My experience playing Ingress

IngressSo, I’ve been playing Ingress for the last few weeks. Ingress is an augmented reality game where two shadowy organisations wrestle for dominance over the minds of Earth’s human population: Enlightenment are trying to establish mind-control portals all over the world to help aliens called Shapers bring a powerful Enlightenment that will lead to an evolution of humankind. Resistance are trying to stop them.

 

The cool thing about the game is that it’s out there, in the “Outer-net”, in the “real world” you might have heard so much about. Ingress actually requires you to get off the sofa, away from the keyboard, and run around in the fresh air. All you need is your Android phone.

Game play involves taking control of “Portals” which are located at points of interest such as sculptures, murals, or significant buildings. You take control of a portal by placing your own Resonators on them which, in game terms, tunes the portal to your own team’s energy.

You can attack an enemy-controlled portal by firing “XM Pusles” at them, which sap the energy from the portal by destroying the other team’s Resonators.

You can Hack any Portal to gain XM Pulses, Resonators, Portal Keys and other items used in the game.

But to actually use the items requires two things: you to be in proximity to the Portals as well as the use of XM, or Exotic Matter, which is distributed fairly randomly around the streets. You gain XM by, again, coming into proximity and allowing your XM Scanner (a fancy name for your Android phone) to pick it up.

So my lunch hours have been spent briskly walking around the city collecting XM and hacking Portals, attacking the Enlightened Portals and placing Resonators at the Resistance Portals. I generally do a couple circuits of 3-4 city blocks in an hour. I’ve changed my walking patterns before and after work so that I can walk past these Portals to get a few Hacks in. I managed to take down my first Level 4 (mid-strength) Enlightened Portal the other day, being the Lord Forrest statue in Supreme Court Gardens. It changed hands again fairly quickly. Indeed, the map changes hourly. There seems to be a lot of unemployed no-lifers or students playing it and they’ve managed to level themselves up fairly quickly.

It’s a fun game though. It’s meant to be a social game as well. In wandering around the city to the various Portals, you tend to see a lot of the same group of people constantly checking their phones. Covertly checking their screen you can see a telltale blue or green glow, an indication they’re playing Ingress. Generally you can say hello, or give them a nod and a wink and ask them what team they’re on. If they’re Enlightened or Resistance, it doesn’t really matter. I met one guy from Hong Kong who was actually using Ingress as a sight-seeing tool. It turns out he was also a very high level Resistance player and he helped us out by placing some of the highest level resonators ever seen in Perth.

How does one get in on this action? Well, for now it’s a closed invitation-only beta, though you can go to the web site and request an invite. I hear invites are being dealt out 2-3 months after the request is received. If you’re after a social game that’s good for your health, you could do worse than Ingress.

 

World of Tanks: My new favourite game

I realise I’m probably late to the game, but I’ve recently discovered World of Tanks. I find it therapeutic to log in crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women.

World of Tanks is essentially a world… of tanks! Every player drives a WW2-era tank and competes with a team of 15-or so other tanks to beat the other team by destroying them all or by capturing their base.

There are different classes of tanks including Light, Medium and Heavy Tanks, Tank Destroyers and Self Propelled Guns, my favourite. There are also different tiers of each of these tanks drawn from German, Soviet, American and Chinese designs. You start the game off with a Tier 1 tank which is essentially a tin can on wheels with a BB gun and a Semaphore comms system and you work your way towards larger, faster, better armed and armoured tanks. There’s 15-20 maps to test your strategy and tactics.

I’m currently working my way up the American SPG line and a have an M41 artillery with a 155mm Howitzer. I’ve paid my dues in the M7 Priest, which has a smaller gun. The M7 Priest is a case of being a small fish in a big pond, and more often than not I’d be against monster tanks I had no hope of destroying. For example, when you fire on a tank with 300mm of armour and your gun only has a 50mm maximum penetration, you can’t really hope to do much damage. But I managed to work up to the M41 with a larger gun and I can one-shot most Medium Tanks and give a Heavy Tank a bad headache. Eventually I’d like to get the T92, the biggest gun in the game which can kill anything it hits with one shot. It has a couple disadvantages, the main one being the 40 second reload time so you really have to make each shot count.

