This year’s Train Jam, the 52-hour game jam that takes place on an Amtrak train headed from Chicago to the Game Developers Conference, was the biggest ever. And, say organizers Adriel Wallick and Jon Lindvay, it’s unlikely it will ever get any bigger.
“I have no desire to make it other times in the year, or take it anywhere else,” Wallick told Polygon. “Train Jam to me is this one event, this one train that does this one thing and creates these opportunities for people ... and this micro-community. And that’s it.”
This year Train Jam worked directly with Amtrak to take over an entire train, running on the famous California Zephyr line, to travel nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago’s Union Station to Emeryville, California. On board were 300 game developers, and since Amtrak can’t realistically accommodate any more cars at one time, that’s about as many as there’s ever going to be.
“I want it to be what it is,” Adriel said. “I’m really excited, now that we can’t get any bigger, to refine it.”
This year’s jam included participants from every continent and countries all over the world. Part of that, Wallick said, was thanks to sponsors like Intel, Amazon, Vlambeer and Cards Against Humanity, who worked with Train Jam on initiatives for culture and diversity. Their money helped find and fund developers who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to participate, even helping with travel stipends and visas.
One of this year’s additions was an enhanced student program, which is organized each year by Lindvay. There were 50 seats reserved for students, who were able to apply for a spot through their universities. Once they arrived, they were paired with more experienced indie developers.
“We had people who wanted to jam and when they signed up they said, ‘Hey I would be interested in maybe leading a team of students or working on a team of students,’” Lindvay said. “Something that I want to work on for next year is a portfolio review, where they can bring their projects to these people and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m working on.’
Lindvay said that Finji’s Adam and Rebekah Saltsman held informal office hours on the train, taking some of the students aside to look through their body of work and give advice.
“Students would go find them, and go over there and they would just break them down and give them the what’s what,” Lindvay said. “The hardcore Saltsman treatment, and the students would just be getting force-fed information. And after they would come out and they would be like, ‘That was the best one-hour conversation I’ve ever had.’ It’s finding those cool avenues for collaboration, and I think that’s what makes Train Jam exciting and unique.”
Every Train Jam game is available to play right now through Itch.io. Some will even work right in your browser.