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Riding the rails to GDC: A Q&A with Train Jam conductor Adriel Wallick

There's another Train Jam happening on the way to GDC this year, and <a href=http://www.gdconf.com?_mc=BP_LE_CON>GDC 2016</a> officials speak to organizer and game developer Adriel Wallick about where the Train Jam came from -- and where it's headed.

January 19, 2016

6 Min Read

We're just weeks away from GDC 2016, and a group of developers who want to ride the rails from Chicago to California in time to attend the March conference in San Francisco -- and make a game along the way -- have signed on to do so as part of the third annual Train Jam game jam.

The brainchild of indie developer Adriel Wallick, Train Jam has become a valuable place for developers to collaborate in close proximity with the promise (and the pressure) of knowing their work will be part of a unique showcase on the GDC show floor the following week.

This year the third annual Train Jam will once again last a little over two days and take place entirely within an Amtrak train. Participants have from when the train departs Chicago's Union Station on Thursday morning, March 10th until it arrives in Emeryville on Saturday afternoon to make the greatest game they can with whatever tools they can bring, borrow or build.

Plus, the Train Jam has also gained recognition as a learning opportunity for students of game design, and for the second year running Train Jam will host a Student Ambassador program (organized by Red Hook Studios' John Lindvay) that saw some tickets reserved for universities to provide to their students (along with GDC passes) so they can ride along and work with volunteer mentors.

Here, Train Jam organizer Adriel Wallick (pictured) shares the story of how she created the annual event and what it means to the diverse array of game makers who ride the rails to GDC each year.

Why did you start organizing Train Jam -- and why have you continued to do so, year after year?

Wallick: The first year of Train Jam (2014) was actually inspired by a cross country train ride that I took the previous year. In August of 2013, I quit my job to pursue full time solo independent game development. Three days after I left my job, my lease was set to expire - so, I rented a storage unit, packed up all of my possessions, and hopped on a train that would take me from Boston to Vancouver, Canada (with a quick, 1 day, stopover in Chicago).  The ride itself was super beautiful and calming, which allowed me to get my creative juices flowing and work on a few things of my own.

Once I arrived in Vancouver, a lot of the conversations I had with other developers naturally progressed to how perfect the train ride would be for a game jam. So, I started looking into whether it would be logistically possible, purchased a small group reservation from Amtrak, and made a little webpage with information. The 30 tickets I originally booked were sold out within a month, so I booked 30 more (which sold out in another month).

The first Train Jam were some of the best days of my life. Seeing the developers come together and create new and fantastic things in such a strange and creative place, and knowing that I helped made that happen was so amazing. Afterwards, hearing stories from developers about how much Train Jam meant to them was really all the motivation I needed to continue organizing and running it year after year.

I've been able to grow the jam significantly (60 people the first year, 130 the second, and currently 200 signed up for this year), and with each growth spurt, I've been able to bring on more sponsors and solidify more initiatives to encourage more people to attend. Last year we were able to start a program to encourage university students to attend Train Jam (the student program is headed up by John Lindvay) and this year we have even more initiatives that have yet to be announced.

Have there been any notable changes, positive or negative, in how developers approach Train Jam and what they seem to get out of it?

I haven't noticed any real changes between the first and second yeah, other than there being way more developers. I think that this caused attendees to splinter off from one another more than the first year, but other than that, it still felt like most developers were approaching it the same was as the first year.

Most developers on Train Jam use the train and the scenery around them as inspiration, which I don't think will ever change.  It's such a unique environment for most developers, that it's hard to not get caught up in it all.

Another interesting thing about Train Jam is seeing how much cross-pollination happens throughout the course of the jam. Because of the space limitations of a train, it's hard to not overhear every team around you discussing their ideas, design issues, technical hurdles, etc. This causes many teams to reach out to the developers around them to offer inspiration, conversation, and help.

How did the partnership with GDC come about, and what value do you see in having Train Jam games on the floor at GDC?

After the first year of Train Jam, I really wanted to create a space where the developers could show off the games that they created on the jam. Because of how I run the jam (it is always the Thursday to Saturday before GDC and ends in San Francisco), GDC was the most logical choice for where I should aim my sights.  I ran into Meggan at an event (I believe it was GDC Europe), asked about space, and eventually ended up with a whole little place to show off the games at GDC.

The GDC showcase area means a lot for Train Jam as now every developer who attends the jam has an opportunity to show something off at the largest gathering of professional game developers in the world. It also means that I get to showcase the importance of creative locations and adventure to GDC attendees.

For more details on how to buy a Train Jam ticket (or reserve a few if you work for a university) check out this Train Jam blog post. If you'd like to get an idea of what sorts of games come out of this experience, you can browse the archive of Train Jam games.

To see this year's crop of Train Jam games live on the GDC 2016 floor, don't miss the opportunity to save money by registering for the conference early -- the deadline to register for passes at a discounted rate is Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016.

GDC 2016 itself will take place March 14-18th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. For more information on GDC 2016, visit the show's official website, or subscribe to regular updates via FacebookTwitter, or RSS.

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