Game Art Spotlight: Train Jam 2017

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This game art spotlight focuses on one of the 3D or VR games created during the 2017 Train Jam, a 52-hour game jam on train from Chicago to San Francisco as a pre-game to GDC.

Fork of DamoclesLiam de Valmency

What inspired your game?

My jam games have a tendency to be local multiplayer experiences, because I enjoy how both co-operative and competitive game mechanics can invoke a wide range of player dynamics and emotions, from joy, exhilaration, and kinship, to frustration, rivalry, and teasing. They also act as an excellent icebreaker and help bring people together. In a setting like Train Jam, where people of all backgrounds, cultures, and skill-sets were gathering in one place, it seemed apt to create something that could kick-start an interaction between people that had never met.

I’m not sure what inspired the choice to make all of the characters vegetables though. That just sort of happened.

What’s your favorite part of your game?

Definitely the characters. I’ve only really started learning to make 3D assets myself over the last few months, so I was happy that I was able to create four different character models – simple though they may be – within the space of the jam, while still leaving time to code the game. I suppose the eponymous Fork could count as a fifth antagonist character, as I gave it a face as well. A big ol’ smile. Which never wavers as it drags you off to be eaten.

I’ve also got a soft spot for really bad puns, so I was half-proud, half-ashamed of the names I gave to each of the player characters. Sun Tzucchini is probably the best – and therefore worst – of the lot.

Why 3D vs 2D?

Since we live in a 3D world, I think most people are accustomed to thinking about problems in a 3D way. When I’m making models it’s much easier for me to reason about shapes, proportions, and structure, because there’s a direct mapping to the objects and environments I interact with every day. With 2D asset creation, there’s an extra step of translating those concepts into a more abstract form, applying perspective and so forth, which doesn’t come so intuitively. Plus you can tweak each individual vertex on a 3D model in a very controlled, mathematical manner, which hugely appeals to the programmer section of my brain, as it opens up opportunities for fun deformation and shading effects.

Any tips for making a 3D game in a few days for a game jam?

The critical factor in getting something completed in the space of a jam is to cut anything which doesn’t support the core goal, theme, or message of your game. For design, this usually means focusing on one or two specific systems or mechanics and polishing them as best as possible. For 3D assets, this means deciding what’s most needed to reach the aesthetic and experience your game is trying to convey. If your game is about stacking physics-driven objects, then creating a lot of interesting prop variations is probably a good use of your time. If you’re shooting for a narrative, dialogue-based game, then focusing on your character models is likely a better decision, even if this means the environment is a little more bare.

There are also stylistic decisions which can save you huge amounts of time. For my Train Jam game I created low-poly models and used an unlit vertex colour shader to avoid the need to spend time on model detailing and texturing, or configuring lighting. Instead of tinkering with keyframes and animation trees, I implemented walking by moving my characters’ limbs with a few lines of simple code, because the resulting cartoonish motion was quick to achieve and worked with the visual style. In short, picking an aesthetic which supports a rapid workflow can save you a lot of time!

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Ghost DentistJerry Belich, Lisa Brown, Elie Abraham

What inspired your game?

Lisa: Jerry and I had been talking about this idea for a while, but I’ll let him tell the story about the inspiration because it’s pretty great

Jerry: I know the folks at Owlchemy that made Job Simulator, and since I visit Austin fairly frequently, I was fortunate enough to get to play an early build. It was a version of the kitchen and the first thing I did was pick up the chef knife and maneuvered it to point directly at my eye. I was just curious what my brain would do! It didn’t love it, but it was also kind of exhilarated by it. That got me thinking about designing uncomfortable experiences in VR, especially with a tinge of horror that wasn’t jump scare, or even traditionally creepy. Body-horror quickly came up with that line of thinking, and then dentistry because people typically loathe the experience, though for some reason I find it really relaxing. Especially the teeth scraping bit, I could fall asleep to that. The ghost concept came later to support the core game loop. If you perform the work on yourself, how are you going to treat different conditions? By making the dentist a ghost and possessing the patients, you can have ever changing needs, while still having to suffer through it all.

What’s your favorite part of your game?

Lisa: the drill and everything associated with it from the sound to the haptics, I think it’s a really key part of the experience. I also loved explaining the idea to folks and seeing their divisive reactions between delight and horro

Jerry: The drilling is certainly the core bit of entertainment, but my favorite is everything that has come out of Lisa’s brilliant idea of maintaining the patient’s awareness. Their eyes watch the tools, they get stressed, and other subtle cues that they are still in there. It was a jam, so that aspect still has a lot of development before it has its full impact, but I absolutely love the unsettling nature of it

Elie: I will echo Lisa on seeing people’s reactions just from hearing about it. I obviously get a lot of kicks out of seeing people’s faces specifically when they start drilling their teeth for the first time, haha. I’m also quite happy with how the song came out! I downloaded a theremin called “spooky keys” for this project, haha. Audio aside, the vibration in your jaw really brings the experience together. Honestly, I think it came out great and I’m really proud of us. The the design, visuals, and audio work so well together and it’s funny (despite the horrifying concept)

Why 3D vs 2D?

