In my last edition of Hardscope I was feeling pretty ambitious about games I wanted to start and finish this month. In a surprise twist, I started zero new games in December, and finished an equal amount, which is a bit of a relief and a disappointment.

In my defense, it was a pretty busy month. Holiday parties, decorating, the running around that come with shopping and enjoying the season, then celebrating with friends and family. In all honesty, it was a nice break from my computer that allowed me to write more, plan out some projects, and finish some shows I’ve been meaning to watch for too long.

This Months Top Games

Hack(ed) The Planet

Ok, I was wrong. Shortly after the last edition of Hardscope I completed the main storyline of Hacknet, the only game I truly completed this month. It was a quick game, probably one of the fastest I’ve played in a while, but it was a satisfying experience throughout. As I mentioned before, the game is a mix of text-based adventure, puzzle-solver, stealth, and murder mystery. On paper that just looks like a mess, but in action Hacknet was interesting played well off of each of these mechanics.

Hacknet is a game that allows you to become an elite hacker, or at least feel like one as you access private computers, phones, and databases. Your entire experience with the game is spent on a virtual desktop where you receive contracts, bypass security systems, and unravel a mystery while gathering progressively more powerful tools and knowledge. For a game that features no other scenery changes except for when you change your machines theme mid-game, it is an addictive experience that boots quickly, and constantly had me saying “just one more mission.”

When the game was over I felt myself wishing there was more to it, that it could go on longer. I wanted to hack more machines, read more emails and IRC logs, solve more mysteries. I wish that there had been more, which is my only complaint about the entire game. Luckily, a series of missions I had neglected early on turned out to be a sly way of embedding the DLC into the main game, so I’m taking a run at that and loving it more than the initial offering.

Feeling Crafty

On December 20th, 2010 Minecraft beta 1.0 released to PC users around the world. I remember that Christmas break had started, I was home for the holiday, and I hid away in my room for an entire day just to explore and build.

Minecraft was wildly different back then; biomes were limited, crafting recipes were minimal, and you could get stuck in trees if you started chopping them down and hopped into the stump to harvest the rest. That last detail still gives me pause when I am gathering lumber.

By an alarming order of magnitude, Minecraft has my highest number of hours played of any game ever. I’ve built dozens of worlds, most of which have been lost to time or version changes as the game has grown and evolved. I spent over a year on MinecraftOnline in 2011-2021 taking part in their ongoing world of Freedonia, then went on to create my own public survival server. If I wasn’t actively playing there, I was managing the sever for dozens of players, or planning content. We went through three world changes; Valencia, Alexandria, and Elora, and each of them is sorely missed. I wish that I could walk through the spawn area of Valencia (pictured above) and revisit all of the hard work the players put in to the world that we shared.

That says a lot about the experience of the Minecraft. It’s not just some blocky building game for kids, there is something deeper to it. It’s an escape into a wild world that demands only imagination and time from the player, and in return gives a sense of accomplishment in even the smallest tasks.

There was a lot I wanted to accomplish this month, but I am so glad I spent this time building, laughing, and exploring with good friends.

A Peek at Future Projects

A couple of years ago I spent a summer tracking down Playstation and Playstation 2 titles that I had played but parted with over time, or titles that I had never played and always wanted to. It was a colossal undertaking that involved spreadsheets, tracking prices and inventory at 5 resale shops near me, as well as eBay. It was a buying spree fueled by nostalgia and a stack of over 50 Game Informer Magazines that dated back to the waning days of PS2 and Xbox gaming.

With the collecting completed I started to organize titles, figure out themes, and put together a plan. What I came up with is The Tactical Brick Game Collection Showcases (work in progress name, subject to change), a work featuring over 80 games from the Playstation and Playstation 2 eras. Each themed showcase features at least one game that was influential to me, and is accompanied by games of similar tone, style, or gameplay that I have or haven’t played.

In no particular order…

SciFi Racing Showcase (18 titles)
• The Wheelman Showcase (4 titles)
• Xtreme Sports Showcase (9 titles)
• Aces Showcase (10 titles)
• The Agency Showcase (4 titles)
• Mayhem Showcase (5 titles)
• Strike Showcase (5 titles)
• Legend Showcase (13 titles)
• Road and Track Showcase (3 titles)
• Adventure Showcase (10 titles)
• Mixed Bag Showcase (8 titles)

With each game I play I’ll post a mixture of articles, pictures, and videos here to chronicle the journey. It is a huge task, but I look forward to starting this project after literal years of gathering, planning, and waiting. I’ll still be maintaining my regular responsibilities and remaining social, so these updates my be a bit more spaced out than I’d like them to be. Nonetheless I am excited to share these experiences with you!

And now for something completely different…

My playtime was a bit limited this month, mostly because of the holidays but also because December was a big month for TV and catching up on some shows. Rather than devote another article to this topic, I feel it actually fits well into the optics of what I envision for Hardscope.

Would you like to play a game?

At long last I have seen Squid Game. It’s not that I was avoiding it, there has definitely been an interest and a desire to be in the conversations as they were taking place about the characters and the games. Somehow it just fell to the wayside with Halo and other things on the table.

