Ingress Thoughts

I’m still playing and enjoying Ingress – currently I’m midway through level 7. There are 16 levels in the game, but items cap at level 8. At level 8 you gain access to everything you can find – the only attribute that increases as you level from 9 to 16 is the size of your energy pool. So I’m approaching the soft-cap.

For greater detail in playing, and nice readable summaries there is the Smurfling Lessons on the smurf.help site (scroll down for the link to the lessons). The name comes from the nicknames for the two factions: Resistance (blue) vs the Enlightened (green), or smurfs vs frogs.

Anyway, Ingress has a bit in common with… EVE Online. They are both sci-fi themed, both played on a single world-wide server. Actually, I believe Ingress is a true single shared world, which is the geolocation data of the planet we’re on😉 where EVE has a separate server for China.

There are deeper similarities as well: espionage is a viable tactic – nobody uses in-game chat since that is easily spied on by either side; instead most groups migrate to an outside chat like Google Hangouts/Plus. Still, there is a vetting process groups set up for themselves to guard again infiltration. The other similarity is the game is essentially a territory control game, played on the real-world map. Of course, there are a ton more things to do in EVE Online!

But if you look at Ingress the right way, it is a lot like an MMO with all the fluff stripped out. Two factions with no classes – everybody is an agent for their faction. Everyone is DPS (can use the two weapon types: amp bursters; ultra strikes), everyone can heal (can recharge resonators), has the same access to items (mods to apply to friendly portals). No avatars, what you see instead are portals. Fast travel? Hehe, only by GPS spoofing, which is bannable and against the TOS. If you want to get somewhere, you gotta physically get there in the real world. So your in-game mount is you, your bike, your car, your small aircraft, whatever. There is a glyph hacking mini-game, missions with minor variations on what to do (hack portal, upgrade it, respond with keywords), and a badge/achievement system (which is key for leveling past 8).

In Ingress, you capture territory for your side by claiming portals, which generally are points-of-interest in the real world (that were submitted and included by Niantic during the beta; they used the same database to seed the world for Pokémon Go). Portals are either unclaimed, friendly, or enemy.

With a friendly portal, you can claim territory by linking to another portal. To do this you need the destination portal’s “key”, which you can get by hacking the portal, be it friendly or enemy. Linking portals creates a line between them, that prevents other links (friendly or enemy) from crossing.

If you join three portals in a triangle, you create a field, which scores a bonus, claims even more territory, prevents linking and fielding inside the larger field, and becomes super visible on the intel map. (Ingress Intel Map – you can just sign in with a Google account even if you don’t play. Then check out the activity in your area.). This visibility is a detriment as it draws attention and perhaps the field covers what another agent considers their home territory, motivating them to destroy it… There is an advanced form of overlapping fields, called layering, which takes a lot of time and keys to set up.

The PvP in Ingress is against portals, the in-game structures which are potential anchors/pivots for everything else.

Anyway, after playing a month I’ve noticed a few things:

Visibility attracts attention from both sides. If I link two portals, sometimes the enemy will respond by destroying one. Sometimes friendly players will upgrade my portal to help make it harder to destroy.

Fields and especially layers attract a huge amount of attention, especially the larger they are! My local players have been sparring with our adversaries over a multi-suburb wide area with a lot of back-and-forth. There is something to do nearly every day to hinder the opposition or advance my allies.

Most portals are real-world points of interest. For instance there is a movie theater nearby with a sculpture of a globe. The movie theater isn’t the portal, technically the sculpture of the globe is. In any case, high-traffic areas like restaurants, movie theaters, coffee shops (again, the portal won’t be those locations specifically, it’ll be some there or nearby such as a piece of art, sculpture, sign, etc) are terrible for stability – random people from out of the area tend to visit, and if they are the enemy faction they’ll attack. That theater nearby flips once or twice a week, and it is a standalone theater in a sleepy area.

