Google’s Ingress Mobile Game Combines Geocaching, Augmented Reality, and Puzzle Games

At the beginning of November, the first whispers of a curious viral game called the Niantic Project began to crop up around the web. As it usually goes with this sort of stuff, it wasn’t long before a handful of interested people were able to get to the bottom of things. They figured out that Google was behind it all and that the Niantic Project was actually part of a larger game – a multi-player geo-mobile app for Android, in fact – called Ingress.

Ingress has created quite a bit of buzz since then. This is due in large part to Google putting out a steady stream of promotional videos, cryptic hints on the nature of the game, and especially because of a closed beta-version that is available now (you’ll need an invite though).

One of the many taglines that Google has used to pump up the hype around Ingress is “the world around you is not what it seems” and that definitely looks to be true as far as the full-version of the game is concerned. To get right to the heart of things, the mobile app is based around the conspiracy-clad premise that scientists in a foreign nation have discovered a strange type of energy – and that it’s on the loose. The energy is able to alter your mind and you have to control it before it controls you.

But the most exciting part about Ingress – and something that makes it much like MapDash – is that it forces you to get up off of the couch and head out the door into the outside world. It forces you to move around, exercise, and explore new places. It’s not the sort of game that lets you sit back and vegetate in front of a monitor while you’re playing it.

The most important aspect of the game consists of connecting things called portals. Portals spew the strange matter and are located in a variety of creativity-oriented public places – libraries, museums, and public parks are excellent spots to find them.
Ingress screen shot
Once you have used the app to find a portal – your screen will display a map that leads to it much like in StreetView – you are required to hack it. Hacking is just a fancy name for “checking in” much like on Foursquare or Facebook. This is where the augmented reality aspect of the game kicks in as you are able to see the energy on your screen while holding it in front of the energy-spewing real-life object. Once you have hacked and captured three portals, they are connected to form a region called a control field.

Control fields are placed on an online map of the city that you’re in and are highlighted in either green or blue. The two colors indicate the team that the control field belongs to. When you first start to play Ingress, you are required to choose a side, the Enlightened (green) or the Resistance (blue). The rest of the game and the majority of the portal-capturing are played to gain your side the most territory.

John Hanke, head of the Niantic Lab (the group developing the game) and the brain behind Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google StreetView, said in a recent interview with Mashable that “we live in a world of abundant information and ubiquitous computing — why not play in it? For the first time, the world, not the screen, can become the basis for a mobile game — it’s a controller in the palm of your hand.”

Ingress is not just exciting for gamers but also for the geo-mobile space in particular. Even though it has only been around for a week or two, it is already raising awareness for other geo-mobile games – other games that get you up and out of the house, games like MapDash (shameless plug).

In fact, other geo-mobile gaming apps have already experienced a sharp rise in downloads since the November 15 Ingress launch. For example, GeoEmpires, a multi-player territory-building game that is also based off of geo-mobile principles, had a sudden spike in installations on November 15.

While you do need an invite to try out the beta-version of the game, Ingress is completely free to download on your Android phone (it will be available for iOS soon). Though a full-version is still a ways off, it will certainly be exciting to see what Google does with their foray into the world of geo-mobile gaming, especially because they are the first “big player” to become involved.

For more information on Google Ingress visit their website at: http://www.ingress.com/. Or visit the Niantic Project Wiki, a thorough wiki that is being run by Ingress fans.

Video: Google Ingress

To download the Android app for free check out: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nianticproject.ingress

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