Wednesday, January 02, 2013


A lot of people keep trying to get me into MMOs.  "You could join our Guild," I hear.  "We Raid on Mondays!"  But I've held off.

See, I used to be on Dark Age of Camelot, back in the day when it was new.  And I enjoyed the hell out of it. A bit too much.  As I told my friends when I quit, "I like being employed and having a girlfriend."  Neither of which would have continued had I not dropped Dark Age.

That was more than ten years ago, and I haven't played any MMO for more than about ten minutes since - always on a friend's account.  Oddly, I have found them less and less addictive as time has gone by, despite the improvements in graphics and user interface.

A good friend of mine was very into the "I Love Bees" viral Augmented Reality Game that was done a few years ago.  It seemed interesting, but not to the point where I wanted to spend a lot of time on it.  But I've kept my eye out for ARGs ever since.

Because I can play an ARG without giving up my day job or my wife or ... really, anything else around me.

In Mid-November, I started seeing teaser information about a game called "Ingress."  I did some homework and joined the waiting list. On November 27th, I was given my invite code. I excitedly signed in and downloaded the app.  I ran through the tutorial and ... it was okay. It sounded like it had potential, though.

Having completed the tutorial, I was then given very little information on the two factions in the game and was asked to choose one. So I did.

So here is how the game is played:  You wander around with your phone's GPS active, looking at a map that looks like it was drawn for Tron.  Does anyone else remember the Turtle for the Apple IIc?  It was a little arrowhead that you would tell where to go so it would draw a line on screen for you.  The symbol for you on your minimap is a turtle with a circle around it.

There are glowing spots of "Exotic Matter (XM)" that, when they are in your circle, you will absorb them.  Until you hit your limit.

Occasionally, you will find a Portal.  Inevitably, it will already be claimed by someone of a much higher level than you are.  If it's claimed by the same team, then it won't attack you when you hack it and you won't gain any experience points (AP) for hacking it.  But you might get a key or some resonators or some XMP Bursters or, perhaps, a portal shield or some media (a scanned drawing of some sort).

Sadly, the only things the tutorial told you about are the keys and the resonators. And my phone screen is too small to read the media - which is odd, because I have a big phone. And it's worth mentioning that the resonators and bursters all have levels associated with them. As a Level 1 player, I can only use Level 1 items.

If you hack an enemy portal, you will get 100 AP, and you might also get some of the stuff.  And it'll attack you with a lightning bolt that will drain some of your XM.

Other players don't show up on your map at all.  Ever.  There is zero direct player interaction in the game.  It's all about trying to claim portals for your team.

So what do the other items do?  Well, if you're next to a friendly portal, you can upgrade it by placing resonators (unless it already has eight of them) or portal shields (unless it already has four of them).  If you are able to place a higher level than is already there, it will allow you to do so.

If you are next to an enemy portal, you can set off your XMP Bursters, which do damage to enemy resonators.  If you are level one, you will want close to 200 Bursters before making an attempt on any of the portals you'll find, though.  Because you do less damage to higher level portals.

You can also link portals, if you have keys.  The links can't pass through existing links, however, so by creating a link, you are potentially blocking your allies form forming better links.  And, if you link enough portals, you can create a control field, which gains points for your team.  Oh - and resonators (which are how you control portals) decay over time.  Roughly 10% per day.

So what are the flaws in the game, and how can they be fixed?

1)  Not Enough Portals Exist - They are already asking users to submit possible portal locations which will fix this issue.

2) Level One Players Will Never Get Anywhere - It takes 10,000 AP to go up to Level 2.  Seriously.  You get 100 AP for successfully hacking an enemy portal, and some AP for successfully linking portals.  Unfortunately, most of the portals are already linked.

Having a portal key means you can send XM to that portal as its resonators degrade - but you don't get any AP for basic maintenance.  If Ingress gave AP for recharging portals, then lower-level players would have a reason to help out.  Low-level players should also gain AP just for doing damage to resonators, not just taking them out. Because right now, there's no point to my setting off bursters.

3) Items Are Not Explained Well - I set off an XMP Burster in a parking lot, once, just to see what it did. It took me a week to figure out how to add a Portal Shield to one of our portals.

4) All Portals Are Equal - If I'm a Level Eight player and I happen to wander through Podunk, Idaho, I can take out the enemy resonators and install Level Eight resonators of my own with no problem.  And it'll take months for them to hit Level Two just hacking me repeatedly - and years for them to take the portal down if I keep it updated.  I have effectively claimed Podunk, Idaho for my faction until someone higher level from their faction wanders through and does the same thing in reverse (which keeps the locals from gaining any AP).

If some portals were "locked" at lower levels, then this wouldn't be possible.  When I hit Level Two, there is no reason for me to carry Level One Resonators anymore.  By limiting some portals to lower levels, suddenly the lower-level players have portals they can fight over.  Since portals reportedly stop dropping lower level resonators as I level up, it's not a portal I can claim - yes, I can use my Level Eight XMP Burster to known their stuff down, but I'll need someone from our side at a lower level to reclaim the portal.

Google has been recording our movements in the game, too.  And they know how many keys for each portal exist in the world.  Maybe if the very high-traffic portals were locked at a lower level, it'd help out the lower-level players, too.  Maybe limit the remote portals to being at about the same level as the player or players nearby, too.

5) Player Interaction - I realize that this is a privacy concern. But I'd like to see other players on my map. Maybe players would only show when they have the app active - it means some sort of popup clickthrough when loading the app, but I'd be okay with that.  But I'd like to be able to give my stuff away.  I'd like to be able to see who in a crowd is playing and who isn't.  Even if it only showed me friendlies, that'd be something.  As it is, the only interaction I'm getting is via the forums that the Seattle Resistance has set up.  I'm lucky - I live in an area with a lot of portals and some very active (and creative) players.

So would I recommend Ingress to new players?  No.  If you get an invite, don't squander it - but don't expect to enjoy the game, yet, either.

I have a hunch it'll get better over time, but it's just not there, yet.

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