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Niantic Relaunches ‘Ingress,’ the Precursor to ‘Pokemon Go’

Niantic, the company behind the wildly successful “Pokemon Go” mobile game, is looking to breathe some new life into “Pokemon Go” precursor “Ingress.” On Monday, it officially unveiled “Ingress Prime,” which combines a redesigned app with new storylines, a new onboarding experience and an accompanying web series.

“‘Ingress’ was inspired by this idea that the world is full of interesting places that we pass by every day,” said Niantic CEO John Hanke during a recent press briefing in the company’s San Francisco office. The original game made use of those landmarks by using them as anchor points for the game’s story, allowing players to self-select in two different factions, and then battle the opposing faction for the control of so-called portals.

These portals were in many ways precursors of “Pokemon Go’s” pokestops, and at times even used the same landmarks. “’Ingress’ taught us a lot about real-world games,” said Hanke, adding that the company applied many of those lessons learned to both “Pokemon Go” as well as its upcoming “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” game.

But for all of the similarities, “Ingress” was also clearly ahead of its time. Combining mobile game-play with real-world locations and actions was a new idea, and the fact that ‘Ingress’ did so with a fairly complex science fiction story didn’t exactly help to explain it to the masses. “Ingress” was downloaded a little over 20 million times, whereas “Pokemon Go” surpassed 650 million downloads earlier this year.

Hanke said that the company learned quite a bit from the “Pokemon Go” onboarding experience, which involved a lot more hand-holding. “Ingress didn’t do so well in its first incarnations,” he said about the game’s onboarding.

Ingress Prime” aims to do better by using two AI characters that help to make players familiar with the game’s core mechanics and objectives. Niantic also produced a number of narrative-driven tutorial videos to introduce new and existing players to the updates to the game, and it added another story to the “Ingress” universe with the “Dunraven Project,” a weekly web series that adds another angle to the game’s backstory.

Some of the bigger changes are actually under the hood. “Ingress Prime” has been developed on top of Niantic’s real-world platform, which powers the company’s own game titles as well as future third-party titles. The technology combines the Unity-based mobile app with Niantic’s own augmented reality (AR) cloud, allowing it to anchor “Ingress Prime” portals and other virtual objects to real-world landmarks. “That really forms the fabric for what we are doing now,” Hanke said.

Rebuilding the game’s technology also helped Niantic to revamp the “Ingress Prime” app itself, adding 3D street view, a new portal design, new inventory management and even new sound design.

And it will make it possible for the company to more rapidly iterate on future upgrades, which will include a dedicated AR mode that allows players to explore landscapes in a tabletop mode — think battle map, but projected on your phone’s camera view. The feature is not part of “Ingress Prime” at launch, but will be added in the coming months. “Since we own this IP, we are able to be very innovative and experimental,” said Niantic vice president of engineering Niniane Wang.

However, even with adding these kinds of AR features to “Ingress Prime,” Niantic still focuses on a more holistic take on augmenting the world. “Our notion of augmented reality has always been a lot bigger than what happens on the device,” said Hanke. Instead of just overlaying filters over a camera view of the world, the company aims to add stories and gameplay onto the world itself. Said Hanke: “The world is the computer, the world is the interface.”

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