I went into the show mostly blind; I knew there were some bloody games, I knew from one sentence reviews friends and family gave that it was an emotional ride as well. I think I was less prepared for the latter because by the end I was way more invested in the development and redemption of protagonist Gi-hun than I had ever anticipated. Furthermore, the slow reveal of the main antagonist also took me by surprise when it finally came, and now I feel a rewatch is in order. There are many details I missed right up until the end, but I also feel that the English dub did not properly convey the emotions of the characters as they made their trek through hell. It didn’t feel like the terrible kung-fu movies of my childhood, there was still some quality to the voice actors work, but it felt hollow and phoned in at times, detracting from the drama or horror at times.

Overall I liked the show and I look forward to seeing what a season two will look like for Gi-hun and the next round of players in the Squid Game. It’s a fresh take on awful topics, but it is set in a world that could easily be our own and is rich with potential.

3, 2, 1, Let’s Jam

I’m writing this section of Hardscope on the night we learned that Netflix’s live action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop is officially cancelled and will not receive a second season. At the moment of writing this, I have some conflicting emotions, especially as I still have two episodes remaining in season one. One the one hand I’m pretty bummed about it, I’ve enjoyed the new take on a familiar favorite, a hot take in some circles who are quick to demonize or hate on anything new and fresh. It is by no means perfect, but it does its best to pay tribute where it can and break free into uncharted territory where it feels appropriate. I’ve enjoyed the cohesiveness of the three main characters, something that wasn’t constant in the anime with Faye always running away. I’ve also enjoyed the banter and on-screen chemistry of the actors, even if the dialogue is over the top or corny at times.

But on the other hand, I get the hate and can understand why viewership after episode one took a nosedive. It isn’t the Bebop of the late 90’s. The source material had an entire vibe to it that will probably never be recaptured, at least in a way that eclipses the anime. I can still stir up those emotions of watching Cowboy Bebop in the middle of the night on Toonami’s Midnight Run. The thrill of the action, the love for the music and its incredible craftsmanship, the overall melancholy tone of three bounty hunters running from their pasts, coping with their pain or loss. It had a staggering ability, for me, to bring out the humanity in its characters. I remember how emotional it made me feel, how it made me introspective. There were some nights or episodes that hit so right I was emotionally raw during The Real Folk Blues in the closing credits. It was an experience, and unfortunately the live adaptation is missing that crucial ingredient. John Cho is a fantastic Spike Spiegel, but he’s mismatched to the world around him that feels overly energetic, whacky, or cartoonishly zany.

I don’t think it is the end of the world that it was cancelled, after all we still have the anime to run back to. It is a bit disheartening though that yet another sci-fi show has fallen to the wayside. It was no Firefly, and it is certainly no The Expanse, but it’s always a bummer for me to see science fiction fail.

At Long Last…

Spoilers for The Mandalorian season 2 and The Book of Boba Fett follow.

I am a massive, unabashed Star Wars fan. The movies were a jumping off point for me as a kid that led to my love of reading, my love of writing, and my obsession with a galaxy far, far away.

One of my favorite Star Wars series growing up was “The Bounty Hunter Wars” by K.W. Jeter, now considered a part of Star Wars Legends following the franchises acquisition by Disney. It begins immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi with a Boba Fett escaping the Sarlaac Pit, something I have hoped to see on a movie screen for most of my life. Last year, Boba Fett returned to the Star Wars canon in a pivotal moment of The Mandalorian, stirring in me the hope that we would finally get to see what I have only read and dreamed about.

And last night, during the premier of The Book of Boba Fett, I got what I have wished for. A single gloved hand emerging from the sands of Tatooine, a man defying death to continue his storied journey across the galaxy. It was the peak moment of Star Wars for me in my almost 30 years of being a fan, and I am looking forward to seeing how his story will progress and tie into the larger narrative being crafted. There is a conspiracy brewing inside the narrative of The Mandalorian, and it likely delves deeper into the minutia of how a certain someone appeared in the Rise of Skywalker. With shows like Obi Wan Kenobi and others being planned or currently filmed, it is hard to not be excited for the future of the franchise and hope that it somehow cleans up the mess made by the last movie trilogy. Jon Favreau and his crew have a clear and present love for the characters and their stories. They are developing something between the well worn lines of the movies, bringing characters and events foreward from the background.

If you’re not a Star Wars fan, I hope that the next few years of shows can convince you that the stories are more than laser swords and aliens. As for me, I’ll be over here getting excited enough for the both of us!

January Preview

December was a huge month for new games, mostly because of the 12 days of free games Epic Games decided to do once again this year. On top of some awesome titles like Prey and the Tomb Raider collection, I also grabbed Hades, Snowrunner, and Assassins Creed Valhalla. I have no shortage of games to try out and hope to complete, and last months predictions were pretty off the mark. Let’s wait and see what January brings.

I’m pretty excited to share that I’ve finally upgraded my racing/flying simpit, something I’ll share in detail in January’s edition. I’ve only logged time in Forza Horizon 4 so far and I can’t wait to try some Star Wars: Squadrons and Xplane 11 in a dedicated simpit.

Thanks for coming back to another edition of Hardscope. This little exercise has been a fantastic push I needed to get writing again, I hope that you are enjoying them, too!

I hope that you have a happy and safe new year, and that 2022 is your best year yet!

Happy New Year!