Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ingress 2 - A Phone Call

It was only 9am, but already the heat was beating down on us. The marquee we set up was providing a reasonable amount of shade, but the heavy, humid air and the heat from the BBQ grill were doing little to assist in making for a comfortable morning. The scent of grilling meat, about 50 BBQ sausages, drifted across the car lot. As always, it was the staff that came out first, looking for an early morning feed and attracted by the fact that it wasn’t every day, they had a promotions team show up to support their big sale. Balloons and signs decorated the car park and adjacent roadway. Music filled the air and mixed with the swirling smells of char-grilled meat. There was no better perfume to attract a crowd than the mix of music, food and the promise of a good deal.

“Hey Billy!”, I shouted out to the young man holding the BBQ tongs. “It’s time for some quality assurance testing. I’ll have one over here, thanks.”

Billy pulled a hot snag from the BBQ and placed it on the slice of white bread that Emma held out to him. As Emma turned to pass the sausage to me, Becky chirped in with a friendly reminder that I had my choice of sauces. Becky smiled and waved her hands over the array of tomato sauce, bbq sauce and mustard bottles. The TV game-show style flourish was met with a smirk from the rest of the team.

I had just taken the first bite of the snag when I felt the phone in my pocket start to vibrate, followed shortly by the tell-tale signature of my favourite ringtone, The Eagles, Journey of the Sorcerer. I rolled my eyes and cursed the sense of timing that the universe seemed to have as I reached into my front pocket and retrieved my Galaxy Nexus phone. I thumbed the answer icon, my tongue pushed the half chewed sausage into the side of my cheek and I answered the call with a "Huwwo?" that pushed it's way out around the mouthful of food.

"You're going to need to move quickly", said the voice on the other end of the line.

"Wha...", I began in reply.

"A portal has just formed at Denmark Hill", the man on the other end of the line continued, "We may not have seen much Resistance activity in the area, but this is no time to gamble. Get up there and secure it, now." There was a real sense of urgency in his voice as he finished with, "I can't talk now. I'm about to lose power on my phone. Just go, now!", and the line went silent.

Barely ten minutes later and I was cresting the top of Denmark Hill, the engine of my economy car complaining about taking on the steep slope of the road. In the mount attached to the dash, my phone was coming to life with the Ingress scanning software. ADA, the intelligent algorithm behind the XM detector, had already pinpointed my location. “Welcome back,” she said as the map zoomed in to show a dense scattering of XM in the area. The screen lit up as I approached the site of the portal. As it came within range, the sounds emanating from the scanner took on an other-wordly whine. The high pitched wail slithered its way into my head and wrapped itself around the base of my cerebellum. I felt exhilarated at the prospect of my first encounter with a real portal.

Once the car was parked, I pulled the scanner from its cradle mount and exited the vehicle. Looking at the screen, I could see a swirling, grey mass of energy just a few metres in front of me. Using ADA’s built in tools, I targeted the portal and began hacking. With a successful attempt, I was able to retrieve a pair of resonators that would assist in securing the portal. ADA warned the portal was getting hot and I should probably not attempt any further hacking. I had no idea what might happen if I pushed it too far, so I took the cautious route and began focusing on securing the portal. Within a few minutes, I had deployed resonators in a few key locations. The portal appeared to stabalise and its colour shifted from grey to green. “There’s one for the Enlightened,” I thought to myself.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when the phone rang again. I answered it quickly and was met with the same voice as before. “Good work,” he said.

“But …. how did you know …”, I started to get out.

“Check the intel map,” he replied. “It’s an invaluable resource. But for now, you’re good to go. That is the only portal in our local area and you’ve secured it for us green shirts. Good work, but now get out of there.” With that last instruction, the phone went silent.

After shutting down the Ingress scanning software, I opened the Intel map to get a look at what was happening. In the city, just 40 - 50km away, there was a war brewing. A mix of Resistance and Enlightened portals has popped up across the city centre. I could see live chatter on the comm lines as agents from both sides attacked and defended causing portals to change sides and control fields to flicker in and out of existence. I scanned further across the map and saw larger battles occurring in other major cities across the country. Farther still and I saw huge battles in North America and Western Europe. Scattered pockets of portals also seemed to be popping up throughout the developing world. It seemed almost no corner of the globe would be left untouched by the coming struggle.

As I sat back in my office chair, attempting to fathom the depth of what I was seeing, one thing became abundantly clear. What I experienced today, is just the beginning.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ingress 1 - A New Day

They said it wasn't a game. That wasn't going to stop me. It was 4:30am and the Sun had yet to even tease the horizon with its presence. That wasn't going to stop me either. The mix of excitement and nervous energy in my stomach certainly wasn't going to stop me, yet none of my determination could quell the burning question in my mind, "Just what exactly have I gotten myself into here?"

As I step out of the door to my home and into the dark, morning air, the chill of the pre-dawn wakes my senses. I feel immediately alert of my surroundings. The screen of my phone glows brightly and its speaker emits an eerie sound that waves and laps at my subconscious. The scanning software that I am running on my phone, has come from some ‘leaked technology’ and is causing quite the buzz on the social-webz. Some people are ranting about portals while others are ranting about shapers and still others about some guy who bought a glitchy phone off eBay. A phone which is apparently the source of the leaked app. I can’t resist all this talk of ‘exotic matter’ and some mysterious conflict over the potential future of humanity.

On the screen is an easily recognisable map of my current location. I can also see groupings of sparkly things swirling in the distance. A woman’s voice chimes in and explains the sparkly swirls are exotic matter (XM) which has leaked into my universe. Ingress, the scanning software, or perhaps the name of the woman speaking to me goes on to explain that although the app can detect none locally, portals have begun to form at key locations around the world. Some more warnings about the coming conflict are followed by an explanation that a training scenario is required and a simulation portal is created. 

The app calls out the detected simulation portal as being some 80 metres away in a field across from my home. I begin moving towards it, looking first straight ahead and then at my glowing scanner. The swirling mass of energy so apparent to my scanner is hidden to my human eye. Only now does the sense of seeing beyond the veil begin to settle in the base of my skull. I continue to progress towards the portal, eyes transfixed by the glowing, swirling, pulsating energy. I follow the instructions given to me by the woman’s voice. I attack, defend, acquire tools and utilise them to strengthen the position of the newly subjugated portal. It is obvious the skills I have just been shown will be of great importance in the coming days. 

As the simulated portal disappears from the scanner’s screen, I snap back into the world that existed before all the talk of portals, exotic matter and shapers. I snap back into the world where I am simply standing in a field, alone, staring at the fading glow of my phone screen as the sun just begins to crack above the horizon. This is the dawn of a new day. This is a beginning. This is the moment I realise, the world is not what it seems.

--- to be continued ---