UPDATED August 1, 2015 for new item types

Ingress is a game that was introduced by Niantic Labs (an internal start-up of Google) in November, 2012.  At first I avoided it as it seemed a senseless time-suck, but in mid-2013 my daughter convinced me to try it out.  It took about 15 minutes to get me hooked.  Jill was all of 7 minutes behind me on that.

The principles of Ingress are simple.  The driver of the backstory is: aliens (“Shapers”) are arriving to save/improve humanity.  Their main raw material for this task is an otherworldly substance call Exotic Matter (XM for short).  XM enters our world through Portals – which correspond to real-world locations.  Landmarks, public art, historical markers, houses of worship, post offices, libraries and more can all be portals.

Humanity has to decide: whether to accept the help from the Shapers and become improved as a species, or whether to tell them to bugger off and go our own way, for good or ill.  The players who decide to go with the Shapers are known in game as “Enlightened,” and their characteristic color is green.  Those who do not wish to be “Shaped” (myself included) are known as “Resistance.”  Our color is blue.  We call the other team, Toads or Frogs.  They call us Smurfs.

The gameplay takes place in an app on your phone (Android or iPhone) called the Scanner.  The scanner overlays the map of your location with a view of the portals nearby, as well as any links or fields currently existing.  Portals, links and fields present in the color of the team that owns them at the moment.

When new players begin, they focus on accumulating Access Points (AP) by playing the game and performing various operations related to portals.  With minor exceptions, all of these operations require you to be within about 30 metres of the portal.  This is not a sitting-on-your-couch-and-mashing-buttons game; this is a getting-outside-in-the-world-and-moving game!  One of the greatest tools you can obtain for this game is a bicycle.

The available portal operations are:

