Case Mod World Series Winners Showcase Cyberpunk Mantis Blade PC, A ‘Floating’ Tower

(Image credit: AK Mod)

When times get tough, modders get modding, and 2020 was no different. Today, the winners of Cooler Master’s Case Mod World Series 2020 modding contest receive their crowns, rewarding some of the most remarkable mods created in a challenging year. 

The 2020 contest saw 90 entries from enthusiasts across 23 countries. Mods were equally judged on craftsmanship, aesthetics, functionality and innovation, with judges including Cooler Master, professional modders, sponsors, including MSI and the game Control and media judges, including Tom’s Hardware. 

Overall, 12 mods won awards, with the most coveted “Best Of” awards going to 6 builds (Best Tower Mod, Best Scratch Build, Best Innovation and Design, Best Craftsman and Best Art Direction). 

You can see the full list of Case Mod World Series 2020 winners here. Below is an inside look at some of the fiercest award winners. 

Best Tower of the Year: Project A.R.E.S. by Explore Modding 

We may still be waiting for the hover cars that so many movies and novels have promised, but with Explore Modding’s Project A.R.E.S. build, the appearance of a floating tower is already here. The modder describes his build as a “story, told in art form.” He drew inspiration for the colors, curves and starry window (made of optic fibers and epoxy resin) from the character Robot from Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot. 

Ultimately, A.R.E.S. tells its own story though. And with its base designed to make the tower look like it’s awesomely afloat, that story is told from a world seemingly far off in the future.

Not surprisingly, designing and assembling the base was the hardest part of the mod, Explore Modding told us. It required many parts that were hard to fit together, “due to tight tolerances.” 

(Image credit: Explore Modding)

“Even designing it was difficult because I really wanted something that made it look like the case was separated from it and floating above the surface, but that required a lot of trial and error in order to make it stable enough,” Explore Modding told Tom’s Hardware. “In the end, the three acrylic blocks are very sturdy and they're very transparent, so they even tend to disappear under some light scenarios, creating that awesome effect of floating.” 

A.R.E.S.’ hardware panel rotates 180 degrees on the fly, so you can easily swap the build’s look -- components on the left or on the right. Cable management located in the back and front allowed for a clean look inside, where the suspended centerpiece boasting all the components steals the show. 

(Image credit: Explore Modding)

“I often change the layout on my setups, and I always had the struggle of sacrificing the amazing view of the internal hardware when I had to move the PC to the other side of the desk,” Explore Modding said. “I actually ended up tearing apart my build to make an inverted mod a couple times for this reason. ... So this PC can be put wherever you want and still show the same side every time.”

Maintenance is also a bit easier. Just undo a couple screws and turn the panel to access your components. The rotating panel also means you don’t have to tilt the entire case to bleed air from the loop.

Best Scratch of the Year: Ikigai by Nick Falzone Design 

(Image credit: Nick Falzone Design)
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 
  • Graphics Card: MSI Radeon 5700 Gaming X
  • Motherboard: MSI B550I Gaming Edge WiFi
  • RAM: G. Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-3600 (32GB) 
  • SSD: WD Black SN750
  • Cooling: Alphacool Laing DDC, Alphacool GPU waterblock and radiator, Optimus CPU block, EKWB fittings, Cooler Master SF360R fans 
  • Power Supply: Cooler Master V650 SFX

Nick Falzone Design’s mod Ikiagi is named after the Japanese word for, as he put it, “one’s personal passions, beliefs, values and vocation.” The Japanese concept about finding your life’s purpose has also recently picked up Western attention and led the modder to create  a sensible design with both modern and traditional Japanese woodworking techniques.

Nick Falzone Design, an American modder, has been working with wood since childhood and grew to enjoy the Japanese aesthetic, including the “overall timeless and modern design.” In fact, the modder’s first PC case had mini shoji doors. 

