You have your ticket, you've arranged travel to Chicago, and you're excited for your first Train Jam! You don't know exactly what to expect, and you'd like to be as prepared as you can be. Never fear! Here are some tips to help you get ready for Train Jam, one of the most rewarding ways to travel to the Game Developers Conference.
1. Be ready to talk to people.
The most valuable part of Train Jam is the connections you'll make while on board. There will be industry professionals, perhaps from some of your favorite companies, all around you. Make sure you're mentally prepared to have casual conversations with them. Ask them what they're working on, both during Train Jam and in normal life. Ask them how they're enjoying the train, and whether they've participated in Train Jam before. Ask them whether they have any pets. Any question that gets the conversation going is a good one. Respect boundaries, of course, but don't be afraid to socialize a lot.
2. Try to form a team with people you don't know.
This may sound strange, as you may be most comfortable working with your friends or classmates, but a team with diverse background and interests is more likely to produce an engaging final product, and you're more likely to be part of one if you've never met your teammates before. Plus, the main reason you're there is to meet new people, right?
3. If you can get a sleeper car, do it.
There's precious little opportunity for sleep while on Train Jam, so you'll want to make sure you're as comfortable as possible when you get a few hours to doze off. Though the rooms are small, even a shaky top bunk is better than sleeping sitting up in a coach seat. Additionally, sleeper cars come with access to showers and complimentary dining car food, both of which are extremely useful on the long ride from Chicago to San Francisco.
4. Work hard. The jam is important.
You'll be working on a game with other games students and industry professionals, so put some time and effort into the design and development. The better it looks, the better it'll be when you show off your project at the Train Jam booth at GDC. Because of the format of the jam, there's no doubt that you'll be exhausted by the end, but persevere and make something cool.
5. But so is the experience.
Remember to sit back and enjoy the scenery once in a while. After all, you aren't delivering a polished game at the end of Train Jam, just a prototype that shows off your core concept and gameplay. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime cross-country land trip, so be sure to make the most of the amazing views of the Rockies, red rocks, and Sierra Nevadas.
6. Whatever type of game you make, be proud to show it off.
Though you won't produce something perfect by the end of Train Jam, make sure you submit your work to get it shown at the GDC Train Jam booth. These games get played by hundreds of people during GDC week; maybe someone influential will play yours and seek you out because of it.
In summary: Be a conversation starter, work and learn a lot, and enjoy the experience. At the very least, you'll make some friends that could be valuable connections in the future. Who knows, you might even make a great game! Good luck and have fun!