I personally haven’t seen any real compelling uses for augmented reality outside of laggy “monocoles” to find restaurants and pretending to see a 3D shape on a checkered pattern. However an internal startup at Google called Niantic Labs, led by former Google director John Hanke, has come up with an augmented reality game called Ingress that actually makes sense (and looks really fun).
Internally referred to as Nemesis, Ingress is a virtual reality game that is working to keep people physically moving and better acquainted with their surroundings. Players earn virtual energy called XM by walking through pre-designated paths and can then spend those earned XM points on missions, generally involving visits to widely-accessible public places.
The game’s narrative is set around a worldwide data battle consisting of “The Resistance” and “The Enlightened”. All participating players will belong to one of these sides and its safe to assume that successful completions of missions will be part of a larger meta-game that will dictate which side prevails in the story. But a conclusion won’t be reached until the game’s impact on Google’s advertising services is felt, of course.
Ingress’ stories and missions will also include a number of popular brands including Hint Water, Zipcar, Jamba Juice, and Google Chrome. The real challenge of the game will be Niantic Labs’ ability to successfully weave their advertising into the game’s narrative in a way that is cohesive and even additive to the gameplay experience. I would imagine if the Zipcar partnership could assist players in travel when time-bonuses are involved or if Jamba Juice drinks were important mission items that players could get based on their nutrient content then the game could potentially transcend into something really unique, If all goes well in the game’s planned 1.5 year timeline, Google plans to eventually make the Ingress game-tools into a platform for developers to use in the future.
And if you’re into the story behind Lost, Hanke is looking at all the good parts from the story to help make Ingress (“Lostification?”):
“We were definitely inspired by JJ Abrams,” Hanke said, “but we don’t want to leave people in a ‘Lost’ situation where they get into the fiction of a world but then it never ends.”