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Deep inside Ingress, the Google-made game that's paving the way for Glass

Brad Chacos | June 6, 2013
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.

Characters from the narrative frequently turn in up the real world, such as Misty Hannah and Klue S.'s recent appearance at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, the big Ingress battle at Google I/O, and the mysterious "Anomaly" event scheduled for June 7 in Cross Plains, Texas.

Taken as a whole, Ingress is an awesome game, but beyond that, it's also an awesome experience if you drink deep from the universe Niantic has cultivated. Try it out if you can--you can request an invite on the Niantic Project website, beg a current player (like me!) for an invite, or ping the Ingress Google+ account with a creative request to try and crack open the door.

It's hella fun, and it sprouted from very simple roots. Niantic head John Hanke wants you to go outside.

Just go outside!
"When we set up the Niantic group, the goal was to look at this intersection of mobile and location--and entertainment, to some extent--and try to build apps that would encourage people to get the most out of their city, or town, or of being outside," Hanke says.

Exploring the intersection of location and mobility and technology--"ubiquitous computing," as it's often called--is nothing new for Hanke. Before leading up Niantic, he led product management for Google's "Geo" division of location-based services, and before that, Hanke founded Keyhole, a company that was eventually bought by Google and transformed into the seminal Google Earth.

"We want to encourage people to move and explore," Hanke continues. "Those higher-level goals inspired both Field Trip and Ingress--they kind of grew up together. They share some DNA."

More than being just talk, that philosophy is built into the bones of Ingress.

Virtually all of Ingress's Portals are situated around major landmarks of native interest: Markers, museums, statues, parks, esteemed places of learning, restaurants shaped like footwear, or similar locations. (Users can also submit local landmarks for Portal consideration.) And to gain the "Exotic Matter" energy needed to battle for those Portals, you'll often need to traverse parks, walkways, and other off-the-beaten-path locales.

That said, Niantic is part of Google. Information generated by Ingress is being used as a testing ground for something bigger--a guinea pig for software built for wearable computers and augmented reality.

Peering at the future
"The first generation of mobile apps were basically desktop apps transplanted to mobile," Hanke explains. "Then we started to see apps that could only really exist on mobile--things that take advantage of mobility, location, sensors, and other various things that are unique to mobile, so that you have these experiences that are kind of native to mobile. That was the second phase.

 

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