The world around you is not what it seems. Researchers at CERN have uncovered a mysterious energy which they have taken to calling Exotic Matter, or XM, and which seems to emanate from portals located at works of art and architecture around the world. This energy – which it turns out is being sent by the Shapers, a transdimensional intelligence seemingly intent on infiltrating our dimension – contains some form of ordered data, some type of information, which the scientists have been unable to decipher. The NIA, a black budget intelligence agency from the United States, is assigned to investigate the XM phenomenon, at which point all manner of hell breaks loose.

This includes the leaking of the NIA’s scanner technology to the general public, able to detect and interact with portals and XM. Public opinion on how best to make use of this technology has been divided. The Enlightened, as they’ve come to be known, seek to harness the power of XM and the influence of the Shapers to bring about an evolution of humankind. In opposition to this goal stands the Resistance, who wish to protect what’s left of what they see as vital aspects of our humanity.

Ingress Scanner

The Ingress Scanner

Welcome to the world of Ingress, a massively multiplayer real-world location based augmented reality game for Android (and eventually iOS) from Niantic Labs, the internal startup at Google also responsible for the Field Trip app.

In that world, there is one challenge that even the most ardent, hard-core players seem to have trouble surmounting: that of accurately and succinctly describing the game to others.

I’ve heard players variously talk of it as a mash-up of geocaching, capture the flag, Risk, king of the hill, and other familiar activities. But trying to explain Ingress by comparing it to games of the past always seems to fall short, and perhaps that’s due to the fact that there’s simply never been a game quite like this.

Nor, up until now, could there have been. No company other than Google would both be willing to try something like this, and have the necessary resources and infrastructure to pull it off. As Brandon Badger, product manager at Niantic Labs, puts it,

Ingress represents a new genre of mobile gaming that is played in a single alternate reality world. The game is played in real time by agents all around the globe. To bring Ingress to market, the development team has leveraged its experience in building globally scalable software solutions for other Google products. The game is made possible through the use of Google tools and infrastructure.

Even for a behemoth of a company such as Google, however, creating a game on the scale of Ingress has not been without its difficulties. The web-based Intel Map was initially excruciatingly slow (something that has since been much improved). There have been issues with phantom links and fields that could not be destroyed.

When asked why making a large field over a lake, where there is no population, still awards a player a large number of Mind Units (the scoring units used in the game), Badger – who, like other members of the Niantic team, tends to answer questions about Ingress from within the point of view of the game’s lore – responded, “The technology for measuring the effects of Control Fields on the human population is still evolving.”

Minor issues such as these, though, are certainly forgivable when considering how rewarding the overall experience can be. And despite being released in beta back in November 2012, Ingress is still heavily in development, with bugfixes (along with quite a few substantial gameplay changes) still coming regularly. The majority of the most egregious issues from early builds of the game have since been rectified, and those that remain continue to be addressed with each update.

By any account, Ingress can be considered a success, likely far beyond any expectations the higher-ups at Google had when they green-lit the project. But, beyond any particular part of the storyline or mechanic of the gameplay, what has truly made Ingress successful is its focus on community and interaction with other players.

Ingress Agents

Enlightened Agents anakette, DreadRaver, GRyoda, and Johnny0hn0

Throughout human history, great things have tended to happen when the right two (or more) people met and shared their ideas and passions with one another. Ingress takes, in my experience, a huge number of bright and technically-minded folks (not always the type most inclined to much socializing), and sets them out in the world to meet others of their ilk. With Niantic continuing to shape and refine the experience to further encourage IRL meetups and player cooperation, the likelihood of the right two people coming together who might create the next world-changing product or idea will continue to increase by the day.

And therein – aside from just a fun escape, or a clever way for Google to collect copious amounts of free data – lies the true value of Ingress.

Google+: Ingress The Game
Twitter: Ingress The Game
Website: Ingress The Game


[pb-app-box pname=’com.nianticproject.ingress’ name=’Ingress’ theme=’light’ lang=’en’]

About the author

Chris Foote

Singer, guitarist and songwriter for the Grand Rapids, MI based band, Ars Nova. Google Glass Explorer. Google Helpouts guitar lesson provider. Photographer. Transhumanist. Technology enthusiast. Enlightened Ingresser.