Archive for January, 2016

Ingress: On Gameplay Goals And The Inefficacy Of Pineapples

January 28th, 2016 No comments

For those who might not know, I am an avid Ingress player. It is a fun augmented-reality game, which is to say that it overlays the map of the game onto that of the physical world; so in order to interact with items and points of significance in the game, you must be near them in the real world.

To make a long story short, the game has two teams, or factions, called the Resistance (blue) and Enlightened (green), for story reasons. The goal of the game is to capture and hold control points, called “portals,” and link them together to form triangular areas called “control fields”: areas surrounded by your faction’s portal links. Larger and more numerous fields give the faction more total points (in game terminology, “mind units”, or simply “MUs”). These are what determine your faction’s score, if they are still standing, at the end at the end of that cycle checkpoint (each 5-hour period of time when the servers tally the MU scores of each faction) . Players, called “agents”, use a variety of items that they acquire from portals by “hacking” them, to capture portals and upgrade them. Among these items are bursters (weapons used to attack enemy portals), resonators (which empower the portals and align them an agent’s faction), so-called “flip cards” (JARVIS viruses and ADA refactors, which forcibly convert a portal to be aligned to the Enlightenment or Resistance factions, respectively), and enhancements (called “mods”) to the portal itself, such as defensive ones like shields (which reduce some damage from enemy attacks), or utility ones like heat sinks and multi-hacks (which allow agents to hack gear from the portal more often) and link amps (which increase the maximum link range of the portal).

I had a provocation earlier tonight with some would-be allies which inspired this post, in that I had destroyed, captured, and created fields from so-called “pineapples” that they set up. It’s only recently that I’ve come to learn about this tactic (so named because they resemble the fruit in appearance); but in essence, one can capture an enemy portal, deploy all 8 low-level resonators onto it as close to its center as possible, fill its mod slots with otherwise useless things (like regular link amps), then use a flip card to transfer control of it back to the opposition. The goal of such a tactic is straightforward: resource denial. What could have been a reasonably well-defended portal is at any point later easy to destroy (since it has no defensive mods, and the resonators are all packed so close together). Furthermore, since it is low-level, it does not provide much useful gear. In theory, it forces the enemy to use their own flip card (which are rare) and destroy it before recapturing themselves, thereby expending weaponry and their own resources and time. While this may have been a viable tactic when the game first began many years ago, it no longer is. It is said in this game that the best defense is a good offense, and such a flawed tactic demonstrates this by failing to take into account five important aspects of gameplay.

First, portals provide equipment to both factions, and so forcibly keeping a portal at a low level serves only to reduce the total gear available in the game from that portal, thereby reducing item opportunity for nearby agents in both factions. And even when flipped, enemy agents can still upgrade all of the resonators, thereby producing a high-level portal from which any agent can then acquire good equipment. Admittedly, the portal will not be as farm-friendly without these hack mods to acquire items more often from it; but this detriment in farm is in fact a detriment to the farm of both factions.

Second, since the portal has all its resonator slots filled, it can still be used to create links and fields (albeit weakened ones), which add to the key scoring metric used in determining the victor at each 5-hour checkpoint.

Third, items which used to be very rare in game, including flip cards, are now much more commonplace thanks to the existence of MUFG capsules (which gradually duplicate their contents). Because of their steady duplication of items, the introduction of MUFG capsules is arguably the most significant change to the game in its entire history, even moreso than flip cards or ultra strikes. In fact, I have two of these so-called “muffins” full of flip cards, giving me one or two free JARVISes and a handful of free ADAs every day. Forcing an enemy to expend what are now reasonably commonplace items in order to destroy and recapture their portals is inherently counterproductive, as doing so gives the enemy faction AP and badge credits (two other scoring metrics in the game, used to increase agent levels).

Fourth, it fails to account for the existence of ultra strikes (high power weapons with a very small blast radius). Once flipped, pineapples by their design are almost stupidly easy to destroy with a few well-placed ultra strike blasts. And because the resonators are all very low level, this will work even through the mitigation of any shields that might have been installed. Again, all that this accomplishes is a bit of AP and badge credit gain for both sides.

Lastly, the goal of pineapples is usually to deny an enemy gear, and so it is done in small portal clusters that are known to be often enemy-controlled and used for farming (with mods like multi-hacks and heat sinks, which allow equipment to be gained from these portals more often). But one of the strongest defenses a farm has is specifically the fact that it is clustered: any portal whose resonators are attacked is likely to counterattack the offending agent, so by spacing resonators in the farm widely, any enemy agent that attacks them is likely to hit multiple portals and therefore be counterattacked just as widely. On the other hand, pineapples, once flipped, are easy to destroy with weaker low-range weapons (or, a few well-placed ultra strikes as noted above) rather than the more powerful but larger-range ones, thus reducing the total counterattacks done to that enemy agent. It is therefore more detrimental to the enemy agents to fully capture and deploy on their farm, and put on attack mods like turrets and force amps (which make the portals’ counterattacks happen more often and make them more powerful). And again, these can simply be flipped just as easily; and if an enemy did, he or she would not be able to replace these attack mods with hack ones, being just as counterproductive to their farm as pineapples were perhaps intended.

But all this is simply an aside: pineapples are not a viable long-term tactic in Ingress; and the only purpose they serve is to waste the time and resources of both factions, one in creating the pineapple, and the other in destroying it to claim it properly. The true issue that provoked this post was that in capturing and fielding from the pineapples that I mentioned earlier, I had teammates remarking to me in chat a few moments after the fact that they had “made those portals […] fucked up and ada’d [sic] for a reason.” That’s all well and good perhaps, but the entire purpose of the game is to capture, link, and create control fields from portals. This is exactly what I did between these 5 portals in question. And in doing so, I was reprimanded by members of my own faction for simply playing the game as it was intended. These agents even went so far as to accuse me of somehow being a double-agent, playing for the Resistance’s benefit. That crossed the line of being sensible discussion of tactics to one of inflammatory and blatantly false accusations, and it was that at that point that I stopped responding to any of the three agents involved. Tactical disagreements happen, sure; but I will not be unjustly accused of being something I’m not.

Because, after all, it’s just a game; and I’m not going to let myself stop enjoying something that for almost two years has forced me to get more exercise and visit more of my city, all because three ignorant agents from my own faction apparently don’t want me earning points toward our faction’s victory.

And if any of those three are reading this post, please take note of the following: Should you decide to continue making pineapples in those spots which have become part of my daily walking path between classes, I intend to keep upgrading them and making fields from them just as often. Whether or not I capture them first is dependent only on whether or not they are blue at that time. I do this not out of spite or malice; but rather as a way to earn points for myself and the Enlightened faction (which is, again, the entire purpose of the game).

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