Emergent Technologies Vice President John Austin broke into a huge smile as he gazed over the crowd at the first video game expo and job fair on Saturday.

“I’m stunned. Stunned,” said Austin while job seekers from college age to seasoned citizen cued up for the chance to check out career opportunities. “I expected five to 10 people at any one time.”

Instead, at the moment Austin spoke, some 100 people were milling about One Eleven Place, the site of the fair, meting with a variety of video game developers and related technology companies. Many others showed up through the course of the event. The Triangle Games Initiative was a one-day affair put on by a consortium of Triangle-area companies plus Wake Tech Community College, the Carolina Games Summit, and other firms.

For hours on end, representatives of Emergent, Icarus Studios, Red Storm Entertainment, Funcom, Themis Group, Destineer, Electronic Arts and Vicious Cycle met with prospective employees.

Job openings ranged from programmers to game designers, sales engineers to marketing.

The event demonstrated the growth of the interactive game industry across the Triangle. While most companies are small – well under 100 employees – virtually all are hiring. At least 100 jobs were available Saturday. The number of jobs is not on the scale of big-company expansions but that total still represents a 10 percent jump in the local game sector’s employment total.

The Triangle in the late ’90s appeared on the verge of developing a mini-Hollywood east with several games companies. But Virtus, TimeLine Studios, Southpeak Interactive Interactive Magic and many others fell on hard times.

Now, the sector is fully recovered with “dot com” survivors such as Epic, Emergent (buyer of Chapel Hill-based NDL, developer of the Gamebryo game engine), and Red Storm (owned by Ubisoft) leading the way.

Epic Games developed one of the fastest-selling games ever, “Gears of War.” Red Storm has published a series of big-selling Tom Clancy-related titles. Funcom soon will unleash a worldwide online multiplayer game featuring Conan the Barbarian. And many more success stories are unfolding.

Some 30 game-industry-related firms now operate in the Triangle, with giant Electronic Arts the latest firm to establish a presence in the area.

Executives at those firms cite several reasons for locating or remaining in the Triangle, including cost of living, the talent pool of Triangle area university students, climate, and more.

And additional jobs – not just for programmers – are on the way.

Kai Wang, department head for Simulation and Game Development at Wake Tech, said he had heard a major company is planning to open a full-fledged studio in Durham. Meanwhile, he is stepping up enrollment and class offerings at Wake Tech, where the school’s new two-year degree program already has 200 students.

“I’m looking for three instructors,” Wang said with a smile.

Not everyone who showed up for the event was college-age, either. Several veteran software engineers and marketing/sales personnel were on the prowl, resumes in hand.

“I’m looking for a career change,” one software veteran said with a smile.

Ann Tyer, human resources manager for Vicious, came to the event scouting for talent. The firm’s Web site lists eight job openings as Vicious seeks to grow beyond its current level of 52 employees.

“We’re always in hiring mode,” she said.

Citing the turnout, Austin said the event is likely to be the first in a series to not only attract job seekers but also to raise the profile of the Triangle’s gaming industry. Austin and several other people teamed up to put on the event.

Among the organizers was Alexander Marcis, chief executive officer of Themis Group, which provides a variety of services for game companies and publishes game-related Web sites.

“We have a vision of the Triangle becoming the southeast hub for the game industry,” said Marcis, who moved his company to Durham in 2001. “Not Miami. Not Atlanta. The Triangle.”

Citing leading edge game engine development by Epic (Unreal), Emergent (Gamebryo) and Vicious Cycle (Vicious Engine) as well game titles, Marcis said the Triangle is loaded with quality talent.

“When you look at the games that are here – Destineer, Red Storm, Epic Games, Emergent, Vicious Cycle – we could become the 3-D, first-person-shooter capital.”