Offense is MUCH stronger than defense. I’ve taken down maxed out portals (level 8, shields, turrets, force amps) and I’m not max level yet (meaning level 8, the cap as far as items go). It just takes some persistence even if the other team is trying to repair it while you attack. It is possible to repair through an attack, but you’d need more than one player helping or somebody physically present to replace resonators (this happened to me and my friend)… and I think this is the correct call. If defense were much stronger, it would be hard for new players in busy areas to progress – all the high level players would have the stuff they want, max it out and let it sit there. The way it is now you know that whatever you build is fragile.

However, just because portals are fragile doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. The most obvious strategy is to claim portals that take a bit of work to get to. The ones that you can drive right up to are the worst; ones that are on a footpath, in the woods, somehow require getting out of a car and biking/hiking – this increases the annoyance factor and thus adds a layer of protection.

You can claim all the portals you want, but they require maintenance. Basically the items you place to build the portal, resonators, drain energy daily, which you or anybody with the portal key can recharge. The more you claim, the more busy work you create for yourself just keeping portals energized.

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Players like me look for enemy portals that are almost dead through neglect. If I find one, I’m going attack it. Why not, when my adversaries are already doing 80% of the work by letting it get weak?

I also look for the enemy key infrastructure – portals that are anchors of multiple fields/layers. If one portal is linked to 8+ other portals and is part of several fields, taking it out is a time “force multiplier” – it takes me minutes once I get there, but rebuilding what was destroyed takes much longer.

For example, if I wipe out a portal that had 8 links in/out, rebuilding it means rebuilding the portal plus its links – a minimum of 8 portal keys either incoming to that portal or outgoing to the portals it linked to. Plus, due to resonator restrictions – one player can only place one level 7 and 8 resonator, two level 5 and 6 resonators, four level 2, 3, 4 resonators – getting a high level portal requires multiple players. A level 8 portal is 8 level 8+ players placing one resonator each; destroying that portal takes 8 players to come back and rebuild/upgrade.

I also find there to be a psychological element as well. Near work there is a cluster of portals that were unclaimed for weeks. So my friend and I went to claim them… and they were counter-attacked the next day. We’re in a bit of a sparring match with another player over these handful of portals. Which is funny – this other player didn’t care they were unclaimed but having us claim them kicked off a two-or-three-times a week territory skirmish.

Another instance of this is the “unspoken” truce. Near some territory we’ve claimed are 3 enemy portals. They weren’t in the way, they are there minding their own business so we ignored them. Actually we fielded right over those portals, encompassing them. The owner didn’t attack us, we didn’t attack them. Weeks go by, no change to the status quo that everybody seems to be fine with. Except yesterday they struck out and destroyed my closest portal to his little cluster. Well guess what is going to happen in a few minutes?🙂 If the truce is over, I’m clearing out the enemy portals, and to highlight that fact I’ll leave the one that was attacked, and claim the other three.

Finally, portals take time to maintain. Not tons, but they do require a check and spending some in-game energy (XM, for exotic matter). I had a portal that was isolated and that I set up poorly. I was tired of maintaining it, deciding the energy I used to top it off would be better spent on other portals I owned. But since it was my portal I couldn’t just let it die by not recharging it and letting the energy drain away. (I could have, of course, I would just feel bad doing that!) So I tried to get the enemy to kill it for me, by attacking two nearby portals out of an enemy cluster of five, and setting up a field with my unwanted portal. Plus, when I took over the two enemy portals I replaced them with low-level portals using my lowest level resonators.

So I had my unwanted portal in a field with two low level undefended portals that were next to three enemy portals. I thought they’d definitely respond by destroying my group of three. But what actually happened was this: before the enemy attacked, a friendly player came by and destroyed the remaining three enemy portals, leaving me with three crappy portals next to friendly portals. Doh!

ARG Dystopia?

Syp wrote a post with various concerns about ARGs. It’s fair, they aren’t perfect. But there aren’t that many out there right now so this is fairly early in experimenting with what is possible. It would be like evaluating the future of MMOs from only examining Ultima Online.

