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AutoMatters & More: Challenging Jack Ryan Interactive Experience at San Diego Comic-Con

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“Jack Ryan Training Field” in the Jack Ryan Experience
Jan Wagner

The largest, most awe-inspiring experiences at San Diego Comic-Con take place in “activations” off-site – not within the relatively tight confines of the San Diego Convention Center.

With that in mind, this year I planned to spend much of my time at Comic-Con exploring the many streets filled with these elaborate offsite attractions – and there were many, arrayed along Harbor Drive from the Children’s Museum to Petco Park, and radiating outward from the Convention Center for at least two blocks.

Helicopter rapel
Rappelling out of the helicopter Jan Wagner

The Jack Ryan Experience dominated the buzz surrounding this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. It took place in what was essentially a large, elaborate movie set. Just assembling the components in the parking lot took about two weeks.

The day that I visited, the lines for the coveted hundred or so spots for Prime Video’s “Jack Ryan Training Field” began forming at 4 a.m. – but it was so worth it!

The goal of the intensely realistic, way over-the-top spy mission, was to become a field operative for the Agency – by completing a series of mentally and physically demanding challenges, at an undisclosed government black-site located in the Middle East.

Zip line
Ziplining down to the ground Jan Wagner

I began my training adventure in a field tent, where I was suited up in a full harness, VR headset, earphones, electronics-laden backpack and sensor-equipped boots and gloves. From there I was transported to a three-story, battle-scarred building, where I climbed flights of stairs to the top. I got into a helicopter, was “flown” to the drop zone and then I sat down in its open doorway, my feet dangling high above the ground. Wind (fan blown) gusted as sounds of the battlefield filled my ears in this immersive, sensory experience. Then, tethered to a cable, I rappelled down into the mission. So far, so good.

The next task was to walk along a plank that spanned the distance between two buildings, three stories up. I get dizzy at heights but I knew that the plank sat directly atop the wide, solid platform that connected the two buildings. The walk should have been effortless, but I failed to account for the VR effect.

Truck speed
Speeding along in a truck to deliver the intel. Jan Wagner

In the VR headset my eyes saw a precarious, three-story drop. My instinctive reaction was completely involuntary. As I stepped onto the plank my legs started shaking uncontrollably. Even though I absolutely knew that there was no drop, I could not stop my legs from shaking and I could barely keep from falling down. Thankfully between my willpower and someone helping me, I managed to walk out to the middle of the plank.

Suddenly that plank split lengthwise in two, and half of it “fell” away to the “ground” below. Now the plank was so narrow that crossing it would be more like walking a tightrope, one foot over the other. A voice advised me to just look ahead, not down. I did so and took a few quick steps to get to the other building.

Laser room
Lasers and interrogation room in Jack Ryan “Dark Ops” Jan Wagner

I did not know it at the time, but a local NBC TV camera operator happened to be recording video of my struggle. Coincidentally, I also record that station’s newscast every evening. At home that evening, I saw myself on the news!

Moving on, I needed to acquire intel and deliver to my final destination. I soon became engaged in a gun battle with enemy combatants.

After successfully securing the intel, my next challenge was to zipline back down to the ground.

From there I hurried over to a truck (motion simulated) to complete my VR experience. I drove at breakneck speed through the dangerous streets of the desert village until I finally reached my destination – mission accomplished.

“Dark Ops” was another intense Jack Ryan experience. The building, with its diabolical escape rooms, took six months and two iterations to design and build. It was an immersive, interactive version of the Jack Ryan pilot episode. Groups of analysts worked together to foil an imminent terrorist plot.

Outside, in the Middle Eastern bazaar, refreshments were provided to deal with the heat. Jack Ryan-branded swag included “Government Issue” Analyst photo ID badges, metal water bottles, cloth bags, challenge coins, snacks, an eight-page newspaper (headlined “SAN DIEGO INVADED”) and even a Fire TV Stick.

Tom Clancy’s military action adventure series “Jack Ryan” begins streaming on Prime Video on Aug. 31.

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Copyright © 2018 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #552r2