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Ingress

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I started writing my annual changing-of-the-calendar-year post, and I realized I was spilling a lot of virtual ink on, arguably, a pretty small aspect of my year — because, while it’s kind of unimportant, in the scheme of things, it also takes a little explanation. And it’s fun! So, rather than keep expanding the bullet point in that post, I figured I’d give Ingress its own post and just link to it in making my points about 2014.

Ingress is an augmented reality game created by Google. It’s probably really cool with Google Glass, but I’ve only ever seen people play it on phones—both iOS and Android.

The global game

When I try to describe it quickly, I tell people “It’s like geocaching, without the tupperware and with a competitive aspect.” (I’ve also told police officers the same thing, when they have seemed interested in what I was doing. Law enforcement understands geocaching, because geocachers often end up acting shady. So it’s useful for them to know about this newer game, too. Because Ingressers also look shady, now and then.)

The more complete description (entirely from memory, so forgive me if I get a detail wrong): in the game, there’s a group of aliens, called “Shapers,” who have impacted human history with the help of “exotic matter” (XM); now we know they exist, and we know how to harvest XM. One group of humans, agents of the Enlightened, believe the Shapers can help us grow and become better than we are. Another group of humans, agents of the Resistance, don’t trust the Shapers and want to make them leave. Both groups try to control territory, measured in “mind units” (MUs), to help their team reach its goal.

Pieces of art, places that people visit in large numbers, and other notable pieces of human achievement become portals, which can be captured by the Enlightened (ENL) or the Resistance (RES). You can create links between portals that belong to your team, and if you link three to form a triangle, the MUs in that area belong to your team. Today the ENL have 293,966,018 MUs, and the RES have 283,700,022, but that varies wildly from checkpoint to checkpoint. (This is a global game, so the checkpoint time changes daily, for fairness.)

I am an agent for the Enlightened, the green team. (RES is blue. We know there are more of them, but GoogleNiantic hasn’t released exact numbers.) Give me your Google-affiliated email address if you’d like an invite to the game; there’s a mechanic for inviting people to play, and I hope there’s a mechanic for having been invited. (Hopefully it gives you some free in-game goodies or something.) My email is coral@[this domain].

Why do I play?

I enjoy the game, because I get to see neat things. Yeah, there are a lot of boring portals: churches, or restaurants, or normal things I already knew about. But there are also some hidden gems — murals and statues, things other people like that aren’t on my normally-beaten path, things I might not have bothered noticing — that I wouldn’t have seen, if I hadn’t been playing. (This was also something I liked about geocaching. Another bonus of Ingress over geocaching: Dale and I play as a team, for the latter, so I won’t play it by myself. Ingress is more fun — and safer, at night — with a buddy, but it’s playable alone.)

It also explicitly rewards walking. You can play from your car, but it’s programmed cleverly enough not to count those kilometers-traveled toward your Trekker badge. (I’m 5km from a silver!) Although my distance per day is somewhat limited, due to an injured foot, I find that I walk a lot further, playing Ingress, than I do if I just “go for a walk.” Also, Ingress will pull me out of the house when the prospect of just a walk, no matter how relaxing I might find walking, simply won’t.

It is also a good way to meet people. I really like my local ENL team. We have a Google+ community and a chat group that we use to stay in touch and make game plans. I only just started meeting any of them in person this week, but I like them all a lot. (Why I am more comfortable among Ingressers than geocachers is maybe worth some thought. Or maybe it’s just a coincidence.) I spent my Sunday afternoon on top of a mountain, helping some of my teammates to ensure that a particular portal stays green for the whole winter — it was very dramatic, too, because some RES agents flipped the portal and stole a bunch of our stuff, at one point! (The mountain closed until spring at 5pm yesterday. The portal is ours.)

The three very dedicated, very cold ENL agents, a few minutes before 5pm
The three very dedicated, very cold ENL agents, a few minutes before 5pm

It took me a while to get used to how aggressive a game it is, but now I have embraced that. Attacking enemy portals is actually a pretty good way to deal with stress.

How do I play?

I signed up in August, and I started at Level 1, as all agents do. I went through the training mission, which taught me how to hack a portal for gear, how to capture a portal, how to make a link, and how to make a field. I played on my own, mostly around UAA and my neighborhood, but I also remember dragging Dale to a couple of other places in Anchorage. By the time I hit level 3, he was ready to start playing, too. Now he’s Level 7, and I’m Level 8. (He’d have caught up, but we had good Ingress weather for a lot longer, here in VA, than he did in Anchorage.)

