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CS@UI Students & Faculty Partake in 2018 Train Jam

Sandwich Discourse (Train Jam 2018 Edition) - a steam engine with smoke and game title

Heather Kemp, CS MCS student, WiCS and SiTS President, and EPX Studio Executive Committee member recalls the experience she had, along with other CS@UI constituents, at this year's Train Jam:

"On March 15-17, 2018, myself, six other University of Iowa students, and one University of Iowa faculty member, along with over 300 other programmers, artists, writers, designers, and musicians from many corners of the globe crowded aboard an Amtrak train to travel from Chicago to San Fransisco with one common goal in mind — to have the most fun possible while making the best games possible in 52 hours. Throughout this trip, I participated in the development of two different games, and in doing so, I found myself seeing an even greater purpose of participating in Train Jam. In this close and diverse environment, I grew as a person and programmer while I interacted and became connected with so many people that I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise, and, as a result, was opened up to other opportunities in the industry and beyond.

In the first game, Odyssey of the Zephyr, I worked with Alic Szecsei, another University of Iowa student, Kayla Techmeier, an industry 3d artist, and Michael Noland, an industry game developer at Epic Games. In developing our game, which featured a child solving quests on a train, I was able to learn about a new platform which I had never used before, along with many new tips and tricks of the trade for game development as a whole. I learned how to optimize things that I would code overly simple that never occurred to me, and how to approach unique assets like water coloring in a game. Given the time constraints, I couldn’t learn everything that I wanted to from them, but as we shared the source code of the game, I can now look into further studying of the game and algorithms to learn even more algorithms that they employed in their development. Beyond just this academic growth, I’ve now become friends with these amazing people, which is an invaluable benefit in and of itself.

In the second game, Sandwich Discourse (Train Jam 2018 Edition), I worked side-by-side with Denise Szecsei, a University of Iowa faculty member, to attempt to game-ify the age old “sandwich discourse.” For those of you who are unaware of the sandwich discourse, it is the discussion of what is an is not a sandwich. In developing this game, which created a type of infinite runner based on this debate, allowed me to interact with many other train jammers in the data and feedback collection stages for the data collection app and the game itself. In this way, I was able to learn some general professional tips when it game to game development and coding, and was able to learn about the cultures of other parts of the world. I was even able to help field test other games and provide my own tips, all while learning about other pitfalls that could occur from other development teams. While this game was much simpler than Odyssey of the Zephyr, it still provided a much welcome outlet to met others who were attracted to hearing us discuss possible sandwich discourses.

At the end of this odyssey, I find myself eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to attend this event, especially with my fellow University of Iowa peers. I’ve met so many great people who I can now call my friend and colleagues, and I learned so much about not just coding, but the many other aspects of game development. I can’t recommend Train Jam enough to anyone interested in game development and becoming more involved in this exciting and diverse industry."