Wednesday, November 09, 2011

COLUMN: Escape From Rock Island

I've now been a Rock Island homeowner for just over a year, and on the whole, I don't regret a thing.

I know Rock Island occasionally suffers from a bad rep, but you don't hear me complaining. We've got a wicked arts and entertainment district, great local businesses to support, and hands down the best winter roads crew in the Quad Cities. I've got a house I adore, neighbors that I like, and a commute to work that's still under 15 minutes. All things considered, it's a great place to live.

Except, of course, for all the damn zombies.

As a humble and devoted employee of the newspaper industry, I know that there are 3 primary issues in life that cause us all untold sleepless nights of anxiety and concern: (1) John Marx's irrational hatred of the Cubs, (2) finding out exactly what they're putting into the water at Cordova city council meetings, and (3) the constant and ever-present threat of one day being overtaken by hordes of the undead roaming the city streets at night in search of delicious brains.

One of these things I may now have an answer to.

As a pop culture junkie, I like to stay ahead of the game by keeping tabs on all upcoming releases for music, movies, TV, etc. And in scanning one of those lists, I stumbled upon the oddest thing. A new video game is coming this fall for your Android cell phone. It's a zombie game of strategy, survival, and what I can only hope to be blissful amounts of video game gore. Zombie games are a dime a dozen these days, but one thing makes this game stand out from all the others: the name.


It's the brainchild and debut release from aspiring developer Mark Dudek and his start-up company, Number Eleven Road Software. It didn't take long before I was able to track down Dudek for an interview.

"'Escape From Rock Island' is an attempt to bring a serious zombie game to the Android platform," he explains. "There are plenty of casual zombie games out there, but I wanted to create something a little deeper that would involve strategy, creative thinking, and decision making."

Dudek, who hails from Pennsylvania, made EFRI all on his own. So why the title? What's it got to do with us?

"Rock Island just kind of popped out of my head," he says. "It's familiar, it rolls off the tongue, and it had the right feel. As a fan of country blues music, maybe I was subconsciously referencing 'Rock Island Line' by Leadbelly."

Dudek has never stepped foot in the Quad Cities, let alone Rock Island -- but his wife has. She works as an executive producer for the TV show "Snapped" airing on the Oxygen Network, and they were in town a while back shooting an episode.

"It's entirely possible that her work on that episode influenced me on some level, but it wasn't intentional," Dudek insists. "I didn't have a specific Rock Island in mind."

Or so he'd have us believe.

Being the intrepid investigative reporter that I am, I visited the website of Dudek's company ( only to find NO references there to Dudek himself -- only a mysterious figure nicknamed The Proprietor. Everywhere I looked, it seemed as if this Proprietor fellow knew a little TOO much about zombies. My guard was raised, my senses tingled. Knowing I had to get to the bottom of this, I pressured Dudek until he granted me access. What follows is the world's first known interview with The Proprietor.

Me: At last we meet, Mr. The Proprietor! Every good zombie story needs an intrepid reporter to break the scandal wide and perhaps earn a Pulitzer. I am that guy. Tell me, how did you really find out about our zombie problem? The government seems to have gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from the press, the public, and well, pretty much everyone.

The Proprietor: Believe it or not, there was one single post about the Rock Island zombie outbreak on Google Plus. When the government locked down all communication to and from Rock Island, I guess they forgot about Google Plus… just like everyone else on the planet. And yes, I did +1 that post.

Me: What started our zombie plague? I always thought those buildings on the Arsenal smelled funny…

The Proprietor: Our sources are currently investigating the cause of the zombie outbreak in Rock Island and will present their findings shortly. To me. Not to you. In the meantime, I advise all residents of Rock Island to stay in their homes and do NOT, under any circumstances, approach the Arsenal. We're also asking that all residents kindly refrain from all that screaming -- it's driving our sources crazy. That's all I can say.

Me: With the District in the center of town, it might be difficult at 3 a.m. to properly discern the difference between a brainless zombie and an over-zealous patron of Rock Island nightlife. How can we tell the difference?

The Proprietor: Excellent question. I refer you to official government publication BR-549, "Zombies vs. Drunks." Here's a short excerpt:

Wants to eat your brain: Zombie
Wants to eat Taco Bell: Drunk

Stumbles over visible object: Zombie
Stumbles over invisible object: Drunk

Chews on cell phone: Zombie
Loses cell phone: Drunk

Is drinking a St. Pauli Girl: Drunk
Is eating a St. Pauli Girl: Zombie

Screams "BLAAAARRRRGGH!" in the street at 3 a.m.: Toss-up.

Me: When I'm playing Escape From Rock Island, will I be able to identify particular zombies as being, say, an irritating ex-girlfriend or sadistic former employer who might just need some "extra" killing?

The Proprietor: It depends on how freshly dead the person is when you run into them. The game starts roughly 3 weeks into Rock Island's zombie outbreak. That's plenty of time for the "early adopters" to get nice and ripe, so they're going to look pretty much the same -- like week-old hamburger left out in the sun. However, should your ex-girlfriend have gotten infected the day before? Well, yeah, you'll recognize her as she's trying to bite off your middle finger, so do what you gotta do.

Me: You say that your (cough) -- I mean, Mr. Dudek's -- wife was in town recently shooting a TV show?

The Proprietor: Yes. In fact, your newspaper was even featured in the episode. I believe her contact there was a Jerry Taylor…

Me: Yes, that's our publisher and highly revered boss-type guy. Can we somehow ensure that he's saved from the forthcoming zombie plague? And if not, as a follow-up question and to the best of your knowledge, can zombies still sign paychecks?

The Proprietor: Sadly, no-one's safety can be guaranteed during a zombie outbreak, not even newspaper publishers who know my wife. On the plus side for your, it's pretty easy to forge a zombie's name -- he's not going to know the difference. He's only concerned with eating your brains; it's doubtful he's care that you forged his name on your paycheck. Heck, while you're at it, give yourself a big bonus. I would.

Me: If we somehow manage to, as the game challenges, escape from Rock Island, will we ever be able to return? Or will our ragtag team of survivors be forced to pick up and start life anew in Iowa? And in your estimation, is that a better fate than getting our brains eaten?

The Proprietor: IF you escape Rock Island, assuming there's somewhere to escape to, and IF society hasn't utterly collapsed and the zombie outbreak is contained, then yes, at some point the survivors can try to reclaim Rock Island. But those are some pretty big if's. You guys won't be hosting any dinner parties for a while. However, I really hope you do manage to escape and come back, because "Return to Rock Island" will make a really good sequel -- much better than "Escape to Iowa: Farm or Die."

Me: I'm pretty sure everything I need to know about dealing with the recently deceased can be found in the classic movie "Weekend at Bernie's." How does Escape From Rock Island differ?

The Proprietor: Escape From Rock Island is a stark, intense survival experience about fighting off zombies, managing meager resources, suffering loss, and making tough and cruel life and death decisions, all in the face of what seems to be a hopeless situation. It's still funnier than "Weekend at Bernie's."

Dear Mr. Pulitzer, you can send my prize - provided I don't get my face chewed off - to the usual address.

Escape from Rock Island will be available to download to your 1.5 or higher Android phone sometime between now and Halloween. Find out more at Happy escaping!

No comments: