Before there was Pokémon GO, there was Ingress. It was Niantic’s first game — and while it never became the overwhelmingly popular phenomenon that GO did, it’s undeniably what allowed GO to exist in the first place.
Now Niantic is taking another swing at it. The company has rebuilt Ingress from the ground up, with the goal of making it prettier, more immersive and — most importantly — more accessible to new players. The new app will ship for iOS and Android later today.
Unfamiliar with Ingress? At its core, it shares its DNA with Pokémon GO; it’s a game that encourages you to walk around the real world, visit nearby landmarks and parks and work together with your self-selected team (or, in Ingress’ terminology, your “faction”).
But Ingress is a good bit more… intense than GO (Ingress players like to poke at GO as being “Ingress Lite.”) There are no cutesie monsters to collect or Pokéstops to spin; instead, you’re “hacking” portals (the same real-world locations, mostly, that act as Pokéstops) and “linking” them together in an effort to conquer as much of the map as you can for your faction. Link three portals and everything in-between becomes your team’s turf. It’s like capture the flag mashed up with one massive worldwide game of tug of war, with a bit of Matrix-y cyberpunk dressing slathered on top.
Ingress Prime, as version 2.0 is known, replaces the original Ingress app with one built on Unity — the same gaming engine that powers Pokémon GO and many thousands of other games.
If you’ve been playing Ingress for a while, many of the changes here are “quality of life”-type tweaks: the UI has been cleaned up, and they’ve added all sorts of shortcuts and gestures to make it faster to do things like attack nearby portals or manage your inventory. The new map interface is easier to pan and zoom around with one hand, with a one-finger control scheme that’ll feel pretty familiar for GO players. The new UI is bound to be a point of contention at first, if only because it means a bit of habit breaking for players who’ve spent hundreds to thousands of hours getting used to the old one, and, well, people don’t like change. Hopefully, they come around.
Speaking of those hours spent in Ingress already: Your progress and badges carry over to Ingress Prime. If you’re Level 16 in the original Ingress, you’ll be Level 16 in Ingress Prime. New here, though, is the ability to “recurse.” Sort of like the “prestige” concept made popular by Call of Duty, recursing sets you back to level 1 to start the grind all over again, but with your myriad unlocks (your lifetime AP score, recharge distance and inventory items) still in tow.
Niantic tells me that certain things moving forward will only be available to those who opt to recurse and start afresh, but didn’t elaborate on what those could be. (With many longtime players approaching Pokémon GO’s level cap of 40, I’d be quite surprised if a similar concept doesn’t make its way into GO eventually.)
It’s the players who are new to Ingress, though — or those who gave Ingress a glance before and were spooked away by the steep learning curve — that Niantic seems most interested in here.
Whereas the original Ingress just sort of dumped you into the thick of it, Ingress Prime offers a bit more handholding out of the gate. A plot-driven tutorial introduces new players to the concepts of portals, hacking, etc., all while starting to plant the seeds of the game’s backstory and lore. You’re introduced to the two factions and the rival AIs behind them, eventually being asked to choose a side.
I ran through a beta build of the game’s onboarding process last week, and, as someone who admittedly fits right into that “gave Ingress a glance and got spooked away” camp mentioned above, Ingress Prime does a much better job of clarifying what the heck is going on. It feels like it could use a bit more play testing (particularly in explaining when I’m doing the wrong thing), but it’s a big step forward. It doesn’t spoon feed you, but it does a much better job of getting the ball rolling.
(Pro tip: The game recommends using headphones, and I don’t think that’s just so you can hear things at the highest fidelity. With the tutorial’s voice-acted tracks talking about hacking systems and controlling minds, anyone playing in public sans earbuds is bound to get some preeeeetty weird looks.)
Once they’ve gotten a new player hooked, Niantic intends to go a bit harder with the aforementioned plot/lore this time around. A weekly live-action web series called the “Dunraven Project” will fill in the game’s backstory, while an anime series (which debuted in Japan in October with an English version coming to Netflix in 2019) is meant to explore the wider universe.
