Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Come bomb the Little Mermaid"

Right now smartphone-armed guerrillas battle from street to street in Copenhagen. Google made them do it.
It has been dark for a few hours. The temperature is falling to minus ten degrees, just as the forecast promised, and there is plenty “fresh wind from the east and northeast” this January evening in Denmark. A small group of men are standing on Langelinje harbor in Copenhagen all staring at their smartphones. They can already feel the cold in their toes and fingertips, but they remain in the area for several hours. For they are on the warpath.
“You think it's a game. But it is not.” So warns a female voice at first run of the Android application called Ingress. Maybe there's some truth to that. Is Google subsidiary Niantic Labs' new, mysterious, worldwide game created to entice users themselves to collect even more data for Google?
In Ingress two competing factions color the world map green or blue. This is done by physically visiting local area landmarks and special buildings, in the game called portals, and conquer them through the app. So, if there has been a little silent in online games like 'World of Warcraft' at the latest, it may be because many of the players has risen from the cushioned chairs and now are all biking around between all sorts of sights while waging a virtual war – and sending photos and location data to Google.

The frogs against the smurfs

During the day, the Copenhagen Ingress street fighters Ttgeek and gnomen work as a web developer and a child educator respectively. A few weeks ago they did not know each other. Both were inspired to apply for access to the game after watching a YouTube video. In it a physics project goes horribly wrong and mysterious energy - called Exotic Matter - has been blown out across the surface of the earth.
Team Enlightened is trying to expose the public to as much radiation as possible by coloring the map in green. Ttgeek and gnomen was among the first who joined the team Resistance who defend humanity by coloring in blue. The two teams have nicknamed each other “frogs” and “smurfs”.
“The video poses questions. You don't know what the game is when you see it, but it's something with GPS, a “capture the flag” thing. And it's a spiced up geocaching thing,” says Ttgeek with reference to the better known and more peaceful way to go on a treasure hunt with GPS equipment.
Ttgeek have reached level 8, which is still the highest that can be achieved as a player, or “agent”. But with great fervor he helps other Resistance fighters to obtain higher ranks and keep Copenhagen blue. This evening among others Agent gnome has appeared on the agreed venue.
“I think the movie looked really good. They have put a lot of energy in the history. And then I needed to get out, I have lost several pounds. People ask why I bother. But before I sat and played 'World of Warcraft' for twelve hours straight. And smoke cigarettes,” laughs gnomen.

Skirmish near the Royal Palace
The Little Mermaid on Langelinje,
Copenhagen, Denmark.
Here as a level 4 Resistance portal.

The troops have assembled, the equipment is in order, let there be gaming. Ttgeek have a Motorola tablet with large battery and gnomen have a HTC with small screen and thus low power consumption. Both can mount their Android weapons to the handlebar of their bikes in waterproof casings.
The two leads the charge against the evening's target. Without getting off their bikes eagerly hacking the portals that the flock passes. Like this, they will be able to continue for more than six hours. Google could hardly have designed Street View bikes better themselves.
Tonight the Resistance attacks the many statues of Langelinje, held by the Enlightened. By Gefionspringvandet, a fountain at one end of the harbor, Ttgeek gives instructions: He goes first to bomb portals into a weak state. Then the lower ranking teammates reap points by conquering and rebuilding the portals.
But it's not as easy as it sounds because the frog portals shoot back. The little smurfs are repeatedly drained of energy and must commute to the Amalienborg palace square, where many blue portals are spewing out so much Exotic Matter that one trip around the equestrian statue of King Frederik V is more than enough for a full recharge.
“Come bomb the Little Mermaid,” writes invulnerable Ttgeek impatiently while his foot soldiers are cycling a second round among the guardsmen on the palace square. Hopefully the communication channel of Ingress isn't one listened in on by the police intelligence service.

Melee on the memorial column

Suddenly, the otherwise bombed-out memorial column for Ivar Huitfeldt turns green again on the Android screens. Ttgeek rapidly returns. Immediately he recognizes a white car that he knows belongs to a member of the Enlightened. The frogs have noticed one of their territories is being taken over by keeping an eye on the Ingress intel website, and one member has rushed to defend it.
But after a short time the car disappears. Tgeek is too strong.
“Close combat is the most fun. The first four days that I played, it was all on my own. I walked around two o'clock at night in complete darkness with headset on and heard the eerie sounds from the app,” laughs gnomen.
“I like getting more about, experiencing the city, and Ingress has helped. I also think it's a fun collaboration, dealing with strangers,” adds Ttgeek.
But the game can get out of hand sometimes, says gnomen:
“Yesterday, when I went to bed, I saw that my portal outside the front door was about to be taken over. So I went over and took it back. Afterwards I went somewhere else. And it ended with a walk on a total of three hours as I recaptured all that they had taken. And when I got up next morning, they had taken over everything once again.”

To get started, visit the official websites:

The above report is from late January 2013. It was originally published in Danish. and is now cross-posted to Newsvine.
Since then both gnomen, the reporter and several other Copenhageners have reached level 8. As a consequence the game has changed. But it has also changed because many more portals have been added to the map and because Niantic Labs have let gameplay evolve from user suggestions.
A couple of practical considerations that may have seem obscure and geeky are common knowledge to the hard core Ingress agent. For example:
  • GPS is tricky. Ingress is using a routine less stressful to the phone and/or servers than regular navigation apps so you will see your position fly about on the scanner. And moving just on the northern side of a massive structure, you can hide entirely from the satellites to freeze your position. Usually just incredibly annoying.
  • 3G uses a lot of battery. If more than one agent operate together, just one device should communicate with servers and share a local network. Then the other agents should turn off 3G and log onto the shared network using wi-fi.
  • Even when properly protected in waterproof bags, devices will not immediately recharge after ten hours out in the rain. Has something to do with the moisture.
  • Using a bit of wire you can make your own external phone battery from a scooter battery carried in a shoulder bag.