Gotta Catch ’em All

level41Earlier this Spring I came out (kind of), I announced to the blog-o-sphere that I am Ingress player.

I’ve always been a Gamer, in one form or another.

From that first glimpse of Pong and my Grandfather’s Atari 2600 (which he sold to Soggy… for those in the know).

We had various arcade games on a machine in the family’s fish & chip shop and family games on our ZX Spectrum in the Eighties.

Right through Baldur’s Gate and Diablo in the Nineties; and onto the console wars of the 21st century; I can’t think of a time when my life has not, in some way, been influenced by Gaming.

I LARP, I’ve participated in and run LARP events, tabletop roleplaying sessions.  I’ve played MMOs (finally), single player campaigns and even designed campaigns and systems that nobody will ever play (seriously, I wouldn’t be a genuine roleplayer if I hadn’t! <insert wide grin here for those roleplayers that haven’t delved this deeply into the obsession>)

I’ve written previously about more contemporary games but Ingress was the first to break the mold and invade reality.

That statement probably comes across as somewhat louche from those who know me as a LARPer.

The thing is, LARP is a game which relies on the suspension of disbelief – its very medium is a corruption, ignorance or corruption of reality… some (but not all) particpants cite escapism as their reason for playing.

IngressProfileIngress augments reality.

I’d say a good 90% of my work colleagues are oblivious to the fact that our place or work serves as an anchor to a great many XM fields that ensure the populace of Brighouse are under an alien influence that encourages Art, Love and Creativity.

Unless you’ve been living in a media-proof bubble, you’re already familiar with the company that developed Ingress – Niantic.

Niantic are the brainweasels behind Pokémon GO.

For the past 4 years, Niantic have run Ingress as a successful, GPS based augmented-reality game.

They have encouraged gamers like me to go out into the world, register places of interest that we come across as “XM Portals” and then compete with people in our local areas to control those portals, in a game that has proven both engaging and infuriating over the 3+ years I have played it.

And yet, since shortly after BREXIT, I have neglected Ingress in favour of Niantic’s latest game-child.

I simply have to be the very best.  I have to catch them all!

pogo1Pokémon GO has taken the GPS entities registered by myself and fellow Ingressers (118 places of interest photographed, geographed and registered to date personally) and converted them to either Pokémon Gyms or Pokéstops.

But why?

Why has this fad hooked me in?

Ingress was, by and large, ignored by the mainstream and adopted by Techies (and a few Corporates like me).

In 3 years of playing Ingress I hae become aware of 11 players in the town I work in.

Only 6 of those are what you would class as serious, hardcore, daily players (shout out to agents DMH10, Doodified, Ikibau and Pepian and yah-boo-sucks-to-you to Astral Ranger and DeckardB26354).

Towards the end of last week I took a stroll out on my 30 minutes lunch break (as I usually do) and encountered 15 people playing Pokémon GO.

Fiff-fucking-teen! In a 30 minute (OK, I’ve overshot to 41 recently) period.

15 people playing Niantic’s latest offering, oblivious to the Shaper invasion of Ingress.

My reality wasn’t just augmented… it was skewed!

pogo215! Wow!  Whilst playing Ingress I’d bump into a fellow player – by accident – once in a blue moon.  Most Ingress meet-ups are by design and I shun most of those due to the high number of cheating fuckmonkeys on my team locally.

15 in one day is amazing but why the sudden interest?

Allegedly, Pokémon GO is the most downloaded mobile game ever – EVER!!!1!one!

I never paid much attention to Pokémon in my – erm – late twenties.

Whilst Pokémon was encouraging kids to be the very best, I was building a career as a senior software developer, playing Diablo 2 and dressing up as a Low Elf and fighting the “Dark Alliance” with rubber and latex weaponry.

(OK – by “fighting the Dark Alliance” I mean, being humiliatingly butchered by them – but that’s not the point!)

To date, I’ve shunned Pokémon as irrelevant to my needs.

botpMy own youth was influenced by Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors and Mosschops.

What should I care for random cutesy anime creatures that only seem to speak their own name when I had Thundercats, Transformers and the Masters of the Universe?

Shit son! What constitutedanime” to me in my teens is now classed as “hentai“!

No, the early 21st century’s cartoon pocket monster shenanigans was obviously just a way to part breeders from their money – so that junior could have the latest faecachoo – just like Hasbro did to my parents with transformers when I was a kid.

But now I see what I was missing out on.

You see, Pokémon GO appeals to the Gamer in me.

pogo3Here I am, just under 3 weeks away from my 41st birthday and I’m addicted to a Pokémon game.

You see, it offers everything I need to feed my gaming gland.

Those intelligent bastards at Niantic and Nintendo have hooked me in faster than any schoolyard skag-dealer.

Pokémon GO has 3 whole areas of progression/leveling and if there’s one thing gamers love, it’s leveling.

There is a genuine psychological dependency on character progression.  It’s more addictive than nicotine (which in turn is more addictive than heroin – I can only attest for the veracity of the former statement however).

On top of that, players are encouraged to “catch ’em all”.  I’ve already caught 73 of a possible 150 creatures.

