Three years ago, Google’s Niantic Labs released Ingress. Since the game’s launch, a lot has changed. The Ingress playerbase has swelled from a couple thousand beta testers to more than 12 million players, with over a million players logging in every day. Frequent live events at locations across the globe encourage hundreds of players to converge at key cities to compete for their faction and the opportunity to influence the game’s narrative. The company launched (and concluded) an alternate reality game for the ancient aliens themed Endgame franchise. Last month, Niantic Labs spun off from Google, forming its own company.
Niantic is making a splash with its transition to independent game developer, announcing that their next collaboration would be with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, to create a free-to-play mobile game for iOS and Android devices that would bring Pokémon into the real world, coming in 2016. Pokémon‘s core game mechanics will be retained for Niantic’s spin on the franchise, providing players with the ability to catch, trade, and battle their virtual companions. The main difference? With Pokémon GO, gameplay would rely on location data, encouraging players to hunt down specific locations to discover new Pokémon.
Even if it doesn’t provide much insight into what the game will look like on a smartphone screen, the game’s teaser trailer does offer hints at the intended gameplay, with wild Pokémon scattering the virtual landscape similar to how Ingress‘ own portals provide a virtual backdrop to the real world. Players would be able to trade Pokémon with people nearby, or challenge them to battles. The game even hints at what Niantic’s most recent spin on live events would be, with hundreds of players gathered at Times Square for a raid to collectively battle Legendary Pokémon like Mewtwo.
Ingress‘ biggest strength is the social ties it helps forge, and in many ways, the Pokémon model is more fitting for the set of tools Niantic built out. By making certain Pokémon harder to find in certain regions and allowing players to battle each other, there’s a lot more to do at the live events and gatherings that have become a cornerstone of both the Ingress and the Pokemon communities. And with Game Freak’s Junichi Masuda contributing to the project with a focus on connecting Pokémon GO with the main series of video games, there might even be a little blend between projects. It wouldn’t be the first time: a series of Pokémon-themed pedometers allowed players to level up their Pokémon by walking.
Tens of thousands of years ago, mankind’s earliest civilizations were visited by extraterrestrial beings. Due to their superior knowledge and technology, these early visitors were treated as gods. Native Americans knew them as the Sky People. To the Sumerians, they were the Annunaki. Whatever they were called, these visitors came to earth and instructed mankind, leaving behind countless monuments behind. At least, that’s what some people claim. The theory commonly referred to as the “ancient astronaut hypothesis” serves as the foundation for a cross-platform collaboration between James Frey’s Full Fathom Five, HarperCollins, Google’s Niantic Labs, and Fox Searchlight.
According to Endgame‘s legend, Earth’s ancient alien visitors warned mankind that they would return one day for a reckoning known as Endgame. Some believe it to be a punishment for squandering the aliens’ enlightenment, and straining earth’s resources, while others view it as a method of selecting a favored sub-section of humanity for preservation. Whatever the cause, the nature of Endgame is clear: twelve of the most ancient civilizations must select a teenager to represent their society in a deadly treasure hunt where failure means death — the only survivors of Endgame are the members of the winning civilization. For thousands of years, the twelve societies have been training potential representatives from birth to save their people, in case Endgame should fall to their generation. Finally, after over thirty thousand years, twelve meteorites touched down, signaling the beginning of Endgame, and twelve teenagers started their journey to locate three keys hidden across the globe.
This narrative serves as the core of the Endgame experience across every platform. However, people interested in exploring the world of Endgame are presented with a number of dramatically different ways to interact with the story. For players looking for a solitary experience, puzzles infused into the novel leads to the secret to unlocking approximately $500,000 in gold coins kept on display at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. For those looking for a more social gaming experience, an alternate reality game delves deeper into Endgame‘s backstory, while an upcoming mobile app allowing players to take the conflict to the streets in a competitive, PVP style of gameplay.
Disclosure: Google paid for my flight and lodging for the Recursion event.
The morning of March 29th, two rival factions gathered at Los Angeles’ Grand Park in anticipation for a pitched battle. As noon approached, it became obvious to any passerby that something was going on. Hundreds of people prominently wearing blue and green streamed in through the park steps, conspicuously segregating themselves into colored clumps: blues to the right, and greens to the left. To any random passerby, it must have looked like the staging area for a flash mob. But look a little closer, and you’d see the telltale signs of the virtual battle about to take place. Headphones tapped into private communications channels to coordinate movement. A row of cyclists primed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. Pennants proudly bearing faction insignia. And more smartphone chargers and batteries than people.
This gathering was an Anomaly event, one of the live events organized by Google’s Niantic Labs team for players of their geo-locative mobile game Ingress. Since early February, 25 Anomaly events took place in countries including the United States, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Egypt, Israel, and India for a series of events collectively referred to as the Recursion Anomalies. Los Angeles was the final Anomaly event in the series, and Google invited me out to Los Angeles to experience Google’s approach to designing a live event for a massively multiplayer game. Previously, ARGNet explained how Ingress is played at a more casual level. This article explores how gameplay changes for its most ardent fans.
Comic-Con has served as the launch platform for more than a few alternate reality games in the past. At the San Diego convention, Why So Serious held its first live event promoting The Dark Knight at the convention in San Diego, using attendees as the Joker’s patsies by getting them to don the criminal’s signature clown make-up and stage minor crimes. Showtime kicked off its Dexter-themed ARG with a scavenger hunt leading to a grisly kill room, while Disney’s Flynn Lives campaign transformed a nearby warehouse into the End of Line Club from Tron: Legacy. While most of these affairs have been major events centered around entertainment properties, Google appears to have shaken up that trend by slipping their Comic-Con launch of the Niantic Project under the radar, only to have it resurface in force this month.
On July 12th, self-proclaimed “ghost comic book artist” Tycho started working the crowds at San Diego Comic-Con near Artist’s Alley, handing out flyers inspired by his inexplicable visions, dominated by scenes of global landmarks and enigmatic encrypted messages about parasitic “Shapers.” As crazy as Tycho seems, the folks at Niantic seem interested in his ramblings.
These visions drove Tycho to confront Flint Dille about hidden messages regarding extra-dimensional portals implanted for decades in Buck Rogers stories, before security threw him out of the convention. A few weeks later, a university professor teaching his students about visualizing portals with cell phone cameras was escorted away from his inattentive audience, but that was largely the end…until earlier this month, when mystery blogger P.A. Chapeau started updating his virtual conspiracy theory corkboard at NianticProject.com.