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 been involved with, comprising multiple sets of computers, each with a job to do. The initial work was executed very quickly, with refinements made later on as the stand was used at different events.

The idea was that the stand was a CIA testing/recruiting location, where people would register, be given a printed identity card, and work through games designed to test their shooting prowess and analytical and memory skills. The card was used to log in to each of the games, as well as display their details on a final score display screen. All in all, lots of moving parts.

The registration desk was set up with two identical workstations, each with  commercial card printing software, a card printer, and stacks of blank RFID tagged cards. The users would give their details, have a headshot taken, and receive an identity card, with the details 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 were sent 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. When the users had completed the game, their score would be recorded via a tablet.

Once they had finished the shooting test, they would be sent upstairs to the analytical test, where they would click in and be shown a trailer for the Jack Ryan TV series. Once it had finished, they would be quizzed on what they had seen, along with some math and word-play questions, with multiple choice answers presented 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. Players who had scored better in shooting would be categorised as “Agents,” while those who had done better on the quiz would be “Analysts”. A high score tablet was displayed on the side of the stand for the top ten players during the event.

The software was written around a Dropwizard server, attached to a MySQL database holding the card and user data (our database server choice was dictated by the card registration software – MySQL was the closest to an Open Source option). All of the user-facing screens, including the quiz, score display, and card touch-ins, were done using an AngularJS web application. 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. The two events in Germany necessitated re-working the software to allow changing the language used for the cards, aptitude test, and the trailer, and over the course of the events other refinements were made.

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

The Jack Ryan stand at Olympia, London
The Jack Ryan stand at Olypmia, 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!