I often go back to my trusty M2 Light Tank, as these smaller tier Light Tanks are only matched against other Lights. It’s a sweet spot where the M2 is often the best tank on the map and it’s fun not to have to worry about higher tier Heavy Tanks which can run over you without feeling a bump.

When the game starts you have 30 seconds to chat and work out strategy with your team mates. I’ve found that these lower tier games are joined by noobs, and if I can convince them to follow some basic instructions then our team will more often than not come out with the win. You can usually tell the Rambo noobs, as they’re the first to die.

The game has a reward system based on hits, kills, detection etc, as well as awards and various medals. I have a few “Top Gun” awards, and a handful of “Confederate” medals, meaning I hit at least 6 enemies who were later destroyed by others. I’m quite proud of my “Kamikaze” award, for destroying a higher tier tank by ramming it.

Games go a maximum of 15 minutes, and there’s usually at least 5000 people playing at any one time so there’s no waiting for another game. I’d recommend World of Tanks to anyone interested in short, fast, tactical rewards-based team games.

A trip to The Maze

We took a drive out to a place called The Maze for Jett’s 6th birthday treat. From where we live it’s quite a hike but it was a good day. It was forecast to be 39 degrees today, and I wasn’t too keen on running around outside in the heat but your sixth birthday comes but once in a lifetime and it was his choice. We needed to attend the school open day first in the morning in full school uniform to meet and greet the teachers and other kiddies, and once we left the school it was already 35 degrees.

After a stopping for lunch and a couple wrong turns (it’s always helpful to have accurate maps in your GPS) we finally got there. It’s a nice little setup, with 5-6 mazes and some bird and animal enclosure including a Koala habitat. Witness our mad navigating skillz in the first maze:

We eventually did get through the first maze. And without cheating!

The second maze was a challenge, made of a grid of pine trees using fence wire as walls. You could see right through the entire maze but it didn’t help because you couldn’t necessarily see the walls and plan your moves. You had to actually go the whole way down a length to see if it really was a dead end. This is where I demonstrated to the kids my mad crazy “left hand” method where you keep your left hand touching a wall at all times. You might go over your tracks, but you should eventually make it out.

The next maze was call the “No Left Turn” maze, where you could only make right hand turns. No lefties, and no U-turns. The kids made it through real quick, but I’m pretty sure they were still coming to terms with what a left hand turn actually means. See here for an example of what I mean, but these guys had one mapped out in a 20m x 20m area of miniature hedges.

It’s right about this time that the heavens opened and it started raining. We waited undercover for the koala enclosure to open where we found that Koalas sleep 18-20 hours a day and wake only to eat. I tell ya, these guys are living the dream.

It was still raining so we thought “Why not?” and topped it off with some wet weather Frisbee Golf which was also on offer at the park. Witness our wicked awesome Frisbee abilities:

They call me “The Tiger Woods of the Frisbee Golf World”. You know, without all the chicks, money, fame and stuff.

The Wave crashes

According to Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President at Google, Wave will no longer be developed and will be put in maintenance at the end of this year:

We don’t plan to continue developing Wave as a standalone product, but we will maintain the site at least through the end of the year and extend the technology for use in other Google projects.

This is pretty sad, really. Wave was a product ahead of it’s time and, despite a legion of loyal fans (including me!), didn’t have the uptake that Google had hoped for. I had plans on moving my blog, and pretty much my entire online life, over to Google Wave and other Google Apps.

Perhaps Google will be incorporating what they’ve learned from Wave and Buzz into their social networking foray. Google recently dropped $100M into the laps of games developers Zynga.

The most evil game in history

Some games are rather obviously bad. By bad, I don’t mean unplayable or silly, I mean “bad” as in “unrighteous”. Some of the latest games have very questionable themes, such as Grand Theft Auto which focuses on California gang life and the awakening of the drug epidemic brought on by crack cocaine where the player is encouraged to rob, rape and kill people to gain points. Some games, such as God of War or Gears of War have very realistic and gratuitous violence. Some games have gratuitous sex scenes, such as the alien/lesbian scene in Mass Effect and the baffling Leather Goddess of Phobos.

