The Niantic Project: Ingress By Felicia Hajra-Lee – A Much Better Follow-Up

This is the second novel from the Ingress Niantic Project.

Like I have anticipated after reading a sample chapter from the previous book The Alignment Ingress, Felicia Hajra-Lee’s writing style is more agreeable to me.  It does not feel like trying to fit Ingress into an established storyline like Thomas Greanias’s book does.  It feels like I am reading a book on Ingress told from the inside.  In the previous book, Ingress was described like a digital game mashed into a classic treasure hunt plot.  Hajra-Lee’s approach is different.  She has shared insights on what exotic matter does (in fact, Exotic Matter was the original title of this book) and how XM affects the bodies of some.  There is this subtle notion of the two opposing ideals a similar way that we have the two factions in game.  One that opposes to being ‘shaped’ by the XM transmission and one that embraces that for our next evolution.  I would say The Niantic Project Ingress is bias towards the Resistance faction – at least that is how I perceived it to be.  But I suppose a story told from one perspective can be an engaging read.

Those who have followed Ingress on Google+ may be aware of the ‘real life’ events that happened around (government funded?) Niantic Lab.  The facility has been locked down after an explosion due to an experiment that involved exotic matter and power cube.  Since then, key characters have fled the premise with valuable information.  Kill orders have been issued.  Even ADA the virtual reality entity seems to have come up with her own agenda.  Without a base, some of these key characters have decided or being forced to approach the Chinese and the Russian in order to continue the project using private funding.  And then, a third organization seems to have formed by the ‘patriots’.

There is plenty of action, plenty of intriguing insights in the world of Ingress.  The narration of this novella tends to flip between different characters rather frequently making it at times a slightly disorientating read.  And it does not have that climatic ending that makes you go wow.  Yet another introduction on what is to come?  Judging from where this book is heading as well as the Ingress events that took place in Google+, the next chapter of this Niantic archives series could well be heading to anomaly whereby a new type of matter is found – dark matter or chaotic matter.  I am excited to find out more.

 

The Enlightenment: A Journey Of Ingress

I have been wanting to write an article on Ingress – an augmented reality game by NianticLabs@Google or better known as the Niantic Project – for months.  But every so often, the more I dive into this ‘game’, a new dimension of game play and awareness has opened up.  That prompted me to observe more reminded me the inadequacy of my understanding.  Now that I am at the end game, while the journey from now on may still be long, it is a high time to share my initial thoughts of Ingress.

How Ingress Has Changed My Life Thus Far

Perhaps a better way to introduce this augmented reality game is by listing out how in the last three months, Ingress has changed me.

  1. I walk a lot more these days, progressively over time.  My daily walking exercise can go up to 10 km a day, including pockets of sprinting activity.  For someone who seldom exercise and often stays behind a computer at work and at home, this is amazing.
  2. My wife comments that my heartbeat is now slower and more steady (yes, we hug each other to sleep each night).  I feel healthier too.
  3. I have met more new friends face-to-face than I ever would have in years.  And we keep in touch regularly.
  4. I have discovered new and interesting places, monuments, and artworks that I would have easily missed.
  5. I have rekindled with my photograph passion and am actively taking pictures of what would be interesting locations for future players.

A Brief Introduction to the Lore

Level 8, finally!

The folks from the Niantic Project insist that Ingress is not a game.  That it is real.  The following extract from the book The Alignment Ingress sheds light to Portals, Exotic Matter, and Shapers – the key ingredients of this ‘game’.

Portals are transdimensional anomalies through which order data was transmitted via exotic matter (XM). Nobody knew what was contained in this data, only that it is sequenced and thus engineered by some intelligent.

All of which beg the question of who or what is on the other side of these portals? Again, nobody knew. For the timing being, whatever they are have been coined with the term “Shapers”, because it appears that this ordered data in exotic matter had for centuries been shaping human thought and influencing human civilization. The existence of the world’s ancient shrines, monuments and cities around XM portals made the link indisputable.

Because of that, agents (or players) all around the world are examining ancient and modern architecture, monuments and street arts, sending photographs to NianticLabs for XM verification.  In fact, this aspect forms an important part of the game, in allowing the players to expand on the Ingress universe.

Core to Ingress is two factions divided.  The Enlightened and the Resistance.  The Enlightened (green) believes that we shall open our eyes and look upon the exotic matter and Shapers as an inspiration towards our next evolution.  The Resistance (blue) believes that the key to survival is to be free from Shapers’ influence.  Hence, the eye and key as the respective logos for the two.

