Adam McElhaney, 30, has designed a smart-phone video game you should know about. It's called "Heartland-Chattanooga," and it involves an air invasion of our city by Russia and China.
The Apple App Store description of the 99-cent game reads: "At the onset of 2032, the world's economy has collapsed. The oil supply has been depleted. The food supply has grown scarce. Hostility has emerged between nations, and alliances have been cast aside."
The title page shows the Tennessee Aquarium on fire with an ominous hammer-and-sickle flag floating in the foreground.
OK, so the Cold War theme may be a little dated, but the graphics are cool, and the game mechanics have a retro feel. Think "Space Invaders" with 21st-century circuitry.
I watched the game a little and began to root for the home team: "Wait, guys, don't bomb BlueCross BlueShield. No, not AT&T Field. Oh, the humanity."
McElhaney says the video game is set at the dawn of World War III, and Chattanooga has been targeted for a first-wave assault because of its strategic value as a rail hub. You, the game player, are part of a resistance cell with access to fighter jets (handy, huh). No word on what happened to the U.S. Air Force.
On a recent visit to the newsroom, McElhaney, an information-technology administrator at BlueCross, whipped out his iPad and fired up his game.
"I did this because I love Chattanooga," he said. "I wanted to put Chattanooga on the video-game map."
The war game is actually McElhaney's third iPhone app. He has designed a replica of the Star Trek Scanner Tricoder, a device that sweeps your location for GPS coordinates, decibel level and magnetic activity. He has also designed a kids game called "FlyTrap."
I wanted to know how a kid from Dade County, Ga., grows up to be a part-time video-game designer.
McElhaney said he was one of those youngsters who enjoyed performing surgery on household appliances. He'd disassemble microwave ovens and VCRs just to see their guts.
"I remember once my parents had just purchased one of those big, boxy, rear-projection televisions," he said. "I took it apart and repaired it. I was probably about 16 or 17."
On trips to the library, he would check out books about electronics. Resisters and transceivers were his childhood toys.
As time went on, McElhaney developed an interest in gaming. He still has fuzzy memories of his parents playing "Super Mario Bros." and "The Legend of Zelda" on the old Nintendo Entertainment System.
In 30 years, we've gone from magic boxes atop picture-tube televisions to video-game design for smart phones as a hobby, like woodworking or fishing.
McElhaney says he spent a few hours a day for the better part of a year working on "Heartland-Chattanooga." For $99 a year, he gets access to the Apple Developer Program, a tool kit for app designers.
McElhaney says he makes a couple of hundred dollars a month from his apps, but he's hoping the "Heartland" games might develop into a franchise that he can duplicate for other cities.
People grouping to the answer to income inequality in the United States sometimes overlook the obvious. The levers of free enterprise have never been more accessible to tech-smart young Americans.
Or as McElhaney says: "Any kid with an idea can put a big company out of business."
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkKennedyTFP or on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...