I haven’t played most of these games, mind you, so I’m not in a position to judge. But I have seen and heard snippets of these games around the Interwebs so I’m aware of what they’re about. I never really had the opportunity to play these games anyhow. My gaming career went straight from the first release of the Atari straight to the PS2 in 2006. Also, I’ve suffered from a combination of not being being able to afford a top of the line PC and new release games. I have to wait a few years for games to go on clearance before I consider buying them.

But there’s one game which is more evil than all these combined. It can suck a man in with its attractive and flattering game-play while at the same time sucking the life and soul out of him. It can make you lose focus on your career, your family and other commitments. It can keep you up until all hours of the night, and takes over your dreams when you do manage a few fitful hours of sleep. That game, or game series, is Civilization.

I made the mistake of stopping by Electronics Boutique the other night on the way home from work. On top of the pile of $12.50 games I saw Civilization IV. A flood of memories and nightmares swept over me. A voice at the back of my head was saying “Drop this and run as fast as you can”. But another louder voice was saying “Remember all the fun you had with version 1 in the early 90s! You can relive those days! Besides, it’s only $12.50.”

Indeed, I remember spending a lot of time on this game building the perfect empire and working my way through the more difficult levels so that I could say I had mastered the game. Often I would sit down to a game thinking to myself that I wouldn’t go past midnight and the next time I raised my eyes to look at the clock it read 5am.

So, I bought the game and took it home. After the kids went to bed I fired it up and convinced myself I’d just check out the gameplay and the interface. I wouldn’t start a game until later on when I had a couple days off and could afford to spend more than a few hours straight without having to wake up early the next day for work.

I really have to had it to Sid Meier. Civilization IV is a beautiful game and a great enhancement to the original. I missed Civ2 and Civ3, but saw a few demos on Youtube. I remember when Civ4 came out a few years ago there was a great buzz about it, but there was no way I was going to part with $110 to preorder it.

So, it’s 8pm and I start just poking about in the menus to see what’s what. Nice interface, nice music and a very sweetly familiar Civopedia which details all the units, buildings and improvements. I see they introduced the concept of Religion. I wonder how that works. Going to bed honey? Whoa it’s 9pm already?! OK I’ll be there in a jiffy. I just want to play a few turns on my new game.

It had started, and I hadn’t even realised it. Sid Meier had me in his evil clutches, was slowly twisting me as if wringing out a wet cloth and watching the life blood drip out of me onto the keyboard.

By the time I even considered looking at the clock it was already midnight.

I don’t know what it is, but this game is so highly addictive. It’s a time machine; I sit down and when I get up I find that I have traveled into the future without experiencing anything in between.

I paid for it the next day, too. I found it hard to sleep that night. I was dreaming about strategic alliances, and tactical warfare, and how best to go about spreading my Hindu religion. In a training meeting the next day my head was bob-bob-bobbing like one of those dippy ducks. Should I sell the game on ebay? Should I lock it away in a cupboard? I think that for me to get rid of this game it’s going to take a quest to Morder to throw it into Mount Doom.

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve played the silver ball

I was never exactly a Pinball Wizard, but I was pretty good in my day. During high school I was more into coinop video games than pinballs, and if I remember correctly my reasoning was that they were more consistent and predictable in their behaviour. You pull left, your spaceship flies left. The boss on level 5 always dives down after exactly 15 seconds so get the hell out from under there, etc.

It wasn’t until I got to Uni that I came to better appreciate pinball games, and if I remember correctly it was because they were less consistent and predictable in their behavior compared to video games. Each particular table had it’s own nuances and secrets, and no two games were the same. They even seemed to change week to week either by design or through wear and tear for added challenge. For example, the left flipper might be a little weaker than the right. After pointing this out to the owner you might find it fixed the next week but at the same time you’d find the table tilted up half a degree or leaning slightly to the right. The technician may have adjusted the out-lane pins a little wider and the in-lane pins a little narrower. The challenge and fun in pinball was not only in getting a high score but in finding the secrets and challenges of the gameplay and overcoming the traps put in there by unscrupulous operators.

One particular day of my pinball career sticks in my mind. I had a day off Uni and thought I’d invest some time at LazaMaze, a Video game and Pinball Parlour on Victoria Street in Midland. They had a well worn and slightly neglected “The Addams Family” game. The flippers were pretty weak, the jets in the mid-left area didn’t register and a few of the lights and sounds didn’t work. It wasn’t my first choice TAF machine, but it was still fun. When I got there some guy was on it and he was pretty frustrated. He’d been flailing away trying to hit a very conservative Replay Score of 20 Million but couldn’t manage more than 5 Million. He lost another ball, cursed and started kicking the legs which ended his current game with a tilt.