  • Hacking: When you encounter a portal in the scanner, you move close enough to it to get it in range and click the Hack button.  The portal responds to this by giving you a randomly selected handful of items you can use for other operations.  It will also (almost surely) give you a Portal Key to itself if you don’t already have one.  If the portal is owned by the enemy faction, it may attack you, draining some of the XM from your energy bar.  When that gets to zero you have to replenish it or your scanner is disabled.  Hacking enemy portals gets you some AP to make up for the damage you took.  Friendly portals are hacked for no AP, but also with no danger of attack.  You get items either way.  Item classes include:
    • Portal Keys: These give you a remote connection to a portal, allowing the two things you can do without being in range, linking and recharging.
    • Resonators: Defensive items that are placed on portals to claim them for one faction and defend them against attacks from the other faction.   Resonators come in levels 1 to 8.  A player has to attain at least the level in the game of the resonator they wish to deploy; so for example,a Level 5 player may not deploy any Level 6 through 8 resonators yet. The higher the level of the resonator, the stronger defense it provides against enemy attacks.
    • Bursters & Ultra-Strikes: Weapons that are fired against enemy portals to break down their defenses.  Also come in levels 1 to 8, also require the player to attain at least the game level of the burster they wish to fire.  Bursters have a wide radius that can extend beyond the usual 30 metres: the higher level the burster, the wider, up to about 175 metres for Level 8.   Ultra-Strikes of all levels have a tiny effective radius (a metre or two) but they are impressively powerful within that radius.  They are useful for surgical-precision operations, not general attacks.  When they were first introduced, Ultra-Strikes would only be provided by portals to players using Motorola phones, but this restriction has been lifted after enough complaints from the existing player community.
    • Power Cubes: Containers of XM you can use to refill your scanner’s energy bar.  These come in levels 1-8, and the same player-level restriction applies as with bursters and resonators.  You can also replenish your scanner’s energy by schlorping up XM you will find near portals, or by recycling any other items in your inventory.
    • Heat Sinks: Portals can only be hacked by a given player every 5 minutes, unless Heat Sinks are applied.  In which case they “cool down” quicker.  Heat Sinks come in Common, Rare and Very Rare.  The less common, the more effective,
    • Multi-Hacks: Portals can only be hacked by a given player four times every four hours, unless Multi-Hacks are applied.  In which case, the number of hacks per four-hour period goes up by four, eight or twelve depending on whether we have a Common, Rare or Very Rare variety of Multi-Hack.
    • Link Amps: Portals can be linked to other portals (more about this in the next installment) and there is a distance limit to this linking based on portal level.  Link Amps extend the distance limit.  Link Amps are famous throughout the player community as being really pretty useless, since the allowable distances are truly more than adequate without them.
      UPDATE: In June ’15, Niantic introduced the new SoftBank Ultra-Link (SBUL).  These are more powerful Link Amps that also have an actual useful property for the everyday player.  Each SBUL added to a portal increases the number of outbound links that can be sent, by 8.  A portal with all four mod slots populated by SBULs would allow 40 outbound links.
    • Force Amps: These are defensive armament.  They increase the intensity with which your portal will attack an enemy player should the enemy player hack or fire weapons at it.  These attacks occur randomly with a base probability, which you can increase by applying…
    • Turrets: These items increase the probability that the enemy hacking or attacking your portal will be counter-attacked.
    • Portal Shields: Passive defense for your portals.  Shields and linking are the two things that make portals more resistant to attack than they would be otherwise.  Shields come in four varieties: Common, Rare, Very Rare and AXA.  AXA shields are both rarer and stronger than any others, and exist due to an advertising deal between Niantic and AXA Advisors (no link for meaningless ad tie-ins).  Shields and links to other portals can combine to make your portal up to about 95% resistant to attack, but a determined player firing anything from Level 6 weapons on up will eventually get it down.  And moreover, there is no defense at all against…
    • Viruses: these super-rare items come in two varieties.  ADA will turn a green portal blue, and Jarvis will turn a blue portal green.  By the way, there are tactical reasons for players of either faction to do either of these things, so do not think that Jarvis viruses are only useful to Enlightened players while ADAs are only desirable to Resistance.  To use a virus, you have to have as much XM in your energy bar as 1000x the level of the portal e.g., 6000 to flip a Level 6 portal.  Once a virus has been used on a portal, another one cannot be used for one hour.
    • Capsules: These are containers that can hold any of the other objects.  Useful for passing objects between players — before capsules were introduced you had to do this one item at a time.  Capsules hold up to 100 items, and no, you can’t put capsules in capsules.  These are also useful if you want to accumulate multiple keys of the same portal quickly.
      UPDATE: In June ’15, a new kind of capsule was introduced, called MUFG Capsule.  They are red, not gray.  MUFG capsules are interest-bearing, which for practical purposes means you will occasionally get additional items of the types you place in there.  For example, I placed a Jarvis and an ADA in mine, and so far I have harvested two additional Jarvis and one ADA.  The duplication takes place randomly, and sometimes not at all.  It’s worth placing one of each type of item you’d like more of into your MUFG capsule and then check it every couple of days.
      If you have a key of a portal you’re hacking, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get another on that hack.  If you don’t, it’s pretty likely that you will get another.  If you load the key(s) you already have into a capsule, the scanner treats it as if you don’t have one, because items in a capsule are not available for in-game use until they are unloaded.By now you have seen several unexplained reference to portal levels… read on!
  • Capturing & Upgrading:  Or more generally, deploying resonators.  When you encounter a portal, it may be your faction’s color, the enemy faction’s color, or grey.  Grey means it is neutral, and available for capture.  Successfully attacking an enemy portal until all its defenses are destroyed also turns the portal grey.  At this point, the player goes into the Deploy submenu and starts placing resonators on the portal.
    • New players often make the mistake of standing close to the portal while placing resonators — this makes them much easier to destroy because more of them can be closer to the detonation point of enemy weapons.  The desirable method is to find a place to stand that places the portal just at the edge of your scanner range – denoted by a gold-colored circle around your icon in the scanner.  This maximizes the distance from the portal that the resonators are placed.
    • Portals can hold eight resonators.  You get extra AP for placing the first resonator on a grey portal, this is how it is officially captured for your team, and your name goes on it as the “owner”.
    • You will find that aside from Level 1 resonators, each player can only place a limited number of a given level resonator on a portal.  If you are a Level 8 or higher player you can place one each Level 8 and 7 resonators (we call them R8 and R7), two R6, two R5, four R4, R3 or R2.  Or you can fill all eight slots with R1s if you want.
    • The levels of all the resonators deployed on a portal determine the level of the portal itself, as follows.  Add up the levels of the resonators on a portal and divide by eight, then round down to the next integer.  That is the level of the portal (unless it’s 0, because the lowest portal is still a Level 1).  So if I go to a grey portal and place one R8, one R7, two R6s, two R5s and two R4s on it, I have created a Level 5 portal (45/8=5.625 which rounds down to 5).
    • The level of a portal determines the level of the stuff you get from it when hacking.  But only to the integer: two portals that are 6.875 (rounded to 6) and 6.00 (rounded not at all) will give the same stuff over time.  Only once that 6.875 gets an upgrade to 7.00, then does it start giving out higher-level stuff.
    • You can replace a lower level resonator with a higher, as long as the restrictions above aren’t broken.  Portals can be higher than level 5 — up to level 8 with multiple players working on them.  It takes eight R8s to make a Level 8 portal, currently the highest level a portal can be.  That usually requires eight players, but a person who uses a virus owns everything on the portal, regardless of the restrictions.
    • You also get some extra AP for placing the eighth and last resonator — this unlocks the Linking operation.
Next post: Modding, Linking & Fields, Attacking, Recharging, Recycling, Dropping.
Final post: Leveling & Badges & stuff.  Oh my!

Updated 3/25 to add the descriptions of Capsules and Portal Keys.