Shapers are entities with an agenda. Whether it is for good or evil remains to be seen. But if the Shapers have wanted to destroy humanity, they could easily induce humans to destroy themselves. So far, however, we have not noticed any violent intentions for the Shapers.

The only thing anybody knows is that the Shapers want something from people, and that nobody knows what it is.

The conflict between the two factions is very real.  In a way, it can be rather sad to see how Ingress has divided my friends into two camps.  Whatever the future holds, the very notion of Enlightened and Resistance seems to have the power to attract two distinct set of personalities into either camp, generally speaking.

To sign up for Ingress, visit http://www.ingress.com/.

What About the Game?

Ingress can be thought as a game of capture-the-flag using real world landmarks as the objects of contest.  Both factions compete to capture the portals.  Once the portals are captured, depending on the availability of resources called keys, teams can then form triangular fields.  The larger the field is, the more Mind Unit (i.e. estimated human presence within the area) it controls.  That figure rolls up to the global level and ultimately influence how the battle between the two factions turns out.

It is worthwhile to showcase field creation in Ingress.  Because that is where the fun lies.

  • Portal A can be linked to Portal B so long as the player is physically close to Portal A and has a key to Portal B.
  • A key of a particular portal can be obtained by hacking of that portal.  Key dropping is random in nature.
  • Once a link is established, the key is consumed.
  • A field is formed when three portals are connected to each other.
  • A link cannot cross an existing link, cannot be established to an enemy portal.
  • A link can be created from a Portal lying at the boundary of a field into any Portal inside the field.  But not vice versa.  Layered fields – i.e. fields within a field – created this way rewards more Action Points (for leveling) and Mind Units.
  • A larger field can envelope another smaller field in totality creating another type of layered field.  Doing so rewards more Mind Units.
  • Each link a Portal has adds to the strength of that Portal making it harder to be destroyed.
  • Creating links and fields rewards more Action Points than destroying links and fields.
  • How far apart the Portals can be linked depends on the level of the Portals.  Higher level Portals can be linked from a further distance than lower level Portals.

Because no two portals are deployed the same way even at the same location – due to human positioning, GPS accuracy (or rather inaccuracy), the portal’s level, and how connected the portals are – the approach to the capture of a portal or a set of portals can be different in any given day.  Besides, new portals are frequently added into the game.  Ingress game mechanic evolves over time too.

Forming fields in CBD is hard!

In my work area, I often can take my time capturing portals and creating fields.  Not so for the portals in the Central Business District.  To create the fields above, I had to defend and recapture the portals a few times over.  To shock-and-awe the enemy with the fields, I had to do a final capture, dash across the few portals at the bottom, and create the link within a short time!

My Milestones

Due to the fact that I am obsessed about taking screenshots, I am able to put together the milestones of my journey with Ingress.

  • Jan 29 – Training day.
  • Jan 30 – Discovered 2 portals in my work area in the afternoon.  In the evening, headed downtown and attempted to strike a level 6 portal as a level 1 and had my first taste of you’ve been hit!
  • Feb 1 – Submitted my first portal via email.  It was approved approximately 2 months later.
  • Feb 5 – Hit level 2 by hacking and recharging portals.
  • Feb 22 – Captured my first portal at Greenwich.  It was a new one, unclaimed.  I was meeting with my buddy Mark for lunch in a mall up north.  I was level 3 by then.
  • Mar 4 – Took down a level 6 portal at Changi City Point as a level 3 and the one next to it as well.  By then, there were 6 portals in my work area.
  • Mar 14 – Took down Singapore Flyer portal for my wife to deploy.  My first experience as someone who helps others to level instead of getting the maximum Action Points for myself.
  • Mar 15 – Finally met one of the high level agents in the Expo area.  Together, we built fields and I leveled up to 4 in no time.
  • Mar 22 – The number of portals in my work area has steadily been increased to 8.
  • Mar 23 – Charlie a.k.a me finally got to team with with my ‘angels’ – Hana, Moana, and my wife – and we struck Central Business District in late evening hours.  Hana and I smashed portals and Moana and my wife deployed and upgraded them.  It was a fun evening until Hana dropped off the radar and lost contact (out of battery).
  • Mar 26 – Leveled up to 5 by building more fields in my work area.
  • Mar 29 – Started to team up with my wife during weekends.  The two of us maintain a portal cluster near our home.
  • Apr 5 – Resistance has a fast leveling agent in our work area that flipped the portals in record time.  That pushed me to level 6 in record time as well.
  • Apr 16 – The Resistance agent continued to up his tempo.  With more portals going live, that gave both sides more opportunity to progress.  On that day, I leveled up to 7.
  • Apr 28 – Even as the Resistance agent in our area has reached the level cap of 8, he continued his obsession in destroying our fields and denying his faction members of gaining any easy Action Point.  Due to the sheer number of portals and links, even when I did not do much, I gained quite a bit of Action Points every day.  As for the final push to level 8, I systematically captured the portals from Changi Business Park to Expo and later on, two locations in Bedok.  The operation ended at 04:55 once I reached the level cap of 8.

