120 parts game developer
1 part Amtrak train
2500 westward miles
Mix them all together and you will get 50 real, playable games—almost one game per hour of travel. And that's exactly what happened at this year's Indie Train Jam.
Train Jam was founded last year by Adriel Wallick, a former satellite programmer (now an independent game dev), and the jam’s maiden voyage in February 2014 yielded almost 20 games that run on platforms from web to PC to Android. Karma sponsored the event with WiFi, which isn’t included on the Amtrak California Zephyr line that carted the developers halfway across the country. This year, Train Jam drew double the participants, including 30 game dev students from all over the map, a testament not just to 2014’s success, but also to the passion of the tenacious developers involved; after all, trains don’t really afford the luxuries of showers or Queen-sized sleeping arrangements.
It’s a testament to the passion of the tenacious developers involved; after all, trains don’t really afford the luxuries of showers or Queen-sized sleeping arrangements.
A game jam follows a concept fairly similar to that of a hackathon; Wikipedia tells us it’s “a gathering of game developers for the purpose of planning, designing, and creating one or more games within a short span of time, usually ranging between 24 and 72 hours.” Some well-known jams include the Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare, but unsurprisingly, Train Jam is the first one to take place on a moving train.
A view from the train as it travels West
Aside from acting as the creative stomping grounds for 52 hours of pretty intense game development, Train Jam also serves as the transportation to the world’s largest conference for professional game developers, GDC, which takes place every February in San Francisco. This year, once the train arrived in SF, the indie developers had the unique opportunity to show off their interactive creations at a Train Jam booth at GDC. Games included everything from the 2D PC game Snow Thy Enemy, described by the creators as a “zany bash-up of Katamari Damacy, Hidden in Plain Sight and Quake”, to a game called Cylindrical Tank, a version of Atari’s Tank that utilizes hardware made out of stuff found on the train, like drink cups and a single-serve wine bottle.
Of course, all the games from Train Jam 2015 will be available on the event’s website. Until then, you can still play around with the games from the 2014. This month, GameLoading: Rise of the Indies will also launch a documentary film about the world of indie game development, and their sneak peak takes an in-depth look at Train Jam 2014.