The Heartland Gaming Expo, the University of Tulsa’s annual celebration of the creation and enjoyment of video games, will be expanding to include a larger venue, industry speakers and booths from national gaming companies, among other things.
All of this from an exhibition that started out as a class event a mere three years ago.
Associate Professor of Computer Science Roger Mailler organized the first predecessor of the Heartland Gaming Expo in 2012 when he invited members of the TU community to a demo session for games developed in his video game programming class.
Somewhere between thirty to fifty spectators showed up to the event, prompting Mailler to consider how to expand it. Wanting to bring together members of TU’s various colleges, he reached out to Dr. Joseph Rivers of the music and film studies departments, Dr. Jennifer Airey of the English department and Dr. Aaron Higgins of the art department, among others.
Together they created an event centered around three main competitions: a gaming showcase where students present games they have created in the last year; a gallery for submitting artwork, designs and other incomplete artifacts of games; and a contest to create a game from scratch in 24 hours.
Students from universities across Oklahoma were invited to participate. For two years, these competitions were housed in the upper levels of ACAC.
This year, however, the Heartland Gaming Expo will be moving to the Cox Business Center downtown, and its program will expand accordingly.
For starters, Mailler is opening up the event so that people who like playing video games but not building them can do more than just spectate. Thanks to a sponsorship from Microsoft, the Expo will include an Xbox One-based gaming tournament.
In keeping with the exposition’s collaborative theme, the game will be IDARB, a crowdsourced multiplayer platformer where spectators can alter the gameplay by tweeting special effects at a match-specific Twitter handle.
A number of game and simulation companies, both local and national, will be presenting their wares at the expo. Tokyo in Tulsa will also be setting up camp there, as will local game store PJ Gamers with a Magic: The Gathering tournament.
The game expo will also feature speakers from the gaming industry, including Oscar-winning movie and video game composer Chance Thomas and Richard Huenink, the producer of survival horror game “7 Days to Die.”
One of the speakers, Eric Peterson, will be delivering a lecture the day after his massive attempt to crowdfund the video game Star Citizen ends in success or failure. “With this kind of rawness, we hope that this will be a talk that people will be talking about for a while,” said Mailler.
Even this year’s 24-hour programming contest (or “Code Jam”) is more oriented towards spectators. In what TU junior and Heartland volunteer Matt Hruz described as a “programmer zoo,” participants in the contest will be situated in the middle of the convention hall while the expo is in full swing.
Furthermore, the programmers will be expected to maintain a live blog over the course of the competition. In a nod to “The Hunger Games,” audience members can vote for teams to receive catered food and other prizes in the middle of the competition.
Mailler notes that while a large number of students from outside schools have registered to compete in the Expo, TU students are lagging behind with the competitions about to fill up.
“[TU students] think, ‘Yeah, I’ll just be able to get in,’” Mailler said, thinking back to the smaller expos of years past. “They’re wrong, and from now on, they probably will be.”
Full disclosure: Conor Fellin has worked on past Heartland Gaming Expos.