Beneath this world, full of mundane work and chores and ho-hum everyday things, lies another layer of existence chock-full of wonderful, borderline mystical excitement. This almost alternative reality isn't secret, per se--it's just that most people don't know how to really see it.
This is the premise of Ingress, an invite-only gaming app favored by Android geekorati. And this very "secret world" premise is seemingly built into the bones of Niantic Labs, the clandestine Google outfit behind Ingress and Field Trip, Niantic's other forward-thinking app.
Niantic's hidden worlds are paving the way for a new reality when situationally intelligent data (like Google Now) and wearable computing (like Google Glass) become the norm. Beyond this world of smartphones and physical senses lie vast swathes of new possibilities, hints of truly augmented realities. Niantic Labs wants to blaze the trail for these technologies.
"The goal?" Niantic head John Hanke repeats when I ask him what the grand goal for Ingress is, aside from coaxing otherwise sedentary gamers deeper out of their basement cocoons. He pauses for a moment.
What is Ingress?
But before we delve into the future, we have to delve into the game. First and foremost, Ingress was built to be just plain fun--and just plain useless unless you put your boots on the ground and wander out into the world.
Ingress, currently in invite-only beta on Android, is an augmented reality game that forces players to choose between two factions--the Enlightened and the Resistance--and then take to the physical streets and battle the opposing force for control of Portals set in real-world locations. Deploying virtual resonators and shields beefs up your own Portals, while hack attacks break down the opposition's strongholds. Portals in close proximity can be linked together to form Control Fields if your team controls them all, and the population count of the areas in a Control Field adds to your faction's global score.
All of the action takes place on your smartphone screen, an augmented reality layered over a Google Maps-powered grid of local streets. Chat functions let you plan group maneuvers or taunt the enemy. (Resistance for life!)
That's an ultra-basic description; the game is a lot more fun (and detailed) than that staid explanation.
Making things even more interesting is the deep backstory Niantic has actively woven around the game, a tale of conspiracy and secret codes and mind-controlling Shapers from other dimensions, all propelled forward by the Niantic Project website, an Ingress YouTube Channel, and the Ingress and Niantic Project Google+ accounts. There are even Ingress books.
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