This comes from my work area!

On the night before I hit level 8, I revisited my work area on a weekend after midnight.  By now, there are 15 portals in the area.  Compare to only 2 when I first started playing Ingress 3 months ago.  See that missing link?  Regretfully, the game did not allow me to link even though I have the correct key.  What a pity.

Leveling Progress: Balanced or Not?

I used to have this discussion with Leo – my friend from Google+ – on how balanced or imbalanced leveling is in Ingress.  Here are two graphs for sharing.

Level versus Dates

This chart shows the pace of leveling across level 1 to 8.

Action Points acquired versus Dates

This chart shows the pace of Action Points acquisition across level 1 to 8

As a disclaimer, this analysis is academic in nature because there are so many variables that affects the pace we level up in Ingress.  There has been feedback that leveling is a lot slower in the beginning, which in my case, it is somewhat true.  The rate of leveling from 2 to 4 is slower than from level 4 onward.  This could be due to a few reasons.  Most portals in Singapore are pretty high level.  It is quite impossible – and inefficient – for any agent lower than level 4 to capture a portal.  In addition, what can be linked has already been linked.

In my case though, it is because I have met the local agents face-to-face when I was level 4.  They have helped me a great deal.  What is interesting is that in order to maintain the linear progress from level 4 to 8, I actually had to double my pace of Action Points acquisition each time I level.  Given the fact that I have also devoted more time to help others to level during that period of time (and hence indirectly slowed down my pace), one explanation is that I have become even more active.  And the increased number of portals and the new places that I have visited helped.  Our local Resistance agent going nuclear on us in the past month helped too.

In Search of Inner Happiness with Ingress at End Game

I have learned a lot during this short period of time.  Not only from a game mechanic’s perspective, but also how I see things in life.  More amazingly so, I have learned from some who are so much younger than me.  In some ways, I feel I am enlightened.

  1. Keep It Fun and Fair – In a player-versus-player multiplayer online game like Ingress, it is easy to grow possessive and obsessive on what you think are rightfully yours.  That can be mentally tiresome.  Think of Ingress as a basketball game with no end.  A basketball game is interesting when you see two teams have a fair share of ball possession and interaction.  Think beyond yourself.  Think beyond your faction.  Ingress as a whole is fun because we from either faction enjoy playing it.  A healthy dose of frustration is OK because when done right, usually that makes a game fun.  But there is no point in having too much fun on your own in the expense of others.  Give others a chance to play.
  2. Role Playing in Moderation – I love the role playing aspect of almost any game I have played.  That enables you to submerge deeper into the fantasy world.  Yes, there are two factions in this game and unfortunately, not every one is friendly to each other.  This does not have to affect real life relationship though.  Try to be sensitive on the things you say or you may find yourself losing a real life friend over a game, which is rather unnecessary.
  3. Be a Mentor – It is never too early to take on a mentor role and help out the new players.  Show them the tips and tricks.  Think before action.  Do I really need to take down those fields when I don’t need the Action Points any more or shall I leave the job to someone who needs it?  Shall I fully deploy a portal when there is a much lower level player around?  Once you are approaching the level cap, you are leveling others as well.  Be it as they will help you or not in the future.
  4. Help to Build and Sustain a Community – I am fortunately enough to be invited into a local community and meet many helpful people who would go totally out of their way simply to assist.  It is not easy to build and sustain a community.  Some are paying it forward.  How about you?
  5. Explore -While Ingress revolves largely around portal capture and field building, a vital part of the game is to explore new places.  I enjoy visiting new clusters that I have not been to.  All I have to do is to follow the portals and most of the time, I am rewarded with the discovery of new places of interest.  And when you discover new places that are not yet in the game?  Submit them as portal suggestion for the future players to explore.
  6. Meet New Friends – I know many are shy meeting strangers and prefer to play alone.  It is normal to feel that way.  I can tell you that Ingress rewards handsomely when you group with others and you would tell me that you are not hang up with progress (which in your heart, you might).  Let me share this with you.  You are likely to find common interests among Ingress players than any random strangers you meet on the street or friends of your friends.  Because the game encourages frequent collaboration, you may end up meeting your new friends in Ingress more than your existing real life friends.
  7. Be Creative – Doing the same thing again and again can be boring.  The key is to be creative and find something fun and different to do.  Recently, my enemy agent and I like to tear each other’s fields apart and build something totally different, incorporating layered fields design.  Your community may be doing a large scale operation too.  Participate and do something new.  That way, you may keep the passion alive and not fall into the same old grinding routine.