I think concerns about “the world” not being ready for an ARG are overblown.

16 years ago there was a steady drumbeat of articles about Everquest players ruining their marriage, careers, failing out of college, etc. I geocached back then too, and there was concern about trespassing, the danger of wandering around, hiking and getting lost, people being stupid by burying and digging caches, etc.

Not to trivialize the risk, but it has always been there. Sure, there is more risk wandering around outside than there is sitting inside and playing – however there have been plenty of tragic cases of people dying at the keyboard after multi-day binge playing.

With 45 million people playing Pokémon Go in July, there will be issues such as trespassing since even if  99.99% of the playerbase are conscientious, due to the massive numbers there will still be thousands of morons out there playing.

The most exciting thing I see Pokémon Go bringing into the genre is an interesting revenue model: sell “lures” which cause Pokémon to spawn, thus drawing players/customers to that location. If this catches on, and is worthwhile for the businesses doing it, this might help solve the revenue problem many MMOs have: how to get a steady income when the two choices seem to be 1) charge a subscription fee, which many players are reluctant to pay; 2) force the game into a B2P/F2P/micro-transaction model. Instead, how about trying to get some money from businesses that might benefit from increased foot traffic! Now that’s innovative. Of course, this only works if the game is played on the real world map – let’s just say it would be much harder to drive traffic to your restaurant by placing a treasure in a traditional MMO dungeon. “Woot, the boss dropped an epic weapon and a coupon for pizza!!”.

Syp’s other concerns about designers being locked into rigid existing designs or risks with players creating content… these strike me as an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I can’t imagine it is worthwhile to solve all possible problems in advance before rolling out content. Gotta try something different, let this model experience some growing pains and see where it goes – we’ve seen plenty of studios trying to crank out clones, expansions, clones of expansions, etc.

As for me, I’m having a lot of fun playing Ingress, Niantic’s game before Pokémon Go. It is fundamentally an territory control game, and I could make an analogy with Eve Online where the playerbase also battles over territory in a sci-fi universe. Eve offers a lot more to do, but right now Ingress is absolutely perfect for the amount of time I have, the level of social activity I have time for, integrating well with my normal outdoor activities, etc. I’m bummed I didn’t start playing earlier!

While I do find Pokémon Go interesting in general, the gameplay is so lame right now I only play it while I’m waiting for an Ingress portal to reset. There just isn’t much of a game there and I get bored very quickly. There is potential and I’d like to see Niantic roll out some fleshed-out gameplay, because even the die-hard fans will get tired of flicking their fingers up their smartphone screen.

Gaming Shift

I haven’t played or blogged in a while due to various events that conspire against my MMO’ing.

The first major event is that I decided to buy my own home, rather than rent and continue to purchase my landlord’s (2nd) home for him. So after I found a place, I devoted most of my free time into decluttering, packing, moving stuff into storage, etc. Now that I’ve moved, I’m on the flip side of those activities – moving stuff out of storage, unpacking… unfortunately still decluttering. I thought I did a decent/OK job decluttering in my previous home, but that was an illusion – all my excess stuff had its own spot, out of the way. In my new home, all that excess stuff has no place (yet) and is a series of obstacles instead!

A side effect of this is I haven’t setup my desktop computers yet. I put my desk in the guest room but decided it didn’t really fit there, so I need to swap the desk and a chest of drawers – as a result I am loathe to setup my desktops until after this furniture swap takes pace, because that will just meaning tearing it all down again only to set it up all over again.

What I’ve found, through forced circumstances but nevertheless entirely valid constraints, is that my mobile devices – notebooks, tablets, smartphones, New Nintendo 3DS) – are TREMENDOUSLY convenient. Easy to move, easy to use just about anywhere, all of them have built-in battery backups (I use a UPS for my desktops). While the desktops are more powerful, outside “serious” gaming (games that benefit from graphics acceleration), the notebook and tablets and so on are 90% sufficient for my home usage.

