Games UX Design: Train Jam Finding Planet Earth

Indie Train Jam On the Way to GDC 2018

Training and Designing for a better Odyssey


Indie Train Jam is a 52 hour (2 and a half day) excursion on a train that departs from Chicago and ends in San Francisco. During this time, you have the ability create a small game before reaching the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, California where it can be demo’d.

Challenging myself, I decided to hop onto a team that was working in a 2D medium as I wanted to stretch my legs as a game designer and artist. I paired up with four other people: two developers, a composer, and another artist/designer. Our assignment was to create under the theme ‘odyssey’ and the pitch for the game came from the other artist on our team. He had the idea of creating a space voyager where you play as an alien exploring space in an attempt to find earth. I was tasked completing all of the 2D assets for the game, as well as helping out with the structure of the game design.


Planetary Art

Being a 3D Modeler, I realized quickly it was very difficult thinking about how these objects should be shaped to represent a 3D shape while also existing as simplistic and colorful structures. I started out with an iconosphere in blender and warped it to the general shape I wanted. I took screenshots of it from different locations, and then took the general shape and the details I wanted from it to create these small structures.

Artboard 1@2x


I then created a color scheme for the game, and added color to each of the planets in a way that made the most sense from a geographical perspective.

Artboard 5@2x

Icon Art

After talking to the team leader and other programmers, I gathered that we would need about 5 different icons represented in the game. The first three were to represent in-game interactions: military action, cultural knowledge, and fuel consumption. The fourth icon would represent the ship that the user would control. The final icon was to be Earth, represented in the style of the game – this being the final reward for the player.


Lanscape Art

The landscape art was integral to the game to provide a sense of realism to the planets. I decided to create this art on the final day, and it would be used when the player visited each planet and chose an interaction. Fortunately, I was able to finish three before the final arrival in Emeryville, California so it could be placed into the game.


The project leader and I both met up a couple different times to talk about the game design itself. Because it was his vision I decided to take a secondary position within the design (and also I tend to take a leadership role in most projects, which lends itself to a lot of less fun) – we decided to make it a simple planetary explorer.

Game Structure

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 11.12.12 PM

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 11.12.27 PM


Final Result


I think the game was developed and executed very well. From a programming standpoint it works perfectly. I also was very impressed by the composer’s work with the sound design. If we had more time however, I would have liked to work further on the art and design to bring it to what I would consider a satisfactory level. I would do three things:

  1. Finish the Landscapes and the Artifacts. Because of the time constraints, one of the programmers had to quickly import some artifacts as placeholders – and those placeholders made it into the final version. They don’t fit in well with the art of the game and stick out quite heavily. I also only got to create 3 landscapes for the first couple planets, and the other 4 planets had the same landscapes mapped onto them.
  2. Adjust the design of the artifacts and the story of the game to make more logical sense. Although I think finding an orange and Chicago hotdog in space are quite funny, it doesn’t make make too much sense with the sci-fi narrative that we have.
  3. User test the game itself with other people. We only had a couple people playtest the   game during construction, and even after it was finished there are still a couple parts of the story that you can skip in an illogical fashion.


You can play a demo of our game here:

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 8.22.58 PM

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