According to Niantic, Pokémon GO was downloaded nearly a billion times. Ingress, meanwhile, capped out at around 20 million downloads.
Will this overhaul get Ingress downloads up into the billions? Probably not. Pokémon GO had that powder keg spark of nostalgia and familiarity to draw in massive crowds right off the bat — but, built on someone else’s intellectual property, there are limitations in what Niantic can do with GO and where GO can… er, go. But by rebooting Ingress, Niantic is using existing IP it already owns/fully controls as a springboard; they’re striving to keep the existing player base happy, while setting it up to grow dramatically by lowering the barrier to entry and expanding the storyline. It’s a tough tightrope act to pull off, but it really seems that they’re starting out on a good foot here.
Only a few hours remain for anyone who wants to buy games from the eShops for Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS.
As it promised more than a year ago, Nintendo is shutting down those digital storefronts tonight at 8 pm Eastern, after previously halting the ability to add eShop funds in May 2022. After today, you can still download or re-download any titles you’ve previously bought from those shops, though that can obviously change in the future. Closing the eShops means that roughly 1,000 digital-only games will no longer be accessible, according to research by VGC, including 335 Virtual Console games that aren’t available through the Nintendo Switch Online service.
These kinds of sweeping moves, while perhaps understandable from a business perspective, pose a serious danger to the preservation of many games in the systems’ libraries. As Ars detailed earlier this month, video game preservationists are hamstrung by laws and regulations around remote access to DRM-protected work, even if it’s kept by research-driven organizations. Nintendo is one of many organizations that, through the Entertainment Software Association, lobbies to prevent libraries from offering legal access to archived games.
Today’s shutdown also marks the end of Nintendo’s Virtual Console, which allowed for the purchase of individual games from Nintendo’s catalog without a subscription. The Console was killed on the original Wii in 2019, and Nintendo does not intend to offer it on the Switch, noting in an FAQ about the eShop shutdown that it currently has “no plans to offer classic content in other ways” (since removed, but archived here). It has, however, offered a website on which you can “Bring back your gaming memories” of 3DS and Wii U titles you’ve purchased and played.
If you’re wondering what it would take to buy every game on the eShop, somebody already did that. The Completionist, aka Jirard Khalil, downloaded 1.2TB of Wii U and 267GB of 3DS games, taking 328 days and costing $22,791. “Since the industry started, we run a daily risk of losing games forever,” Khalil tells viewers in the video. “That’s why this matters.” Khalil is donating the consoles and storage containing all the games to the Video Game History Foundation and will host a Preserved Play fundraiser for the foundation April 15-16 on his Twitch channel.
Modders can change many things inside their favorite games, but dialogue from professionally voiced characters hasn’t been one of those things—at least until recently. AI voice generation could open up new modding avenues for some games, as it has already done with one Fallout 4 mod package.
Roleplayer’s Expanded Dialogue (RED) is listed in the NexusMods catalog as a “Massive expansion of vanilla dialogue,” adding more than 300 entirely new lines of dialogue to the game. Those lines aim to solve an issue near to the hearts of fans of Fallout 1, 2, and New Vegas: role-playing. If you’re playing as a ruthless jerk, a brilliant nuclear scientist, or a strong but dimwitted dolt, you’ll see more dialogue options that reflect this. Mechanically, the roll-the-dice speech “checks,” which are based solely on your charisma level in the default game, can now be unlocked using related traits or skills.
They’re not just new labels on existing dialogue, either. RED, created by NexusMods user ProfMajowski (and first seen by us at PCGamesN), says it used ElevenLabs voice AI to generate its more in-character lines. The results can sometimes “sound a little ’emotionless,'” the creator writes, but “otherwise they basically sound like the real thing.” Nothing your character can newly say now will change the game’s mechanics or reactions, but it should sound a bit more in character.
It remains to be seen whether tweaking existing voice files with AI to create new sound-like lines will hold up to legal and copyright scrutiny or whether the new material can claim its own copyright.