“At the time, YouTube was not around, so I read books about Japanese architecture and Japanese joinery. ... I'd always wanted to make the hemp leaf pattern that I did in Ikigai,” the modder told Tom’s Hardware

(Image credit: Nick Falzone Design)

Ikigai incorporates “traditionally made Japanese Kumiko designs” from unfinished Sitka Spruce contrasting with a Wenge wood outer shell complete with hand-sawn dovetails. The inside is mostly acrylic and aluminum with Wenge added for accent pieces. 

To keep Ikigai cool, Nick Falzone Design crafted a distribution plate that also serves as the build’s pump top and reservoir, while keeping most of the cables out of view. 

The biggest challenge, however, came in maintaining Nick Falzone Design’s vision of a Mini-ITX build. Keeping up with the small form factor trend is great, but carefully constructing the watercooling and wiring in a build that’s under 20 liters is no small task.

(Image credit: Nick Falzone Design)

“I made three full-scale models of the main case and many more models of the interior to maximize each component and make everything work efficiently,” Nick Falzone Design said.  

Best Craftsmanship: Cyberpunk 2077 - Deconstruction by AK Mod 

With Cyberpunk 2077 making splashes of all types in 2020, it wasn’t surprising to see a Cyberpunk-inspired mod. More surprising are the undeniable intricacies, craftsmanship and expertise boasted in this showstopping mod that looked unlike any other entry, (and yes, we looked at all 90).

The mod embodies Mantis Blades being repaired. AK Mod did a whole lot of 3D printing, as well as CNC milling and research into unique parts, like military aviation connectors, a vacuum fluorescent (VFD) display and a light bar -- to bring the concept to life.  

(Image credit: AK Mod)

Of course, 3D printing Mantis Blades calls for some patience. AK Mod separated the blades’ parts into over 90 fdm and dlp files but had to redesign due to construction failure. 

“In the original design, inner metal structure frame and outer arm were separated. The outcome of the first design was too thin. The finger parts are difficult to assemble, and the weight bearing for the wrist part was not as expected, so we had to improve the design and print the outcome all over again,” AK Mod told Tom’s Hardware. 

(Image credit: AK Mod)

Other techniques used to make Cyberpunk 2077 - Deconstruction include welding, digital processing lathing, UV printing and laser engraving and cutting. Hand-made parts were also sanded, soil filled, spray painted and given an aged treatment. 

(Image credit: AK Mod)

AK Mod also included an actionable ring scanning instrument to “simulate the Mantis Blades being scanned as a weapon,” AK Mod said. Red LEDs add authenticity as the blades move horizontally.  

Best Innovation and Design: Spirit of Motion by Maximum Bubble Mods  

(Image credit: Maximum Bubble Mods)

While some of this year’s winning mods look straight from the future, Spirit of Motion opts for a retro vibe. Building the mod for his father, Maximum Bubble Mods' Spirit in Motion goes for a classic car theme, incorporating an “Art Deco era front car grille,” as the modder describes it, topped off with delicious Candy Apple Red paint. 

That custom grille not only looks good but opens up to reveal the PC’s components. Hand-building the aluminum grille took “tens of hours, hard work and many processes,” Maximum Bubble Mods told us. 

(Image credit: Maximum Bubble Mods)

Further earning the Innovation & Design title, Maximum Bubble Mods inverted and mirrored the motherboard and vertically mounted the graphics card to keep all the I/O as low as possible.

“It was all done to keep the PC from getting excessively large and to keep the I/O below the frame that my hinge would mount to,” Maximum Bubble Mods explained. 

Perhaps the best part is that Spirit In Motion is now the modder’s father’s best gaming PC (you can even watch him receive the mod on this YouTube video). 

“The last time we talked, he was on a Civilization kick and sounding like he was loving the PC, so I'm happy,” Maximum Bubble Mods said. 

Scharon Harding

Scharon Harding has a special affinity for gaming peripherals (especially monitors), laptops and virtual reality. Previously, she covered business technology, including hardware, software, cyber security, cloud and other IT happenings, at Channelnomics, with bylines at CRN UK.