The creators of Pokémon Go have totally revamped their original game — and it's perfect for Pokémon masters looking for a new challenge
- Before there was Pokémon Go, there was Ingress - the original map-based augmented reality game, originally introduced in 2013.
- Now, developer Niantic has relaunched the game with Ingress Prime, bringing revamped graphics, sound, tutorials, story, and pretty much everything else.
- Ingress Prime is way more complex than Pokémon Go. But for Pokémon trainers who are on their way to catching them all, it could be a welcome level of new challenge.
- Niantic itself sees Ingress as a platform for experimenting with its own real-world gaming technologies, as it works to build better augmented reality tools.
Before Pokémon Go turned the entire world into a Pokémon scavenger hunt in 2016, there was Ingress - the original map-based augmented reality smartphone game that was also created by game developer Niantic.
Ingress first launched in 2013, back when Niantic was still a subsidiary of Google. It never attained the mainstream success of its Pokémon-flavoured successor, but Ingress had, and continues to have, legions of dedicated players all around the globe. For a taste, here's my friend Laura Michet's account of her experience falling down the Ingress rabbit hole circa 2014. Even now, Niantic hosts Ingress events, called Anomolies, that draw players from all over the world.
"Everything that we put into Pokemon Go, everything we're putting into [Niantic's forthcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite], came from insights we got from Ingress," Niantic CEO John Hanke said in a meeting with reporters last week.
Now, Ingress is back, baby, with Ingress Prime, a revamped and relaunched version of the game with new graphics, new sound effects, a new storyline, and various and sundry other improvements. It's functionally the same game as before, but revitalised to bring it up to modern standards. Indeed, if you already have Ingress installed, Ingress Prime comes as a normal app update to the base game.
Here's the trailer:
Niantic was nice enough to hook me up with early access to Ingress Prime, before it started rolling out to players on Monday. In truth, I haven't had much time to play: My home is in kind of a dead zone for Niantic's brand of real-world location tracking, which made it tricky to play over the weekend.
What is clear, however, is that Ingress Prime is way more intense than Pokémon Go - and it could be the perfect challenge for any Pokémon player who's already "caught them all."
How Ingress works
The basic components of Ingress should be familiar to any "Pokémon Go" player. You walk around the real world, finding points of interest - public art, historical landmarks, or other notable sites - and claiming them for your team. The two games are built on the same database of interesting locations, so there's a ton of overlap.
But where Pokémon Go has Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms, Ingress has Portals. Same idea, but...this is where it gets complicated.
Whenever you're near a Portal, you can hack it to gain resources, like Resonators and XMP Bursters. Resonators help you claim a Portal for your team, while XMP Bursters are your main weapon for taking down those guarded by the opposition.
Still with me? Okay, so: You can link two or more Portals together, strengthening them and making them harder to take down. But for the link to work, there can't be any Portals claimed by the enemy in the way. This means that linking is easy at short distances, but harder over long range.
But if your team manages to make a triangle by linking three Portals, it gets to claim the entire area for its own, thus winning major points over the other team, in a process called "fielding." This means that Ingress players - who, by the way, take it incredibly seriously - get into real turf wars, trying to claim entire cities, counties, and sometimes states for their own.
Even the story is complicated. It involves a clash between the two teams: The Enlightened, who want to use the power of the Portals to benefit mankind, and the Resistance, who want to close the Portals to protect humanity. As part of the Ingress Prime relaunch, the story, too, has had something of a reboot. A new web series from Niantic introduces the major characters, while an Ingress anime will soon come to Netflix, featuring new music by Alt-J.
The story can be affected by player choice. Those Anomoly events come with their own story developments, and however each team performs, that has some kind of bearing on what happens next in the struggle between the Resistance and the Enlightened.
It's kind of a lot. As an Ingress newbie, it's all kind of overwhelming. But as an active Pokémon Go player since day one, I do have to admit, I'm intrigued by the apparent depth of Ingress Prime's story, and its more competitive aspects.
The bigger picture
In the grand scheme, the launch of Ingress Prime comes at a pivotal moment for Niantic.
Pokémon Go may no longer be the global phenomenon it once was, but it's still a very popular smartphone game in its own right. And there's no reason to believe that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the next big Niantic game due out later this year, won't be popular, too.
At the same time, though, Niantic is trying to reposition itself, not as a gaming company, but as the creator of tools and software to build augmented reality games and apps powered by the technology pioneered in its hit titles. Niantic has promised to detail more of its plans in that regard later this year.
"Our vision of AR is that the world is the computer, the world is the interface," Hanke told reporters.
That's why Ingress is important, said Niniane Wang, Niantic's senior engineer. As Niantic builds out its "Real World Platform," Ingress is the company's first and best platform for trying out new things. After all, unlike its other titles, Niantic owns the rights to Ingress lock, stock, and barrel, freeing it up to play around without restriction.
To that end, a later update to Ingress Prime will include an augmented reality mode that projects a map of the area over the real world, as a way to play with the combination of those technologies.
"Since we own this IP, we can be more innovative and experimental," Wang said.
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