Presenting Jack Ryan, 2018

The Jack Ryan project was a major promotion for the Amazon Jack Ryan TV series, which we worked on for our friends at We Make Stuff Happen, writing a lot of the software which drove the stand. It was probably the most complex event we’ve worked on, comprising multiple sets of computers, each with a job to do. The initial execution was very quick, with refinements coming later as the stand went to different events.

The stand was a mock CIA testing/recruiting location. People would register, receive printed identity card, and work through games designed to test their shooting prowess and analytical and memory skills. They used the card to log in to each game, and then see their results on a final score screen. All in all, lots of moving parts.

We set up the registration desk with two identical workstations. Each had commercial card printing software, a card printer, and stacks of blank RFID tagged cards. The users gave their details, had a headshot taken, and received an identity card; their details were recorded in a database.

Within the stand, Raspberry Pis powered most of the user interactions. We used commercial card readers to capture when the users tapped-in to a game, with the Pi transmitting back to the central server running on a laptop on the front desk. Users went through in groups of up to four people at a time.

The shooting range used bespoke software usually used for training police tactical response teams. The crew member in charge used a tablet to record the users’ scores when they completed the game.

After the shooting test, they went upstairs for the analytical test. They tapped-in to start a trailer for the Jack Ryan TV series. Afterwards, there was a quiz on what they had seen, along with some math and word-play questions, with multiple choice answers on a touch screen.

After the analytical test, they would head out of the stand proper to a console where they could touch in with their cards to see how they had scored, and what assignment they had achieved. Players whose shooting score was higher were “Agents,” while those who did better on the quiz were “Analysts”. There was a high score tablet on the side of the stand for the top ten players during the current event.

The software used a Dropwizard server, with a MySQL database for the card and user data (the card software dictated our database server choice – MySQL was the closest to an Open Source option). We used an AngularJS web application for all of the user-facing screens, including the quiz, score display, and card touch-ins. The server itself was a well-specced, if ancient, Thinkpad that we have used on a number of events, while the Raspberry Pis were almost all model 3Bs, with one or two 3B+s. With the exception of the registration workstations, all of the machines were running Linux (Raspbian/Mint Xfce).

We found that the trailer was too large to easily serve over wireless to the aptitude test machines, so had to install that on a local webserver on the machines themselves – lighttpd to the rescue!

(We eventually switched to hard-wired networking, due to reliability issues with wireless in some of the venues – things that were fine during the build process stopped working when the hall’s internal wireless was turned on and hundreds of people were in the room.)

The initial event for the stand was at MCM ComicCon at the eXcel centre in London, followed by events in Stuttgart, London’s Olympia, and finally at GamesCom in Cologne. We re-worked the software for the two events in Germany to allow changing the language used for the cards, aptitude test, and the trailer. Over the course of the events we made other refinements.

The stand itself was built from two shipping containers, on a 10×10 metre base, with metal detectors at the entrance that alerted randomly. At the comic conventions, it was among the larger exhibits.

The Jack Ryan stand at Olympia, London
The Jack Ryan stand at Olympia, dwarfing its neighbours. The registration desk is at the front, with the shooting range behind, and the aptitude test clearly visible in the upper section. Agents can be seen steering players around the stand.

This may be an indication of our innocence, but GamesCom was the largest indoor event that we have ever attended. Our ten-metre square stand was minuscule in comparison with every other stand in the same area, and in fact, the whole event (with the exception of the specialist stands selling comics and paraphernalia).

The Jack Ryan stand at GamesCom 2018
The Jack Ryan stand, looking somewhat scaled down in comparison with the Electronic Arts exhibit that took the whole width of the arena-sized building.

It was a great challenge to be a part of, and we were tremendously proud of how well things came together. We hope that the 6400 or so people who visited the stands enjoyed themselves!