Even better, I can name my Pokémon whatever I like, no profanity filter, just a character limit.

pogo4Like Star Trek: the Next Generation, the mental health benefits of Pokémon GO have been recognised already.

The game gets people out into a pocket-monster-augmented world and interacting with people they never would have thought to interact with previously.

I’m used to that from Ingress – seriously, my local fellow PoGoers seem terrified as I approach them with a toothy grin and demand:

Hi! Are you guys playing Pokémon or Ingress?

This is a genuine phenomenon.

Everywhere I go, I see people playing the game.

And not just the Ingress-paranoia of “Ooh, look, do you think they’re playing Ingress?”.  No this is groups of people, of all demographics, capturing monsters and battling gyms.

pogo5It must be 2 weeks now; 2 weeks of buggy software, overloaded servers and an almost constant Launch App – Attempt Capture/Gym Battle – Force Stop – Launch App cycle… and yet I’m still hooked.

I hit level 20 today, I believe the level cap to be level 50. Now that the server issues seem to have stabilised the game is a real pleasure.

It’s taken me 3 and a half years to get to where I am in Ingress (3 months from level 15 – the cap is 16, I’m 18 months from level 16).

And yet I’m 2/5ths of the way there after 2 weeks!

So there you have it.  I’m a 40-something Pokémon trainer and Gym Leader (until the local Instinct/Valour cock-knockers take out my Vaporeon) and I’m proud… Bring on the wearable!

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Ingress -Huddersfield Banner Mission

2016-04-09 10.56.24I’ve been playing Ingress for over 3 years now and yet despite this, I have not really written about my experiences playing it.

Ingress is a GPS based game, a sort of MMO where you play yourself in augmented reality.

With elements of capture the flag, tower defence and even (to a small degree) role-playing, Ingress has captured the imaginations of millions of players worldwide.

I am genuinely surprised that it has taken me this long to write about it.  I play Ingress daily, it is a part of my daily routine – a part of my life… and yet, I would only class myself as a casual player.

I have travelled to other cities and even met friends that I would not have met if I did not play the game.

After 3+ years I am still only level 14, with a current level cap of 16.  I have seen friends start the game and achieve the maximum level in around a year.

The game has evolved massively since I started playing both in terms of game-play and coverage.

In the early days, agents (the term used in game for players of the game) could submit “portals” – places of interest that can be captured, held and even linked to other portals to gain points within the game.

Portal submissions are no longer accepted (there are rumours this is a feature that may well return) but I did manage to rack up 118 successful submissions while they were.

The only way agents can improve or add to the game currently is by the creation of missions.

Missions (created from the Mission Authoring Tool) are a further incentive to play the game – if you didn’t find the game addictive enough to start with.

missions1I have created 39 missions, including 3 single line “banner” missions, I’m awaiting acceptance of these missions by Niantec (the organisation that created/runs Ingress).

Banner missions are by far the most interesting, rewarding and challenging form of mission.

2016-04-09 12.47.34A mission is a collection of 6 or more portals (or way-points from Google Field trip – but that’s another story) with actions that must be performed on them.

Actions can be sequential or performed in any order and range from a simple “hack” to capturing, upgrading or “modding” a portal.

Agents may even be requested to enter a pass-phrase related to the portal or area they are near.

The only reward an agent receives for a mission is a badge; badges are images created by the mission author and collecting them results in progress to wards the achievement of an in-game medal that aids towards an increase in level.

Banner missions creatively break down larger images into a mosaic of badges that, when collected in sequence, display the larger image in the agent’s in-game profile.

huddsbadgesThe Huddersfield banner mission is the first banner I have attempted and was created by a respected local agent from my team (Enlightened/Green), J0nny.

At 24 missions, this banner is not the largest I have seen (I came across a 60 mission banner in Eastbourne!); 24 missions across Huddersfield was still quite a challenge.

It took me 2.5 hours and led me, meandering, around Huddersfield, hacking my way through portals that have been familiar to me for years.

I tracked my progress using MapMyWalk as Ingress gives a useless estimate of 15 minutes per mission- this map should give you an idea of how long it takes a 40 year old, overweight Yorkshireman.

huddsmission_map

Starting at Huddersfield railway station, the missions lead you North, out of town under the viaduct and up towards Greenhead Park.

A spike up through the park then pulls back into town past the Civic centre and Town Hall then down to the University campus.

You have an opportunity here to drop into the Queensgate indoor market; I took the opportunity to pick up a couple of books from the excellent (and Ingress friendly) Kapow Comics.

A circuit of the campus (challenging at the moment due to the construction work in progress there) eventually brings you back into town and around St. Peter’s park before heading back to the railway station.

There is limited parking available at the station itself, so you may want to consider coming in by train.

If you are planning on attempting a banner like this, it is important to make sure that you are going to start at mission 1 and that you are starting a brand new line of mission badges, otherwise the overall banner will be askew when complete.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re not an Ingress player, well done.

If you fancy taking up the game then consider trying it out; it certainly gets you out more.

Also, choose Enlightened (Green/Frogs) over Resistance (Blue/Smurfs)… help us immanentize the eschaton… Hail Tsathoggua…