For participants in the Train Jam, the journey really is more important than the destination.
The event takes the cluttered rooms of your everyday game jam and makes them a little more mobile. Participants hop a train in Chicago and spend 52 hours conceptualizing, creating and finishing a game before arriving at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Adriel Wallick — sister of Indie Megabooth's Kelly Wallick and the event's sole organizer — is an indie developer based out of Boston. Her background is a varied one, beginning with a brief stint as a weather satellite programmer. She moved on to work on games such as Rock Band Blitz before settling into to independent projects and game jams. Speaking with Polygon via phone, Wallick explained how she hopes to rally developers through an unorthodox method.
For every jam Wallick has participated in, the developer said, she's found new inspiration or learned something. By pioneering the Train Jam — an event almost as interesting for its methods as its purpose — Wallick hopes to help inspire her colleagues in new ways. The developer pointed to her recent involvement with Molyjam, an event based on longtime designer Peter Molyneux, as a perfect example.
"This time I wanted company."
"That was one of the fun things about Molyjam this last year: this incredibly bizarre concept of doing a game jam based on a parody account of an out-there individual," Wallick said. "I really wanted to foster that environment, where people can be creative, have fun and be able to create a product they're proud of, from start to finish, in a small amount of time."
In the case of her jam, the creative hook is doing something most people have not: making a game on the road. Train Jam started with a trip of her own. In 2013, Wallick traveled from Boston to Seattle, Seattle to Vancouver. The journey gave her a chance to take in the scenery and spend some much needed time on introspection, but she found herself craving company.
"I wanted to do that train ride again, but this time I wanted company," Wallick wrote on her blog after the jam's inception. "I wanted to get a ton of people together, put them on this train, and head out west."
The idea was to collect developers and return to Seattle again for PAX Prime, but Wallick stalled. PAX is more gamer-centric, she said, and less developer-focused.
"A lot of the developers that are going there are only going to sell their product," Wallick told Polygon. "They don't want to focus on doing a game jam beforehand. They have other stuff to worry about."
"You never really know what's going to inspire you."
Her solution was GDC — an annual gathering of developers and industry types that takes place in San Francisco. The event draws attendees from around the world, and Wallick hopes to get a bigger selection of developers dealing with less stress. Participants will be split into balanced teams with comrades they may not have worked with before.
"I think that doing something different always helps creativity," Wallick said. "Riding on a train is not related to game development, but doing something you don't normally do makes you think about different things ... for example, with Train Jam, how train infrastructure works throughout the United States."
Train Jam will take place from March 13-15, giving developers time to get settled in San Francisco before GDC 2014 kicks off March 17. The event has already drawn in about 54 participants, with tickets ranging from early bird specials ($165 each) to coach class ($180). The game jam will feature developers with all levels of experience.
"I'm hoping Train Jam can ... maybe be the tipping point for someone who's not sure if they want to be a game developer," Wallick said. "You never really know what's going to inspire you in terms of an idea or a game."