The second event is me getting into an ARG (alternate reality game). No, not Pokémon Go, but Ingress, the earlier game by the same developer. In full disclosure, yes I’ve played Pokémon Go, but I find the gameplay to be somewhat… lacking, so it barely grabs me. However, I’ve lost count of the people I’ve seen playing. I think this is good, obviously not if they are trespassing or playing while driving or being stupid, but having a game so mainstream is good for gamers and gaming as a hobby. Jewel says it better than me.

Anyway, back to Ingress. I have 2 friends that play, and I have accompanied both of them to capture/reinforce portals. Recently, I was out biking with a 3rd friend – who no longer plays but maybe we can drag her back into it – and when we took a break at a cafe along a bike path, she didn’t mind me capturing various unclaimed portals and setting up links and fields. She was busy getting minor service done to her bike and capturing pokémon that were at pokéstops corresponding to Ingress portal locations!

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My very modest control fields along DC’s Metropolitan Branch Trail.

I am fascinated with a game that takes place on the real-world map, with superimposed virtual structures and things to do (attack, defend, establish portals, add resonators/mods, link portals, create fields, and the glyph hacking mini-game). It’s so cool to me… and ties together various interests from gaming to mapping and GPS technology (I was a geocacher but stopped after finding 100 caches; then I switched to munzee which was OK but missing the “fun game” part that Ingress is delivering) to hiking/walking/biking/running and enjoying the outdoors. The sci-fi theme is a bonus as well.

In summary, I’ve got weeks of work to do setting up my new home. I can’t justify carving out a multi-hour block of time to play an MMO over the many other chores I have to do. However, I will prioritize spending time with friends… and spending a few hours playing Ingress is a fun time. When I do need a break from unpacking, time and conveniently available devices point towards various forms of mobile gaming: tablet boardgame apps or my 3DS (I’m a Fire Emblem fan).

I love MMOs but sometimes being able to hit the save button and walk away on short notice is convenient. Once things settle down, I’ll get back to them.

GW2 – Overland to Fort Trinity

Bee-lining the Living Story chapter one has been pretty fun. Since Eve is already level 80 with a complete set of gear, the only thing I really need to do is run to the next spot. Rewards along the way are deposited (crafting materials) or sold (other gear, since it is worse than what I already have).

I make an occasional detour to grab a waypoint, but have been skipping everything else like vistas, points of interest, hearts/quests, and hero challenges. I do plan to go back to get the waypoints (because being to travel rapidly is very convenient) and hero challenges (to help with masteries) but the rest will be delayed for another time. I’m more interested in jump puzzles and vistas but I suppose one longer term goal is completing the exploration which means picking up the points of interest and doing the quests.

Doing the storyline chapters back to back, I noticed a significant change starting with the Battle of Claw Island. Before this, the story was quick and simple, generally taking less than 10 minutes and involving few fights. But with the Battle of Claw Island, and the same with A Light in the Darkness, the storyline quests balloon up to 30+ minutes, with multiple stages, lots of fighting, etc.

After completing Willing Captives, I turned to run over to Fort Trinity, where the next stage begins. Along the way I saw notice of a Ley Line event, so I detoured over to it, and found a typical GW2 massive fight going on. I find these fun, even if they are a bit zergy.

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The fight lasted a few minutes and I simply targeted the toughest mob around and joined in. As a revenant, my hammer rotation (using demon stance) involves Unyielding Anguish to lay out a dark field, followed up by Drop the Hammer or Phase Smash, which are both blast finishers. Plus, in a group if I notice another field out I’ll try to blast finish that too.

After finishing the event, I continued my journey to Fort Trinity and decided to stop there, to continue later. Soon Eve will pass up my other two characters that are also around Fort Trinity in the storyline! I stalled out before shortly after this point but I’m determined to keep going this time.

