Category Archives: Hardlife Rules

Hardlife: The Character

The player in Hardwar is represented by a generic pilot, distinguished only by their moth and its gear. It’s possible to buy and sell moths, though, and hopefully I’ll be able to save up enough to do so.

The default starting “trader/fighter/scavenger” options (plus some more exotic ones for experienced players) offer ten grand in cash, plus a generous range of basic equipment and software. As before, however, I have tampered with the fundamental order of the universe to make my start more challenging.

The Ship

My moth is the worst available: the Silver-Y. It’s slow, weak, handles like a sedated mule, and can’t accomodate much equipment, however it is very small, making me a tiny bit harder to shoot. Installed are:

Smallest cargo pod: allows me to carry up to 10 units of 2 different types of cargo. So if I have, say, 3 units of kittens and 1 of rainbows, I won’t be able to carry anything besides more kittens and rainbows.

Salvage drone: the most expensive item I have, but an important one for most pilots, and fundamental to scavengers. It allows me to pick up any cargo on the moon’s surface. Without this I would have no way to make money.

Mark 2 targeting software: this allows me to target cargo, which is required for the salvage drone to function. However, it’s the only software I am starting with, so I will still have to visually locate any salvage before I can target it.

That’s it. Without even the most basic software (eg: radar, shield charging, flight control), I won’t have the Heads-Up Display (the overlay and instrument readouts on the cockpit, aka ‘HUD’) to tell me what state my ship is in, although I will get an audio warning if my energy drops too low. I also have no weapons or countermeasures to enemy missiles, and no money, so scavenging in the truest sense will be my only chance to survive, at least for a while.

So, eschewing the glamorous life of the bounty hunter, the dangers of piracy, and the plodding bean counting of the trader, I shall enter this world as a scavenger. Lowest of the low (at least in the sky. You never truly see the world below, but it’s implied to be rather unpleasant), the scavenger is a lurking, snatching beast whose primary activity is circling the hunter and is prey, waiting for the chance to make off with discarded cargo and scrap metal from wrecked craft. Sniggering is optional.

It is here I will make my living. It is here I shall thrive or dive by my skills, my cunning and my near-total lack of shame. On the distant horizon is a dream of owning a powerful ship, my own hangar, and the industrial machinery to build a trading empire of my own, or even to discover the secret of escape, to charter our return to Earth. But first, I must survive.

It’ll be a Hardlife.

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Hardlife: The Rules

As usual, no exploits. Hardwar was remarkably robust even when released, before being patched up by its very dedicated design team, even after the company went under. However, the AI and game rules can still be exploited, notably in order to kill people without technically committing a hostile act, preventing reprisals. Trapping ships inside airlocks (causing the airlock’s defences to destroy them) is not allowed, nor are any of the other unfair tricks that depend on loopholes and the like.

I can, however, be a sneaky opportunistic bastard. Indeed, that’s half the fun of the game.

Though food, water, booze and narcotics are tradeable goods, there’s no practical way to make my character need to eat or drink, however I must rest periodically. This will mean sitting in a hangar for a few game hours, or I can use time spent in a lightwell (refuelling) to catch some ‘sleep’ – I imagine most people would rather than sit there doing nothing for hours.

I cannot use navigation and radar features untless I have the right equipment. Upgrades improve your capabilities, but there are long-range target lookup and tracking features that come as standard. To preserve a sense of amateurish muddling along, I will pretend this is not so, and have to rely on eyesight and memory alone, although probably not for very long. I’ll ‘add’ more features as I upgrade the relevant software.

Finally, and most importantly, no reloads. Barring major glitches, keyboard dropping incidents, and anything unfair enough to spoil the experience for us all, I must accept the consequences of my actions, first time. If I anger the gangs, I have to play on. If I run afoul of the police, I have to pay the fine or deal with their patrols. If I have a valuable cargo that I can’t defend, I have to let it go. If I die, I die.

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Hardlife: The Mods

The installer from dotemu will be automatically updated to version 2.04, the latest official build of the game. However, one of the game’s designers, as well as several fans, continued to update the already very stable game for years afterwards. Consequently, I will be playing with the following unofficial updates installed.

Due to its age and obscurity, it’s very difficult to link to sources for these mods (I would be happy to host them myself, but that’s not possible at the moment. I will do so in future if I’m able and permitted to), however this thread provided by the good people at Captain Zedo’s Hardwar Forum should provide most of them, as it did for me.

