Watch out Disney: With ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Experience’ Amazon Delivered Next Generation Amusement to Attendees of San Diego Comic-Con
Amazon dropped Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Experience into the lap San Diego Comic-Con. Crowds lined up in the warm California sun from early morning to early evening to tackle the Middle Eastern-themed VR training-based course.
Based on the upcoming streaming show from Amazon, the Jack Ryan Experience created an environment that other amusement parks need to pay attention to. While the pop-up took only two weeks to build, it checked all the boxes for a first class adventure you might encounter at any of California’s theme parks. The experience was developed for Amazon by MediaMonks.
As with all experiences, The Jack Ryan Experience started with a line. But after that forget the usual walk or ride. Jack Ryan immersed guests quickly and totally from the moment they entered the gates until they returned to the cosplay patrolled streets of San Diego.
The Jack Ryan training field
Here’s the rundown. Guides quickly whisked quests into a hut where they are outfitted in VR gear: an Oculus headset, an HP Omen X VR Backpack as CPU, along with hand and feet sensors from Optitrack 4D.
Camouflaged golf carts then deployed the new recruits from the VR set-up tents onto the training field. First stop: a helicopter platform. Actors walk each guest to the edge of the helicopter door as they descend toward their drop point in somewhere in the Middle East. All of this, while seeing only what the VR wants them to see. The actors plop them down on the edge of the helicopter platform. Their feet dangle in space. Visually, they are looking down on a drop point 30-feet down. A fan blows wind up at them. And then they jump.
For most VR experiences, that few minutes in VR would be it. For Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Experience, that was just the beginning. Actors dressed in security gear and Molly vests greet the guests and escort them walk over a sensor-embedded plank. Tactile transducers beneath the plank delivered haptic feedback when the board ‘breaks’ in the VR world or an explosion occurs. The transducers connect to a sound amplifier synchronized with the computer which plays low-frequency sounds from the guest’s backpacks.
The walk over the alley appears perfectly safe for an outside observer. Plenty of room on all sides with rails beyond. But in VR, it manifests as a hazardous crossing over an alley via a narrow beam. When the beam breaks, it becomes an even narrower passage halfway through the crossing. Experience actors shared that people have fallen down on all fours, nearly frozen, others started crying and some just stopped and walked off.
Designers didn’t think the beam simulation was harrowing enough. With a cool innovative twist, Amazon broadcasted each participant’s experience over Twitch, where gamers could toss objects at the guest as he or she walks the precarious alley chasm.
After arriving on the other side of the alley, guests enter a VR extended platform that looks like a room in VR, where enemy operatives take pot shots. Once the guest grabs the awaiting taser, the lights go out and they battle to the crow’s next in simulated night vision begins. Guests must take out combatants before they can move on. The taser was a custom fabricated at MediaMonks Sao Pãolo ‘Makers Lab’ product that combined a trigger sensor, laser, vibration motors to mimic the taser electrifying the darts, and a custom-made circuit board with WiFi built-in.
Not everyone proved themselves an expert first-person shooter. The first guest I watched go through the experience required a rescue from the shooting experience before progressing to the edge of the building.
Once through the shooting room, guests get connected to a zip-line where they repeal down toward an awaiting Jeep. Still in full VR, the guest finally reaches the last part of the experience: the guest gets strapped into a Jeep, and, along with his actor coach, he or she navigated the mean, narrow streets of a prototypical Middle Eastern town where unhappy locals take pot shots at the vehicle and try to block its progression.
Survivors of the drive arrive at the safe zone where they exit the VR experience and turn in their backpack and digital goulashes.
The innovations associated with a full daylight VR experience were many, from the sensors in the plank to the Twitch integration, but perhaps most impressive was the science that went into the of the sets. The Optitrack system along with dozens of their high-end cameras and IR emitting active trackers keep the scenes in VR connected the real world sets. MediaMonks had to choose materials, paints, colors and finishes of the scenography carefully because infrared light from the Sun hitting surfaces would reflect back, making it hard to track the guests through the experience.
Rafael Fittipaldi, Partner and Tech Creative Director, MediaMonks said of the experience, ”Bringing together all the different components was a huge technical challenge. We had VR, large-scale outdoor tracking, the winch, the zip line, the car simulation with motion platform, as well as 4D components such as scent machines and tactile feedback built into the set. Making it all work seamlessly and wirelessly was what really elevated this experience, and it was enormously satisfying we could measure the success from the delight and thrill it brought to the Comic-Con crowds.”
The escape room
The Jack Ryan Experience didn’t stop with the training field. Amazon’s mini-amusement park kept on giving with a custom-built escape room developed by AKQA and Unit 9. The room put guests inside the show’s pilot in a parallel plot called Dark Ops. Guests solved physical problems, interrogated a captured driver with enemy situational information, all in the guise of remotely assisting Ryan on his mission.
A high-powered control room monitored every group through the escape room, where voice actors interacted with them, including a John Krasinski sound-alike who stepped in with dialog if the groups went off script. Nobs and switches allowed experience operators to tweak each component of the escape room. Averages escape time took about 20 minutes, but a team of real military special operations completed it in about six.
Relaxing after the mission
Outside of the two major technology-empowered experiences, guest could also have their picture taken to share their Jack Ryan-ness with friends and family on social media and go through a village bazaar to collect Jack Ryan branded snacks, water and other swag.
Implications for amusement parks
Amazon’s Jack Ryan Experience changes the game for amusement parks, even if they don’t know it yet. It demonstrates that VR is a legitimate tool for real-world experiences, working in the full light of day in big venues rather than in small footprints in dimly lit cubbyholes. The three month development time culminated in a two-week setup, which may be a big deal in Comic-Con activation, but it is a very fast build compared to traditional amusement part ride development.
The total immersion, while not perfect nor glitch free, ran pretty smoothly, a proof point that VR technology is ready for a bigger outing with the right design and investment. Contrary to the general movement toward augmented reality over VR because of its mostly place-bound exemplars, the Jack Ryan Experience required the full VR immersion to pull off the needed emotional connections and play attributes. AR would literally have seen through the experience, which would have made for a very different adventure.
The ability for twitch viewers to modify a guest’s experience shines a light on how auxiliary channels beyond social media sharing creates a randomness that can only come from humans interacting with other humans.
Michiel Brinkers, Technical Director, MediaMonks wrapped the whole experience by sharing, “Producing a VR activation of this scale in 3 months time was a crazy undertaking. One of my favorite parts was developing a custom Twitch integration where viewers could interact and distract those going through the course by shooting rockets or even sending flocks of angry chickens!”