Modders who wanted to remake Fallout 3 inside the engine of Fallout 4 were forced to shut down in 2018 after Bethesda advised them that the voice files the mod would have transferred and transformed were not even fully owned by Bethesda itself, opening the unpaid team to legal liabilities. Modders from that point onward tended to seek out their own voice talent, usually working for free, including Fallout: London, Fallout: New Vegas: The Frontier, and others. At the moment, you’re certain to get better and more lived-in results from voice actors, but AI results may soon be good enough for modders looking to move more quickly on large projects—if they can legally do so, of course.
I haven’t had the chance to kick the tires too much on the RED mod, owing both to the dependency traps of trying to line up a new mod in the Vortex manager, and the fact that you have to play a lot of Fallout 4 in a new, mods-enabled game before you meet characters with truly interesting things to say. Still, the opportunity to hear a strong, agile, but incredibly dumb wastelander make his way across burnt-down Boston makes a replay mighty appealing.
UK regulators reviewing Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard reversed their stance on a key question today, saying they no longer believe Microsoft would remove the Call of Duty franchise from Sony’s PlayStation consoles.
Last month, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) tentatively concluded that a combined Microsoft/Activision Blizzard would harm competition in console gaming. At the time, the CMA said evidence showed that “Microsoft would find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own consoles (or only available on PlayStation under materially worse conditions).” The agency also raised concerns about the merger affecting rivals in cloud gaming.
The preliminary finding was a victory for Sony, which has consistently expressed doubts about Microsoft’s promise to keep putting Call of Duty games on PlayStation. But Microsoft argued that the CMA’s financial model was flawed and was able to convince the agency to reverse its conclusion. In an announcement today, the CMA said it “received a significant amount of new evidence.”
“Having considered the additional evidence provided, we have now provisionally concluded that the merger will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in console gaming services because the cost to Microsoft of withholding Call of Duty from PlayStation would outweigh any gains from taking such action,” CMA Panel Chair Martin Coleman said.
As a result, the CMA panel investigating the deal “updated its provisional findings and reached the provisional conclusion that, overall, the transaction will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in relation to console gaming in the UK,” the agency announcement said.
Pulling CoD would cause “significant” financial loss
The updated findings said pulling Call of Duty off PlayStation would cause “a significant net financial loss for the Parties under all scenarios that we considered plausible,” but numbers were redacted from the public version of the document.
The CMA said the “most significant new evidence” submitted to the agency relates to Microsoft’s financial incentives to make Activision games exclusive to Xbox consoles, adding:
While the CMA’s original analysis indicated that this strategy would be profitable under most scenarios, new data (which provides better insight into the actual purchasing behaviour of CoD gamers) indicates that this strategy would be significantly loss-making under any plausible scenario. On this basis, the updated analysis now shows that it would not be commercially beneficial to Microsoft to make CoD exclusive to Xbox following the deal, but that Microsoft will instead still have the incentive to continue to make the game available on PlayStation.
UK hasn’t dropped cloud gaming concerns
This should make it easier for Microsoft to get UK approval of the merger, but the company still needs to convince regulators that the deal won’t harm competition in cloud gaming.
“Our provisional view that this deal raises concerns in the cloud gaming market is not affected by today’s announcement. Our investigation remains on course for completion by the end of April,” Coleman said.
The CMA’s provisional findings last month said evidence “indicates that Microsoft would find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud gaming service (or only available on other services under materially worse conditions). Microsoft already accounts for an estimated 60-70 percent of global cloud gaming services and also has other important strengths in cloud gaming from owning Xbox, the leading PC operating system (Windows) and a global cloud computing infrastructure (Azure and Xbox Cloud Gaming).”
Buying Activision Blizzard, the CMA said, “would reinforce this strong position and substantially reduce the competition that Microsoft would otherwise face in the cloud gaming market in the UK. This could alter the future of gaming, potentially harming UK gamers, particularly those who cannot afford or do not want to buy an expensive gaming console or gaming PC.”
Microsoft in response told the CMA that “Activision games would not have been available to cloud gaming services absent the Merger,” and that there’s “no evidence that Activision content would have been an important input for cloud gaming providers.” Microsoft also said its proposed licensing remedies would “ensure wide availability of CoD and other Activision titles on cloud gaming services.”