If you’re playing Pokemon Go, you’ll notice that some of the game’s locations seem to correspond to pretty random-seeming real-life ones. Pokestops and Pokemon gyms are in Churches, abandoned hot dog carts, and cemeteries.
All of these locations are, in fact, based on another game: Ingress. The game was developed by Niantic Labs, the company that produced Pokemon Go along with Nintendo, and released back in 2012. When making Pokemon Go, Niantic Labs used the same mapping database they used with Ingress.
Back then, Niantic Labs was owned by Google, before the tech giant spun it off into an independent company. Because they were part of Google, Ingress already had access to a massive, data-filled map of the real world: Google Maps.
Ingress, like Pokemon Go, is an augmented reality game where you can walk around in real life and discover different places in the game. And with Google’s mapping technology, Niantic Labs already knew how to make apps that interacted with real-life places. In Ingress, the locations are called “portals”; in Pokemon Go, they’re Pokestops and Pokemon gyms.
Niantic Labs also heavily depended on crowdsourcing locations for Ingress portals. They let people choose and take photos of “anything of historical interest” and added them to the database. That’s why some of the locations might seem random — because they were for a place that existed a few years ago, but might not now, and because the locations might have been really appropriate for Ingress, but might feel too dark for a Pokemon game.
One thing that’s missing from Pokemon Go is a big map that tells you where to find all the Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms in the world. Niantic Labs “touched up” the map data for Pokemon Go, according to Polygon, but there’s an Ingress map that you can access to find out where the portals are, which generally correspond to Pokemon Go locations. Some Pokemon Go players are also working on a crowdsourced Google map, bringing the game’s origins full circle.
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