GW2 – Revenant Boost

I’ve been fiddling around in GW2 and decided there are 2 related issues with my game enjoyment: the ranger was my favorite profession in GW1; I don’t like the GW2 ranger as much for various reasons mostly due to build and pets.

Build and pets further breaks down: the first 5 skills are locked to weapon choice (I miss the near-total freedom of making a build in GW1); GW2 rangers sort of need to have a pet to be most effective (in GW1 I didn’t use mine much – but then, GW1 had henchmen and heroes so I basically did have ~7 other “pets” for a lot of my adventuring. However, heroes/henchmen were a lot better than a pet).

Thus I did a level 80 preview on an engineer and revenant but not a ranger. I decided using a level 80 boost for another ranger was insane – all that would really get me is a different racial elite skill.

After some experimentation in the Silver Wastes, I opted for the revenant.

The way ArenaNet did the level 80 boost is really nice – the character gets a full suite of equipment, weapons (including underwater weapons), and trinkets. All skills are trained, except for the elite specialization. Even better, you don’t have to click through getting all this stuff, or even for each level (like you would for the level 20 and level 30 boosts). Use the boost and you are ready to roll as a level 80 char! The only thing you might do is tweak the build.

I like the revenant because it feels sturdy, using heavy armor, and the weapons have a good mix of combo fields and finishers. Especially the hammer which has a field (dark) and finishers (blast, projectile), and is a ranged weapon too! (What?! But it is). That’s my weapon of choice with sword/sword as my weapon swap (those were the weapons from the level 80 boost).

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This char is already leveled, has unlocked traits and skills, so I’m going to ignore vistas, hearts/quests, and points of interest. Instead I will open waypoints and detour for an occasional hero challenge, while bee-lining the storyline. I believe emphasizing 100% map completion before moving on was a factor in my various burnouts and stalling midway through.

ESO – Ebonheart Pact

I decided to try a Templar, a Dark-Elf (Dunmer), so back to Bleakrock Isle. Like every class in ESO, Templars have melee and magic skills, so when I used my sword and shield, or two-handed sword, I was careful to block (right-click) when I noticed an enemy winding up an attack, use a stronger/overloaded/heavy-swing/whatever it is called attack (hold left-button) when they were vulnerable (typically after a successful block), and interrupt (left click + right click) skills.

And this time the melee went a lot better.

I made it off Bleakrock Isle onto Bal Foyen and finished up there as well. So now I’m in the Stonefalls at Davon’s Watch and before continuing too much, I’ll go back and play my High-Elf Sorceror a bit more in Vulkhel Guard and decide which one to emphasize.

I do like the Ebonheart Pact zones so far. Actually, everything in ESO is beautiful, but Stonefalls reminds me a bit of Morrowind. It’s a fantasy landscape that isn’t too bizarre to be believable.

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LoTRO – New Minstrel

Well I couldn’t stay away from LoTRO for too long. The game is celebrating its 9th year and I’ve played for 8.75 of those, off and on (mostly on).

Naerys can now level past 100, and I’ll get back to further adventures from Minas Tirith, but as I mentioned before… Naerys isn’t the class I want to play for group content. A guardian is fun for me solo, due to the survivability and reactive skills, but tanking means lots of encounter/dungeon knowledge and gear is pivotal. I’d rather play a healing role which I like better.

So, I started another minstrel, a hobbit names Heliconya – hobbits are named after flowers and jewels, however Heliconia was already taken so I had to misspell it –  and played through the Shire, which I haven’t done in years.

It’s pretty much the same with the exception of Bingo Boffin and quests related to him. Maybe a few other things too. But all my favorite lowbie quests are there, and it was really fun to do them again.

There was Free the Tree

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Spectre of the Black Rider

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Adelard’s Chapter, Bandages for Callum… I forgot to screenshot these ones.

I even explored some of the lesser traveled areas between Bree and the Shire, such as the fields/ruins north of Brandy Hills.

Good times!

Heliconya is now level 19, ready to start Vol.1 Book 2 (The Red Maid) as soon as she levels up a bit.