Go Pokemon Go!

By | Wednesday, July 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Last week Pokemon Go was released to the public. Kevin and I have been playing the Field Test version for a couple months, so we had a good head-start on it. Our accounts were reset though, so we had to start over when the public release came out, but at least we had a lot of time to learn the basics and watch it turn into the cool game it is now. Boy has it taken the world by storm though!! It seems like almost EVERYONE is playing it, with crowds of people found at Pokestops and gyms all over the place, meeting up and playing together.

It’s fun knowing where this all came from, and knowing we, as early Ingress players, played a big part in it. It seems a lot of Pokemon Go players have yet to learn how it all came to be. When I talk to Go players I explain what Ingress is, and that Ingress is kind of a “Pokemon Go Origins”. Niantic (creators of Ingress) and Nintendo got together and shared their gaming data to create a new sort of Pokemon/Ingress hybrid game. They used all of the basic GPS mapping data and features and Ingress “portals” to create all of the Pokestops and Gyms in Pokemon Go. Having a good knowledge of the entire area’s portal locations from over 3 years of playing Ingress gives us “old school” gamers a distinct early advantage in Pokemon Go, but with so many more people playing, virtually everywhere, and many of them much stronger and better Pokemon players than us, the overall favor still tips things in their way it seems.

Most of the portals that Ingress started with were created by Niantic using the data from the Historical Marker Database on the Internet (http://www.hmdb.org/). But they were few and far between when the game was first released. So we, as early Ingress players, were allowed to submit hundreds of locations players might find interesting while playing Ingress, and after a sometimes-very-long acceptance process by Niantic, each portal was either rejected or accepted. If accepted, it became a “portal” when Ingress players could go to build it up for their faction, either for the blue team (The Resistance) or for the green team (The Enlightened). Personally, I am responsible for the creation of nearly 200 portals in the game, all in and around the Kenosha, WI area and near my work in Waukegan, IL. I have also made it to the top Ingress level, L16, so I feel I know Ingress fairly well.

Ingress is sort of a capture-the-flag GPS-based game with two factions fighting against one another, worldwide. Niantic would periodically hold “anomaly” events in different cities around the globe, which would draw in hundreds or thousands of players from all over the area and around the world to participate in close one-on-one and team-on-team battling for a day.

I had thought Ingress had gotten pretty popular itself, until seeing the effects of this past week’s Pokemon Go release! It’s almost like having an “anomaly” event every day at the moment… hundreds of people flocking to clusters of portals (known as Gyms and Pokestops) to Pokemon Go players… It has already been on the front page of the Kenosha News, all over every TV news program, and even on TMZ! It’s getting everyone up and out, walking around, being social, and getting some exercise, playing with their kids, and getting active. Many say so many adults are playing because they grew up on Pokemon, and are sort of reliving their childhood at this point. Whatever the reason, it’s getting people out exercising and socializing like never before, and playing a game with their kids again. I can say, personally, that it has had the same effect for me. Kevin, my son, now 18 years old, played Ingress with me a few years ago, reach level 10 after about a year and got bored of it and stopped playing. Since Pokemon Go came out, he is now excited to go back out and play with me, and we’re often out playing together again!

Kevin and I heard about this game’s “Beta Testing” a few months ago, way before it’s public release last week, and we signed up to “Field Test” the app. Luckily we were both accepted for the field testing… From what I heard, many others in the area that also signed up never got accepted, so we felt quite fortunate. We actually got a chance to play some very early versions of the game, and watch it evolve a little until the final version was released to the public. We saw some pretty interesting changes come and go in the game–some of which gave us great insight into how the data from Ingress is implemented in Pokemon Go. But perhaps I should leave those nitty-gritty details for another article…if anyone is interested.

Anyway, Niantic (creators of Ingress and an app called Field Trip) got together with Nintendo, and together they created a new version of Pokemon for smartphones, and all of that data for “portals”–most of which was created by us, it’s players–was used in Pokemon Go to create all of the Pokemon Gyms and Pokestops in the game. This includes the photos we took of each location. So based on Ingress gameplay, we created several “farm” areas all over the world. These are small geographic areas densely-populated with many portals, which groups of 8 or more of one of the two teams would often build up to the strongest level for their respective team and then “farm” that area’s portals for top-level gear.

So now, in Pokemon Go, these farm areas are fast becoming hugely-popular meetup areas for vast numbers of Pokemon Go players! For us Ingress players, it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before (except for the rare anomaly events held in major cities). Go players will cluster around a group of Pokestops (which are also Ingress Portals), plug Lure Modules into them, and just stand or walk around and watch the wild Pokemon come to them so they can capture them. Lure Modules are pretty rare in the game, but you can purchase them with coins (and you can buy coins for the game with real money, or earn coins in the game without paying with real money). Lures will attract Pokemon to that Pokestop for a period of 30 minutes, and players seem to just continuously deploy new ones on these popular Pokestops when one wears off, giving everyone around them the benefit of catching many Pokemon with very little effort.

Having been an Ingress player for over 3 years, and watching it only get rare new players, it’s a little overwhelming to now see TONS of new players, constantly playing this new game. Pokemon Gyms, which players can fight and train on, and claim for their team, somewhat like portals in Ingress, are flipped to a different team so often, it’s hilarious! Players have the potential to earn 10 coins in Pokemon Go for each Gym they have a Pokemon deployed on, every 21 hours. This is known as a Defender Bonus, and is the only way you can earn coins to purchase items in the game’s store, aside from spending real money. I think, since most players know this, this is one reason it’s so difficult to keep ownership of a gym for any length of time. Until the game settles down a bit more, all gyms will probably be constantly changing hands multiple times every day.

In Ingress, players would try to locate remote hard-to-get-to portals and try to use them as “Guardians” so they could own them for several months to earn one of their badges in the game. This eventually led to some players harvesting Ingress data and analyzing it to determine how long players have been on each portal, which would tell them how close these players were to earning that badge, so they knew exactly which portal(s) were a particular player’s guardian portal. These players were referred to as Guardian Hunters, or “Gunters”, to steal a term from the great book (and soon-to-be movie) “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ready_Player_One

I’m sure the “newness” of this craze will die down over time, and things will then start leveling off to a level a little closer to where Ingress is. Then again, with how much more popular this game is compared to Ingress right at its start, who knows! If they improve the performance of the app and keep adding better features and options like they did with Ingress, it might just gain much MORE popularity! I can’t imagine how that would be possible, but I guess we’ll see. I envision having “ops” much like we’ve had in Ingress, with groups of players from each faction planning massive attacks to take over gyms throughout an entire geographic area, and a nice world map like Ingress’ Intel Map so we can see how our team is doing, region-wide and worldwide compared to the other two factions.

Hold on to your Pokemon, people…this is just the beginning!

Oh, and just to throw in a shameless plug for our Kenosha group and my team of choice… Please signup to join our Slack Team at KenoshaGo.com. All teams are welcome! There are several public channels there for everything Pokemon Go, from news, gyms and meetups, to just general game discussion. Or you’re free to create a private channel just for your friends or for your own team to private discuss plans or meetups. Go Team Mystic!

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