Augmented reality—taking virtual elements and overlaying them on top of real life—is becoming quite the frontier for new and innovative ways of gaming. Exploring the ever-narrowing divide between the real and the imaginary, augmented reality games are taking us one step closer to wearable heads-up displays and completing the ultimate alternate-reality experience. And after flirting with augmented reality for some time now, Google has taken the next step with Ingress, a sci-fi conspiracy theory-heavy AR game for Android handsets developed by Google’s Niantic Labs.
Exact details about Ingress are few and far between, but for good reason. After all, no conspiracy-centric story readily gives away its secrets—not without a price and some groundwork, anyways. In this case, players must literally hit the streets to scope out sources of “exotic matter”, a mysterious and recently-occurring phenomenon. XM can then be taken to premiere public locations such as cultural landmarks and museums, where portals can be opened to unlock missions. Players can then choose the faction they wish to aid: the Enlightened, who wish to cultivate and use XM, or the Resistance that would prefer XM eradicated. All the while, society is under threat of mind control and shady agencies.
It’s worth mentioning that Ingress is certainly not the first AR game to hit the masses. While it may very well be one of the largest in scope, much smaller games have popped up in living rooms over the past few years. Most examples use printed cards with special markers that cameras track, overlaying 3D characters and environments on top of the video footage on a display. One such example are the AR games included with the Nintendo 3DS handheld game system, which allows players to “look” around virtual environments that pop out of special cards placed on a playing surface.
Currently, Ingress is in beta testing mode. Those interested in participating in the beta can request an invite over at the official Ingress website. While it is not directly stated, considering the urban environments shown in the trailer (below), the game may be limited to those living in major metropolitan areas. Even if this is true, Ingress gives us a wonderful look ahead at what AR games can really do with a grander scale.