“I would have dedicated my life to it in 1998, but now?”

“The Future is Greedy” but the past isn’t that generous, in HARDWAR



HMV. 1998. My birthday. A credit card. Whatever I bought was THE entertainm­ent for the next six months. I had a major Elite itch that needed scratching. I’d done Frontier to death – literally, as my Atari ST died playing it – and I couldn’t get First Encounters to load up, as it had shipped broken.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes you bought a PC game that just didn’t work. No day-one patches, no online support. Most shops pointed to the specs and blamed you. Sometimes they were right. You just had to chance it. Promising space combat and trading, Hardwar looked amazing. The box artwork was created by The Designers Republic. There was a touch of cyberpunk, a dollop of Japanese neon anime culture and some futuristic Cyrillic type. It hit all my buttons.

I bought it, as it promised to boot right out of Windows 95 and… I couldn’t get it working. I got a ponderous pixelated slideshow for the few seconds before it crashed, but my lumbering Compaq PC couldn’t make sense of it.

The Software Refinery went bust. The game vanished into a decadeslon­g legal no-mans-land. Original developer Ian Martin provided unofficial patches for the zealous community, who insisted it was a lost gem, but I never got around to jumping the hoops required to play it on modern machines. I kept the box though. It went with me on every move. A museum piece. An artwork.


Then, 25 years later, Hardwar

appeared on Steam. There would be a beautiful symmetry to this piece if the game didn’t work. But it does.

There’s the promised pumping electronic­a. It turns off, but not down. For a game from the brown era, it’s also twinkly, your navigation lights pulsing with the music.

I die. A lot. And when you’re killed, you’re ejected from the game and land back in Steam. After three hours I complete the first mission without being destroyed by an enemy I can’t even find, and I net a total of $12, about 0.1% of my starting cash. Even taking the Aggressor or Agitator ships from the off, the grind is long. I would have dedicated my life to it in 1998, but now?

The irony is, I’m the one who is broken. I’m as old and janky as the game’s FMV, a cyberpunk past his use-by date. After decades of tutorials, mild learning curves, the gentle trucking in Elite: Dangerous

and the hand holding of Squadrons,I

am simply not capable of hardcoring, ’90s style. Or indeed, Hardwaring.

 ?? ?? I may have just fried the monorail along with this pirate.
I may have just fried the monorail along with this pirate.

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