Lisa: this is a peculiar question. From the beginning the idea was about performing self-dentistry in VR using a mirror, so by its very nature the experience assumes a first person perspective, which lends itself to 3D. So there was never a choice of “oh should we make this in 2D or 3D?” but rather the medium followed the idea (actually, are there any 2D games in VR?

Jerry: Because VR!

Elie: It wasn’t really possible to relay this experience in any other way. How does one even do a 2D VR game? To get people to to feel immersed the way we wanted them to feel, it had to be 3D. If you’re moving your hands in the real world and we want to show your character responding to that in-game. . . well, we’re not living in a 2D word, are we?

Any tips for making a 3D game in a few days for a game jam?

Lisa: Go with your strengths. If you’re already comfortable using a 3D engine then it shouldn’t be a problem, but it might be a tricky format to learn 3D on. I think the trickiest part of this project wasn’t the 3D aspect but rather trying to make a VR game on a train (props to Mike for creating the “VR Room” on the train

Jerry: Find good people! I can work in 3D, but my forte (and deeper interest) is hardware. Getting Mike on board to handle integration and development was huge, and Elliot rigging and modeling was the icing on the cake. I also like taking on challenges in game jams that feel like terrible ideas waiting to fail. It actually takes a lot of the pressure off when the bar is set that low. Then when you are actually succeeding at something, it’s a huge boost in motivation!

Elie: As I handled audio, it wasn’t really different than working on a non-3D game. But because this was specifically a VR game, you have to consider that you need a physical space for that (see the “VR Room” Lisa mentioned; Mike for President). Also, this particular game requires one to wear a jaw tracker. There was a lot of hardware to consider and work on in order to make the Ghost Dentist experience possible. In terms of audio, it helped big time to be able to access resources / raw files to work on the SFX assets. I had Akash Thakkar, the Hyper Light Drifter sound designer, help me record myself in one of the more quiet spaces (pretty relative term considering we were on a train) to get the voice of the ghost dentist. If you’re recording sound with a field mic on a train, be ready to have to work on getting rid of noise, or have an Akash Thakkar around to help you while you work on other things.

Lisa: I’m on Twitter, site, and itch.

Jerry: I’m on Twitter, site, and itch.

Elie: I’m on Twitter, site, and itch!



Hex HouseBecca Hallstedt, Sebastian Gosztyla, Grey Davenport, Chris Wade 

What inspired your game?

Becca: As an artist, my mind immediately went to Monument Valley. We were talking a level in which you’re tumbling around a cube, and we really liked the puzzle box-feel of that.

Chris: We were all interested in the idea of exploring a 3D toybox and looking for surprising, fun interactions. We referenced the recently released Hidden Folks, that one puzzle box level in Monument Valley and also real world snow globes.

What’s your favorite part of your game?

Becca: I love the tranquility of it. I’ve done multiple game jams in the last few years, and the result usually ends up feeling rushed or out of scope. It was fun to work on something bite-sized that the player could just enjoy at their own pace. A lot a jams seem to result in games that are very timer-based, so it was refreshing to steer away from that and do something different.

Chris: My favorite moment is watching players discover the runes can be connected with a line. Everyone struggles with it for a bit, but when they figure it out the build up lead-up towards the ending and their reaction to it is fun to watch.

Why 3D vs 2D?

Becca: Chris wanted to! I actually hadn’t done a 3D game for a jam before because I’m primarily a 2D artist, so it was a fun challenge. We had some complications along the way, but we made it work and I’m pretty pleased with the results considering the amount of time that we had.

Chris: Two reasons: 2D jam games have this way of blowing out of scope really fast when animation comes into play and I wanted to be involved in visual design and VFX/shaders can only do so much for a 2D game.

Any tips for making a 3D game in a few days for a game jam?

Becca: Be extra aware about how quickly you work- don’t try to lie to yourself about all the bonus stuff that you want to get done. When you’re making that first asset list, even if it’s just in your head, organize assets by priority. I also recommend keeping assets as simple as possible- it’s usually better to spend a few hours working on a low-poly room than to spend that time carefully modeling an individual asset that’s smaller and more complex.

Chris: I agree with everything Becca said and would only add time-boxing as a suggestion. By limiting yourself to only 2 hours per asset or whatever you approach it differently and are forced to focus on readability and simplicity.

Sebastian: I would just add to keep the scope down and work with the strength of the team. If you have leftover time polishing is much more fun and valuable anyways. If you have more artists than programmers or vice versa take advantage of that and tailor your idea accordingly.

You can contact us at:

Becca: I’m on TwitterArtstation, Sketchfab, or my site

Chris: I’m on Twitter or you can check out my work on my site.

Grey: I’m on Twitter and on my site.

Sebastian: I’m on the Twitter.

It’s inspiring to see so many game developers making 3D content during game jams today. In the past it’s been kind of a taboo but with 3D content becoming more main stream with games, television and movies. You can learn to make some fantastic 3D stuff in just a weekend. So next time you’re doing a game jam, don’t be afraid to try something in 3D.

About the author


An artist in the pursuit of dopeness.

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