AR Gaming: Ingress If Fun If You Don’t Give Up

In 2001 a game was released that I so badly wanted to play. It was called Majestic and was one of the first alternate reality game with a lot of game press and hype. I wanted to play it due to the blur between reality and game as the game takes place in real life — but just with false facts. I remember reading that one could change the level of realism for the game. For instance you could configure it so that any communication that came your way would be prefixed by a notice that it was from the game, with a marker of some kind or simply not differentiate itself at all. Or at least something like that could be done.

In conversations with my friends I found out that I was the only person I knew who thought this could be fun. My friends would state things about how it would be to much of an interruption to life or that people with severe mental problems could be sucked into the game believing it as reality. As it turned out there was not enough love for the game for it to continue and, sadly, I never got to give it a go myself.

Years went by where I figured the genere had been put in to a corner where only AR geeks would dare go. Half baked sub-indie attempts, extreme role playing guilds and stupid marketing tie-ins. None of these seemed that fun to me. I actually thought about trying to write my own (as in the server application for an ARG) as that seemed more fun than joining one of those ARG-but-not-really-ARG games.

Then Google released Ingress and I waited for an invite. I signed up for the closed beta. More waiting. And then a coworker passed me an invite and I was in.

I loaded up the game and went through the tutorial which confused me. See, I thought I was actually playing in the tutorial and not just learning how to play. I looked around and saw no portals (except the tutorial one) and though that maybe my area was not that hot for playing. Then I realized it was not the full AR but just a tutorial and got into the game proper.

Still confused. I saw these large green things on my device. There wasn’t anything explaining to me what these were so I assumed it meant ‘out of bounds’ areas. Of course later I learned what this meant. I actually played the game for a few weeks before realizing that they were Control Fields. If it wasn’t for my coworker essentially being the instructor of the game mechanics I’d probably of grown tired of being confused.

Once I got the hang of the game running to locations with portals became fun. Granted, I couldn’t do much yet a I was a level 1 agent in a level 4 or higher world but I still I knew I was helping. And it got better. Like any good ARG there was a community which was very active. And not just active within faction but outside as well. While playing it is faction versus faction but we all can have fun outside of the ARG together as well. How great is that?

I’m so glad that today there is the Ingress Field Guide which is exactly what I could have used when I joined up. It explains the dynamics of the game much in a way that Google should have done itself. If you get to join the closed beta take the time to read it guide.

Some Issues

I think that Google not providing information is probably the biggest detriment to the game as people can easily get confused, bored or frustrated especially if there is no community already established in an area.

Another issue is in smaller cities in towns where portals are, at best, very sparse. In such areas I think they should start to place some portals based on people who have joined in the area so that there is something for them to target. When I visited the place I lived previously I found there to be 5 or so portals in the entire city even though there was probably enough players to have many more portals. I have a feeling that those players will get frustrated or bored fighting over the same 5 portals. Even as I left I noticed most of the portals were owned by one of the factions and were high enough level that I doubt the other faction could do much back (unless there was an Op coming in from other cities).

The last issue I see is in balance. If either faction becomes too powerful they can dominate and sort of force the other faction from playing any longer. This takes time (and a whole lot of effort from the first faction) but it’s possible. The only fix for this is in rules and game balance as set by Google. We will see how they fix this over time.

But Worth It

Even with it’s faults I’m having a lot of fun and meeting people I normally would have never met. People in different industries. Folks from different backgrounds. People traveling in from different areas. The game is still evolving and the player base continues to grow as well. If all goes well the issues will be addressed by Google over time. The game is still in closed beta so changes and fixes are likely to continue. But even if they don’t fix all the issues the game is still a blast right now!


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