Smartphones come with ample ways to connect users to the world and people around them. As of late, they have gained the ability to automatically inform users when there is a highly rated attraction or restaurant nearby using the location- and context-aware features. And, as I touched on earlier this week, it's getting easier to discover and meet new people in your area through applications designed specifically for that.
Among the various developments, several startups and development teams have focused their efforts on augmented reality (AR). While efforts and the technology itself seem promising, no notable use cases have come of augmenting reality on smartphones. At best, AR is a novelty in its current form.
Imagine these three technologies being paired into a single application with an objective – a game that incorporates your location, people and hot spots around you and a futuristic, sci-fi tale for the ages. It would be somewhat like a cooler, digital version of competitive geocaching.
Sounds pretty awesome, huh?
Meet Ingress, a new game developed by a startup within Google named Niantic Labs. In essence, it is a location-based AR MMMO, or augmented reality massive multiplayer mobile online game. Ingress is available for free starting today in the Play Store. However, it's Android-only (for now?) and is in a closed beta for an unknown length of time, meaning it requires an invitation to play.
So we know the basic premise of Ingress, but what is it all about? From the Ingress description in the Play Store:
"A mysterious energy has been unearthed by a team of scientists in Europe. The origin and purpose of this force is unknown, but some researchers believe it is influencing the way we think. We must control it or it will control us."
Essentially, this new energy deals with mind control, and you're either behind the energy or against it. Upon starting the game, players will be asked to choose a side: The Enlightened or The Resistance. The Enlightened choose to embrace the newly found energy and utilize it while The Resistance "struggle to defend, and protect what’s left of our humanity."
Google Director of Geo and creator of what we now know as Google Earth, John Hanke, explains that the purpose of the game is to both get people out of the house for physical activity and to experience their surroundings in a new way. The gameplay is simple and interactive. Liz Gannes of AllThingsD explains:
"Users can generate virtual energy needed to play the game by picking up units of 'XM,' which are collected by traveling walking paths, like a real-world version of Pac-Man. Then they spend the energy going on missions around the world to 'portals,' which are virtually associated with public art, libraries and other widely accessible places."
Already, I'm sold. But this isn't the first location-based mobile MMO – far from it. Zombie, Run! incorporates the popular zombie apocalypse tale and turns it into a location-based game. Set your destination and navigate around the hordes of zombies to arrive safely. Outbreak! 2: Zombie Apocalypse takes this concept one step further by adding safe zones and zombie infected zones to the mix. Perblue has also put out a series of Parallel games, such as Parallel Mafia MMO and Parallel Kingdom MMO, which are similar concepts trading out different scenarios, rules and gameplay.
Ingress, though, is definitely one of the more polished, original and intriguing of them all, namely because it's from a startup from within Google itself and the level of detail Niantic Labs appears to have put into the project is astounding. Not to mention, the thought of using this AR game with Google's Project Glass is drool-worthy.
I've downloaded the game to my Galaxy Note II, as well as Niantic's Field Trip app, but have yet to receive an invitation. The minute I do, however, I plan to go out and explore this new, alternate realm within our existing world. I haven't chosen a side just yet, but I'm leaning towards The Resistance. Good luck to the opposition!
Tell me, ladies and gents. Does Ingress intrigue you at all? If not, are there any other mobile AR MMOs that do? Is this the future of mobile gaming?