are certainly local and regional groups on that G+ thing, and the client has a dedicated range-based faction chat window. A bit early in the day for all that for me, but we shall see…