I heard about Google’s Ingress through my friend Keely Brubaker a few days ago. I did a little research and it looked like something that had promise for Augmented Reality using a smartphone. I’d tried Yelp’s AR implementation when they rolled that out a while back. I thought that while Yelp’s AR was unique, it was also pretty gimmicky and was also pretty buggy, in that it didn’t pick up the direction I was facing very well, and I had to hold the phone up in front of my face in order to see the businesses in the AR window. Sadly for Yelp, I’m not willing to look like a complete goober in the name of Augmented Reality. As the next few days rolled on into Thanksgiving, the hype surrounding Ingress on Google+ began to increase. People were getting invites by doing creative things with the Ingress logo. I created that mashup of the Ingress logo and the Galactic Empire insignia in GIMP 2.8, and shared it on Google+, tagging Brandon Badger in a post on Wednesday night. While it got quite a few +1s and was reshared a half dozen times or so, it didn’t yield me an invite. *sadf*
What did score me an invite was an appaling amount of luck and some swoopy fast typing late on Thursday Night. After we got home from Thanksgiving dinner with Audrey’s parents, I saw that Joe Philley was giving out invites, and I happened to refresh my screen just in time to see one of the coded invites pop to the top of it. I grabbed my phone and put the invite code in, and it worked! I was in! I got my first message – a video and voiceover explaining the nature of Exotic Matter (XM).
I braved the parking lot and the late hour, and headed outside to collect some Exotic Matter that was scattered around my apartment complex. Then I found myself coming back inside to grab a jacket, so I could brave the cold weather better while I located a nearby portal. I learned to attack an enemy portal with an XMP Burster before learning to hack it. I claimed the hacked portal as my own (and thus claiming it for “my team”, which I had not selected yet), and then setting up resonators to both protect the portal and to enable linking the newly hacked and resonated portal to other nearby portals. Then I went inside because it was freakin’ COLD out. Aside: Dear Google/Niantic: November is kind of a terrible month to launch an Augmented Reality app whose design goal is to make people go outside. However, it is what it is, and we’ll cope through the winter. On the bright side, most of the portals we found tonight were easy drive-up access.
In that first outing on Thursday night, I left the volume on my phone turned up, because I felt a weird sense of geek pride at being one of the first people to know about, and participate in, Niantic Labs’ creations. I’d signed up for Field Trip the day I heard about it, and it’s been fun rolling around Denver having it pop up with something historically interesting now and then. Now, with Ingress, I can do more than a ‘walkabout’ like you can with Field Trip. That first night, learning to secure a portal, was engaging and entertaining – so much so that before we left to go to Audrey’s parent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, I handed her my phone and she finished the remaining portions of the tutorial – identifying and linking additional portals. She was hooked – tentatively. She’d signed up for the Ingress beta even slightly before I had, but hadn’t gotten an invite yet, and she didn’t see much chance that she’d get one any time soon, given what a hot property they were turning out to be on Google+.
As I mentioned, Ingress invites were being given out for creative uses of the Ingress logo. I shared the logo with Joe Philley around 6:30 in the evening on Friday. That scored me an invite for Audrey Lee tonight. She ran through the tutorial faster than I did, because she’d done the later stages (linking) on my phone earlier in the day.
As soon as she was done with the tutorial, and had Jarvis patch up her installation, she hit the secluded codebase installation I’d found the night before, and she loaded up on resonators, AP, XM, Portal Shields, and XMP Bursters. We headed out to go tag some portals, because I’d figured out this afternoon how to use the Ingress Intel Map to sniff out unclaimed portals in the vicinity. Turned out there was one a half a click from the house. We jumped in the car and headed out to go stake our claim for our side in the conflict, and as we pulled in the parking lot, we found that we were on opposite factions! As I drove back home, she jumped into a quick google search, where she found it was a fairly common issue. The article she found even had a link where you could get the issue sorted out…eventually. The person posting it had already waited several days, with no luck. A few minutes later, we were home, and found that on the PC, we were both of the same faction. With some head scratching, she signed out of the app on the phone, and signed in again. Problem solved! Away we went, seeking fame and glory and portals and resonators, Oh My!