UIM 6.0 (“Upgrade Ian Martin” – the aforementioned developer): adds some more video options to the game, improving its appearance (and allowing fraps to capture video instead of crashing the game, which came as a massive relief after I spent hours trying a dozen of fraps’s totally useless competitors). It also fixed many bugs and some stability issues, mainly online.

Hardwar Enhanced: two fans of the game, Max and Smurph, made some alterations of their own, notably fixing AI respawning and docking, and increasing the effect of the dynamic economy. They also improve the readouts of the advanced software, allowing for slightly more tactical play. Both their versions can be run concurrently.

Hardwar-E-Opt: can disable any of the features added by the packs above. On the advice of the Captain Zedo forumites, I have disabled the economy tweaks, as these cause prices of everything to crash, which is probably kind of fun, but would make this far too easy.

Hardnerve: quick and simple, this goes in your hardwar directory. It disables the constant buzzing sound when you’re docked in a hangar, which can grate on one’s nerves after a while. The general machinery sound effects in hangars remain, preserving their atmosphere.

I’ve also applied Jimmy’s fixes, on the firm advice of Zedo & co. I’m unsure precisely what these do, but am assured that they fix some serious problems in Hardwar Enhanced. A direct link is here.

These mods have significant effects on Hardwar, but they’re nowhere near as drastic as the ones I use for Fallout 3. The base single player game is much the same, so you won’t be too left out if you don’t fancy mucking about with mods.

I’m far from an expert, but if you have questions about the above mods, feel free to ask.

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Presenting Hardwar

1998. The Good Friday agreement is brokered, largely bringing an end to the Troubles in Ireland. The Daily Express enters the second of its pledged 4,000 years of banging on about Princess Diana. NASA discovers enough water on the moon to support a colony. Much of Europe bans human cloning. Michael Bay is destroying the credibility of both cinema and space travel with Armageddon. Japan launches a probe to Mars.

More importantly, Hardwar is released, to a criminal lack of fanfare from its European publisher, Gremlin Interactive (and Interplay in North America).

Hardwar was an ambitious, novel, and all-round terrific freeform flight combat and trading game, best compared to Elite and Wing Commander Privateer. Set in the far future on a Titan mining colony (named Misplaced Optimism) long since abandoned by Earth, the game takes places in half a dozen craters filled with buildings and buzzing with ‘moths’ – low-altitude aircraft incapable of reaching above the craters. The plot concerns the attempts of its inhabitants to develop the technology to escape their hellhole, but the player is free to ignore this in favour of trading, pirating, bounty hunting and/or scavenging in the dynamic economy of the world.

How dynamic? Well, if you want a missile and nobody’s selling any, you can bring explosives and sheet metal to the manufacturer, and they will build them for you. Don’t have any explosives and sheet metal? No problem – go find the raw materials and take those to the proper intermediaries, and they will process them for you. If you’re feeling a bit East India Company, you could blockade a manufacturer, chasing off anyone who tries to sell them materials while building your own stockpile, then flog the lot for a bigger profit. Of course, the police and local corporations won’t take kindly to this. But perhaps you could make it up to them by attacking their enemies?

Despite some AI quirks and minor balancing issues, combat is fierce and fast, and death comes quickly in Hardwar. A range of weapons and craft keep things interesting (it’s even possible, though difficult, to play peacefully, trading and fleeing from or disabling attackers’ weapons rather than killing), and the basic “corporations fighting over technology” story, from the admittedly little I’ve played of it, is entertaining, rewarding (quite literally – certain missions unlock new items), and entirely optional. Unfortunately there are no sandbox-style side missions or subgames, but there are police and faction hit lists as well as whatever challenges you set for yourself.

It remains highly playable, and thanks to the only people I could find selling it (dotemu), it’s dirt cheap and, unusually for an old game, runs on windows 7 with no problems (disclaimer: every PC is different, actual colours may vary, etc.). It even has a built in multiplayer option, which I’ve never tried for lack of an audience, but whose lost potential makes me very sad. Here is a game that could be remade into a masterpiece of multiplayer gaming with very few changes, and with none of the tedious grinding of the WoW-alikes, or elitist joylessness of the generic FPS deathmatch. But I digress.

Having recently rediscovered the joys of moon-flight, and with the untimely death of Cass in Falloutville, I will be continuing the Mushroom Cloud series with a similar take on Hardwar. Stay tuned.

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