Early Thoughts on Ingress

Ingress Screenshot

I’ve known about Ingress since it first launched on Android. No surprise there, I’ve been in AR games since 2006. But I hadn’t really played until today. Why not? For a long time, it was Android only and that was a class of device I just didn’t have access to, but a while back (July 14, 2014 according to Wikipedia) an iOS version came out. But even though I was in a rush to download and try it, I found that the game confused me quite a bit. As a result, I didn’t push through until this week.

I teach classes about games, mobile games, AR, and the like, and one student found this game in the fall and really got a lot out of it. This semester she suggested we play as a class. She went to the trouble of putting together a very nice presentation to try and onboard us, and we went on our way. Of course, even this wasn’t enough—well, now that I’ve got little kids and too much email—but after a week and seeing other students catching on, I put off some of that office work to really give it a try this morning. I did indeed get somewhere, and even though I’d still say I’m not very far from being a total newb, I’d like to try and share those stepping stones in case you too are on that other side.

Crossing over, that is sticking with the game enough to get over the initial learning curve is worth it. The game is fun and has something to contribute to the evolution of AR gaming.

Why Ingress Is Hard

Impenetrable. That was my initial assessment of the game, and it kept me from getting any further than “I don’t know how”. I think it might be worth exploring why.

  • Lots of new vocabulary and content. All the nouns and verbs in the world of Ingress will be new to you, most likely. Even if you have some genre knowledge to make terms familiar, their meanings here may not really match. “Portal” for example might be better recognized if it were called a “beacon”. There is an act in the game where you commandeer a portal for your own team, but that is only peripherally related to the verb “hack” as it is used in the game. “Loot” might be more appropriate word there.
  • A high level of abstraction in the game map. Even though the world of Ingress is layered over the existing world, there is very little transparency; you can’t see the real world underneath very well.
  • The game map itself is hard to read. All the parts of the map are built of particles in two primary colors, green and blue. There are a lot of empty places, and the ones that are not are effectively cluttered. It’s hard to tell what’s what. The combines with the newness of the content to put you in a place where you don’t know what you’re look at or for as a newcomer.
  • The number of verbs is pretty high, even when you first start the game.
  • The tutorials confuse you about the game world. The tutorials are designed to layer on top of the game world. To make it so they are playable regardless of what is around you in that game world (a nice intention), they add new portals etc. into your world. But this wasn’t very clear to me. I found myself wondering after each tutorial where the portal went that I just saw on the map and hacked. This is worse if you are starting in an already populated level because of the visual clutter I already mentioned.
  • The tutorials don’t require you to move. Another nice intention that ends up being a bit confusing when transitioning to the actual game.
  • You don’t have much control over the map. This is still frustrating to me. Your ability to zoom out is very limited. If there’s nothing near you and you’re just stating out, it’s hard to imagine what you should be doing.
  • There is not NPC content. WoW produced an accessible MMO by having some rails to run new players on. The single player campaigns in many games works in a similar way.
  • Linking is really complicated. I’ve looked back at the tutorial several times and have a hard time remembering the proper order of steps. This is complicated by the ability to only hold one key, the cool-down period on hacking portals, and the visual clutter making it hard to see if a portal is already linked.
  • Almost redundant UI. There are two places to go to interact with a portal. One is by tapping on the portal itself, bringing up a menu of options along with information about the portal. The other is to hold down on your turtle (aka avatar, arrow). A menu of verbs pops up and disappears when you lift your finger. It is hard to remember that you can “fire xm burst”.
  • The training menus are rather buried in the interface once you’ve begun the game and are coming back after an absence.

There are probably more, but that should suffice to give the picture a rather difficult to understand game. I really think a highly manicured, totally separate, single player training world would go a long way to making players familiar with the ins and outs of this system before being dropped in the mess of the dynamically evolving real game world.

Help for the Ingress Newb

In addition to the difficulty of the game, I mentioned I had overcome some of it. Maybe, reflecting on this progress, I can find a way to make it easier for others. Here are some hints and descriptions.

  1. Know that it’s all a bit of a confusing mess. The way it looks, all the terms; you will need to learn new things to play. Be patient with yourself.
  2. Do the tutorials first, at least enough to grok “hacking”, “fire xm”, and “placing” and “recharging” “resonators. They are actually helpful if you don’t try to do too much at once, and as long as you get that they are separate from the game world. ignore the game world outside the tutorials for the time being.
  3. Your first basic task (after the tutorials) is to go find portals. They are the more dense aggregations of particle effects. Color doesn’t matter really. Once there is a portal in your circle of influence, tap on it. Then choose “hack” from the menu. You can only hack each portal once every few minutes. You get stuff when you hack portals.
  4. Through this business you build up “xm”. Think of this as an energy meter. You cn keep doing stuff as long as you have enough.
  5. One other activity you can do right away is use your “xm” to recharge (the resonators on) friendly portals. Same process as hacking, just a different menu item.
  6. An activity you can do with enemy portals is “fire xm” at them. You need both “xm” and a “xmp burster” (you get them from hacking). Hold on an nearby enemy portal, and choose “fire xm” from the menu.
  7. You may be lucky enough to find a friendly portal with a less than full compliment of “resonators” (8). If so, you can add them if you have them. Same a hacking, just another menu item.
  8. The idea is that there is lots of “xm” scattered about and you collect it by being nearby. There is something I’m missing here because it seems like I’m sometimes near a bunch of it but it’s just sitting there. I’ve just been moving on regardless.

Getting this far into the technical aspect of the game feels like a good place to be as a newcomer. I’m already incentivized to keep going places, and find that I feel like a young boy playing “secret agent” when I’m hanging out at a portal and hacking or whatever. Again, the two big limitations on this for me are

  • Not being able to zoom the map out far enough.
  • The muddled dance of linking.

The only technical problem (as opposed to design problems) I’ve run into is that the chat tabs are really unresponsive. Switching over to “alerts” from “faction” for example rarely seems to work and the chat has completely frozen the app twice.

I hope this short post has been helpful. Happy hacking!

 

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