Our BMW turned out to be well appointed for the task at hand, with dual USB power outlets, and a car dock. I drove, Audrey did portal reconnaissance from the passenger seat, Navigation duties were handled by Waze. We pulled into the parking lot of the first location – a place that seemed fairly busy, considering it was 7:40pm – and we hacked the portal, threw up 8 resonators, and some Portal Shields. Lather, rinse, repeat at the second and third locations. At the third location, Audrey’s Field Trip pointed us to a portal located to the west of where we were – a portal owned by the other team! We pulled out of the parking lot of the current location, and hooked a left, zooming off to try out hand at aggression. The two resonators and the portal fell swiftly, and we soon had it up and running for our team, with a full complement of resonators and portal shields. The best part of that particular encounter, however, was the discovery of an entirely new class of “prepopulated” structures. A couple minutes of discussion and we’d picked out two more targets of opportunity.
The first turned up being a dud. Yes, it was technically the same class of structure as the one we’d just departed, but it was apparently not a public example. A few miles down the road, however, there was a bonus waiting for us. Not only was the next one unclaimed, but there was another portal just across the street! The upside? Just across the street . The downside? There was no parking lot, shoulder, or even curbside to pull in to hack the portal, so we hacked it and got a handful of resonators down on it by waiting in a fairly safe location for a long gap in traffic, then driving sloooowly past (25 in a 45) while Audrey hacked the snot out of it.
Less play by play, more review, you say?
I liked the UI of the application, and I really appreciated the voiceover of the tutorial, as well. I found the pacing of the tutorial was just right, and was engaging. Audrey found it to be slow, and she read the text and skipped the voiceover, partly because she was eager to get on with the proceedings, and partly because she’d already done the later portions on my phone.
The app itself runs well, but it is a bit of a battery hog if left running. It’s in desperate need of rotation, though. If I put the phone in the car dock while Ingress is running:
A) I appear on the center of the right side of the map, and the arrow is pointing “up”.
B) If I leave Ingress in “North Is Up” mode, the map then scrolls left to right as I drive. If I tap the compass arrow, the map now orients correctly, but I’m still at the center-right of the screen, so I have excellent visibility to the left of me, minimal visibility in front of me, and zero visibility to the right of me. That doesn’t work so well.
Thus far, I’m going to interesting and significant locations, even in the Suburbia of Denver, and I’m visiting places that I’d never thought to stop at before, and I’m soaking up just a little more knowledge than I had before. Example: I had NO IDEA there was an enormous public library adjacent to the Front Range Community College campus on 112th Avenue in Westminster, Colorado. I’m looking forward to exploring more! I even have some interesting local locations that I’m going to take pictures of this weekend, in order to submit them for Portal locations. A number of them also have Geocaches already, so that will be an interesting tie-in. Another aside: It’s kind of a shame that nobody has yet written a decent Geocaching application for Android. I used the HELL out of the app for iOS.
Frustrations: It would be nice if Google added some additional portals around the existing portals that have been generated by public structures, the same way they were created for the Tutorial. One of our big frustrations tonight was the absolute inability to link any of our portals to one another. Going forward this is going to be a HUGE problem for people who live in rural areas. In a smaller town, there might be one post office and one library, and neither one will be close enough to each other to link, and there will be very little opportunity to collect sufficient AP to advance to an Access Level high enough to start linking meaningfully. I predict that people in truly rural areas who get access will (like so many things that don’t specifically take small towns into account) will try it out for a day or two, then drop it. That may not really be a concern, given that 84 percent of the US lives in the 350 defined Metro Areas – but I’ve found that it does have quite a bit of impact, even here in Suburbia.
All in all, I think Audrey and I are both hooked, and I find myself sitting here, at 2:48am, tabbing back and forth between writing this review, and looking at Google Maps and Google Earth, looking for likely locations to find those unclaimed portals…and I’m fighting the urge to jump in the car and go tag them right now…tonight…but Audrey says she’s not wearing pants anymore, so we can’t go. It’ll wait. I suppose I’ll have to settle for supporting my fellow humans in their quest to advance or hinder the Shapers by continuing to tinker with http://www.ingresscolorado.com until the DNS servers catch up and the site goes live.
Well played, Google.