I asked, humbly, if I could have the next game and wagered that I could score get a replay. He took the bet, deciding that it was impossible since he;d already spent five bucks on it and hadn’t managed one yet. He was a slave to Pride which, along with deep pockets, had kept him chained there getting more and more frustrated to the point that I could see arteries popping out of his temples.

I didn’t really mean to make him look foolish, but I think I might have. Not only did I get the replay score on my first ball but it took me a total of about 12 seconds. Here’s how:

  1. Pull that plunger back and hit the Skill Shot for 2M
  2. Hit the Train Wreck, not so much to get points because you need two hits for your first bonus, but to get your eye in and test the upper right flipper strength
  3. Let the ball dribble to your left flipper. If it’s on the right flipper, perform a Flip Trap or a Falling Hold Pass to get it onto the left flipper
  4. Send the ball up that nice wide ramp up the back called the Bear Kick. If you hit this enough times you can do things like light extra balls, collect Jackpots in Multiball. If you have a strong right flipper, you can sit there all day and hit 99 Bear Kicks which lights 5M per shot, but for now we only want to go up once. This is the first shot in the 4-way Combo and should have taken about 8 seconds so far.
  5. Having gone up the Bear Kick, the ball will be delivered to your right flipper. Send it straight through the Graveyard into the Advance X Loop. This is quite a hard shot to pull off since the entrance to the Graveyard is very narrow, and the distance between the jets in the Graveyard means you need to be very precise. This is the second shot in the 4-Way Combo and should have taken about 10 seconds so far.
  6. As the ball comes around the top of the table through the Advance X Loop, send it up the Million Plus ramp with your upper right flipper.  This does two things: gives you 1M points (the next shots up this ramp will be 2M, 3M etc) and scores you the 3-way Combo for 5M points. This is also a hard shot, since the ball will be travelling through the loop very quickly. this is the third shot of the 4-way combo. It’s also a 3-way combo itself, and scores you 5M points.
  7. Send the ball into the Swamp for the final shot of the 4-way Combo and earn another 10M points.

I let the ball come out and trapped it on the left flipper and showed the other guy the score. 15M points from the 3-way and 4-way combos, plus bonus X advanced plus 1M from the ramp + at least 5M for the 5X graveyard value (small thought it was) plus the initial 2M point skill shot brought me over the 20M point line and earned me a free Replay game.  All in under 12 seconds. I let the ball dribble off the flipper, told the guy “Good luck” and walked out feeling too cool for school.

30th Anniversaries this week

Pacman 30th AnniversaryWow, I haven’t been paying attention and these kinda snuck up on me. Pacman turns 30 today! Pacman was developed by Namco and released in Japan on 22-May-1980. Wow, has it been that long? I don’t want to consider how may 20s I dropped into coin-ops in the early 80s playing it, avoiding Pinky, Inky, Blinky and Clyde. Pacman came at a time when the most popular arcade games were shooters like Space Invaders and Asteroids, so it came as a welcome non-violent alternative and grew in popularity. Everything about the game was cool: the high-contrast colours, the wocka-wocka sounds, the intro music… it really was the perfect game for it’s time. To celebrate, Google even changed their header logo into a playable version of Pacman for the day. You’ve got to be in Classic Google mode, not iGoogle. I remember saving all my pocket money to buy this on the Atari, but was so disappointed to find that it really sucked.

This is the best Empire Strikes Back posterAnother 30th anniversary this week was the release of The Empire Strikes Back. After being blown away by Star Wars three years earlier, it came as a surprise to me that there was another movie released. Remember, these are the days before the Internet and discussions forums, preview web sites and such. I didn’t know about it until it actually came out  in Australia, which was a few months after the US release and even then I don’t think I saw it until a few weeks after than. Empire is still the best of the movies. I might see if I can fit it in sometime this weekend, perhaps on VHS for the low-fi experience, the way George Lucas intended.

Meanwhile, here’s a Periodic Table of The Empire Strikes Back.

Empire Strikes Back Periodic Table

Click for larger version