In terms of gear, all you need is a smartphone with the Ingress app, comfortable walking shoes, and weather-appropriate clothing. When I play for more than an hour, I need a portable phone charger like this one, because Ingress is a battery hog. But if you’re content to play for less than that, you can get by without one. :)

Let me show you the interface. Here’s the game screen (though your player name and level will show up at the top of yours, obviously :)).

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The game screen

COMM is a chat program with agents in your area. It also tells you when your stuff is being attacked and what’s being linked nearby. Tapping the word COMM toggles it up and down, so you can read it or ignore it at will.

The arrow in the middle of the screen shows where you are, and it points in the direction you’re facing, assuming your phone’s compass is calibrated correctly. (In this screen capture, I was walking away from an area I had just captured and turned green.) Like in Google Maps, you can control what the screen looks at, zooming in and out and pulling the view up and down to explore what’s around.

The orange circle around you always has a radius of 40 meters; if a portal is within that circle, you can hack it. When you’re higher level, you can attack a portal outside of that radius; but early on, it’s useful to think of that circle as your total area of effect.

The brightly colored green and blue flares are portals; you tap one with your finger (or hold your finger down on it, depending what you’re doing) to interact with it. You can see that I can hack that green (ENL) portal, but not that blue (RES) one. If you zoom out on the screen, while you’re playing, you’ll see some variation in how much each portal flames; it seems to me like higher-level/better-charged portals flame brighter. You can also see the ghost of a shield around that blue portal; yes, it’s possible to add modifications to your portals, to make it harder for an enemy agent to take over. :)

The little white dots around the portal are XM. The bar at the top, that looks like a health bar in a video game, shows how much XM you have stored up; you need it for everything from hacking to attacking to claiming to modifying a portal. If the bar weren’t full, then all of the XM within 40 meters would be absorbed. Walking around where there are portals is a good way to gather XM. :) (XM is a little creepy, if you think too much about it, because the prevailing theory is that it is dispersed based on where Google knows there are often cellphones; plus, of course, around portals. The amount of XM in a place is correlated with how many mind units it will be worth if it’s fielded.)

The grey portal with no resonators is unclaimed; anyone can grab it
The grey portal with no resonators is unclaimed; anyone can grab it

And do you see the little tiny orange and purple things on radial lines around each portal? Those are called resonators. You need eight resonators around a portal for it to be linkable to another one. The ones around that green portal are nicely placed, all as close to 40 meters away as possible; the ones around the blue portal are sloppily placed and will make it a little easier to take down, because they’re closer to it. (Look at that, you already know better tactics than that RES player! ;))

Resonators come in 8 levels, and you can only place resonators up to your own agent level—and only a limited number of each. For an agent level 8 and above, that’s 1 level 8, 1 level 7, 2 level 6’s,… And, if you care to use math to maximize your resonators’ effectiveness, you should know that a portal’s level is the average of all of its resonators’ levels, rounded down. (So the only way to get a level 8 portal is to have 8 level 8 resonators on it, which takes 8 players at level 8 or above.) I never bother calculating averages; I just always put my best stuff on portals I care about, or my teammates care about. Higher level portals give you better stuff when you hack them, as a general rule, and they’re harder to take over, so it’s nice if you can increase a portal’s level.

There’s a neat aspect to the game, where resonators degrade over time. You can prevent this by recharging them with your own XP. (You get more, walking around, than you strictly need.) If you see an unclaimed portal, it has either degraded over time, or it’s brand new; either way, you get AP for claiming it, so do it! :)

You can play the whole game on your own, gathering action points (AP – a lot like XP in roleplaying games) to level up and making fields that make sense to you, but odds are there’s a bigger tactical game happening wherever you live, and if you join in on that, it’s more fun, especially at higher levels. I recommend looking on Google Plus, first, because everyone in the game has a Google account, which makes that an easy place to connect.

Also, it’s not impossible to guess who around you is an Ingress player. Lots of people walk around staring at their phones, but if portals around you are changing color, you can probably identify who is doing it, if you observe carefully. If they’re on your team, go talk to them, and get hints! If they’re not on your team, it’s still polite to go talk to them, but they might be more sparing with help. ;)

Anyway, I know Ingress is not for everybody, but I hope this intro at least gives you an idea of whether or not it’s for you. If you want to trade Ingress tips, hit me up over email or Twitter (or G+, but I check that a lot less regularly). :)

Groot, with an ENL logo, by G+ user Troy Snell
Groot, with an ENL logo, by G+ user Troy Snell
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