My first attempt to build a relatively large field.

One day, I was unable to build any fields in the usual Changi City Point cluster (where the high concentration of green dots was) because a friendly agent has out of nowhere created a long link into the mall cutting off any possibility of creating decent fields.  Further investigation showed that we only needed one more link from the beach into the mall to complete the triangle.  Knowing that our enemy agent would unfailingly tear down all the green portals before 7 pm, I was racing against time to reach the lone green by the beach (bottom left green dot).  I was not familiar with the area and got lost.  In the end, I have jogged 1.2 km along the beach in order to reach the portal before time ran out.  That day, before my jogging, I have already walked in excess of 12 km.  But I made it, scoring more than 30,000 Mind Units.  The game does not reward effort like this.  However, I felt fulfilled that day knowing that I have done something different for a change.

The Alignment Ingress By Thomas Greanias: A Worthy Read?

The first novella from the augmented reality game Ingress.

This may not be a popular post among the Ingress community because those who are playing this augmented reality game and have read the novella seems to love it.  However, just because everyone seems to love Nolan’s Batman series doesn’t mean that there aren’t common voices within that have a different opinion.  Here are a few observations for sharing if you are curious to know if The Alignment Ingress is your cup of tea.

First of all, let me say that I am a huge fan of Ingress and its communities.  I have spent many walking hours playing the game.  I enjoy reading books that are spawned from a game, like the novels from World of Warcraft.  Reading The Alignment Ingress, I would expect to have a better clarity on the lore and the characters involved.  I enjoy reading mysterious and code solving types of novels like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol.  This novella has a promising start with a picture of Queen of Sheba and a celestial map of Virgo – both appear to match each other perfectly.  There is a treasure to be discovered.  The Alignment Ingress has a fair amount of military weaponry jargon, which I am OK with as I have once ground through Tom Clancy’s mightily thick books.  But here lies the challenge, this novella is short.  Packing all these ingredients in and making it an entertaining read is no easy feat.

There are two main characters in this novella: Conrad Yeats and Hank Johnson who seek ancient treasure and truth.  Conrad Yeats is a known character from the author’s previous books.  So if you have not read any of Greanias’s books in the past, you probably would find it a little bit hard to relate to some of the characters because character development in this novella is scarce.  There are Ingress related explanations dotted throughout the book – which is good for those who play the game more than following the lore in Ingress website.  What I find missing is how the dots connect to each other.  Yes, I now know what exotic matter is, even chaotic matter that is not yet live in the game.  ADA, the female voice from the game.  Various organizations.  And portals of course.  But how do all these really link to each other?  More importantly, what is the Shapers and the real agendas of different entities?  The novella doesn’t say.  Out of nowhere, the two factions – Resistance and Enlightened – are mentioned.  But why such division from the start?  Who are leading the factions?  How do the characters in this novella relate to these factions?  It doesn’t say either.

On the puzzle solving bits, the beginning was promising.  I was anticipating a Da Vinci Code-like journey.  Throughout the mid section of the book, more insights mixed with Biblical events are thrown in.  It is only till the very end when the solution is revealed.  It is a great ending no doubt despite a lack of depth.  However, I wish I was able to solve the mystery alongside with the narration as the plot progresses like Dan Brown’s books.

There is a fair bit of technical jargon with regards to drones and explosive that lost me for a moment.  Not because I have no interest in the topic.  This novella does not have the luxury of the length of Tom Clancy’s books that explain the parts in great details.  But I enjoy seeing how modern day gadgets like Nexus devices and the social media site Google+ are being mentioned.  There seems to be a tinny bit of romance too.  I guess only those who follow the author’s previous books may be able to relate.

All in all, maybe I am expecting too much, The Alignment Ingress is still a pretty good read for the most hardcore fans.  Ironically, I seem to enjoy reading a link from the novella that leads to a chapter from another up-coming book by Felicia Hajra-Lee called An Exotic Matter the most.  There is a fair bit of suspense and an interesting character development within.  I am curious about what that may turn out.

The Alignment Ingress comes in two digital versions (as far as I know).  I bought the Kindle version.  On a hindsight, if I were to have a Nexus tabulate, the Google Book version would have been a better choice.  Because the novella contains links to external sites and that don’t open well in Kindle PaperWhite, I have to toggle between reading on a Kindle and on a PC so as to dive into these extra bits of the story.