The Regressor turns back gaming time to 1994

While the battle rages on between 60 and 30 frames per second on the newest generation of consoles, Mark Jenkins from Atlanta, Georgia is far more concerned with making sure his demake gifs run at a spiffing 15 frames. The rest of the gaming world might be all about shaders, particle effects and anti-aliasing – *squints to see the difference* – but Jenkins runs in the opposite direction when it comes to photo realism. Welcome to the world of The Regressor.

Even taking the time to define his pastime on his Tumblr – “To Regress – return to a former or less-developed state” – Jenkins is a lover of all things low poly. But where did this all start? “I graduated in 2011 from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Game Design, but after graduation the economy happened, so I wound up working two non-art jobs, buried under mountains of student loans, and still living with parents. I was borderline depressed. So I just ‘regressed’ to a time where I was happiest, the era of the Nintendo 64 and PS1,” he explains honestly. “Doing models reminiscent of some of my favourite games and memories as a child really helped me get a better outlook on my situation. While not much has changed, I am doing what I love on the side so I can't complain too much now.”

Jenkins latest regression is a much spikier version of Final Fantasy 15’s perfect art style that sees the team head off on a road trip to the neighbouring kingdom to go and see their favourite rock band play a gig. He designed everything from character models to the original PlayStation box art and enjoys writing up a plot for each of his demakes.“That description was something I thought of when I first saw the recent Tokyo Game Show trailer,” explains The Regressor. “All the protagonists are wearing black, with their token anime-like hair, red sole boots, and look like an idealised J-rock group, or at least the fans of one. So I just went with that, as it fit the not-too-serious road trip tone shown in the trailer.

I imagined a fun, silly, crazy road trip game that only makes less sense the more you think about it. It just has a certain level of charm absent from recent Final Fantasy games, or games in general.” Going back to the roots of the games we love is something we’re all partial to. Who doesn’t enjoy a pixelated trip down memory lane with a PS1 Classic or two, or blowing the dust off old cartridges and delighting that they still work? So what does The Regressor find so attractive about our games of old?

“They allow for an almost imaginary participation of the player to fill in the gaps not shown with the simple aesthetic,” explains Jenkins. “I always ask the question, ‘Without all the realistic lighting, shaders, or multi-million poly characters, what experience am I left with as a player?’ Many leave nothing to my imagination on the visual side. With low poly, the player's imagination is just as crucial as the fun factor and gameplay. It’s how fond memories and nostalgia are born, and those keep us striving forward to create similar experiences for future generations. That is why any 20-year game series will have such devoted fans, especially one as iconic as Final Fantasy.”

Jenkins’ other demakes include a pun-packed Last Of Us regression he calls The Laugh Of Us, a tongue-in-cheek AC called Lil’Ssassins, with cute hooded versions of Ezio and co, plus a considerably less aesthetically pleasing version of Bioshock Infinite.“I just do what would me make laugh or chuckle,” he explains. “I try and strike a contrast with all the serious, gloomy triple-A games this past generation. For example, with ’Ssassin’s Creed, I imagined such a game involving cute big-headed assassins trying and failing humorously to do their best on a job, with slapstick collateral deaths. I win if I make myself or anyone else smile.”

His favourite creation so far has been Ice Climbers 64, where Jenkins’ designed the first 3D Ice Climbers game and wrote his own version of the story. “Instead of creating something humorous or cute like I typically find myself doing, I was able to strike an intentionally bizarre, eerie tone, in contrast with the actual Ice Climber game,” he explains. “I'm a sucker for creepy or eerie games done right, so I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. The more perfect it is to me, the more reason it must be regressed!”

Currently working on a Harvest Moon-style farming/dating sim called Pumpkin Online, Jenkins still has plenty of plans for future regressions, but won’t reveal what he is working on next. “All I’m saying is it’s a female lead, it’s a recent game and is my favourite of its genre!” Spoilers? We’re guessing you’ll be able to see the pixels.

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Louise Blain

Louise Blain is a journalist and broadcaster specialising in gaming, technology, and entertainment. She is the presenter of BBC Radio 3’s monthly Sound of Gaming show and has a weekly consumer tech slot on BBC Radio Scotland. She can also be found on BBC Radio 4, BBC Five Live, Netflix UK's YouTube Channel, and on The Evolution of Horror podcast. As well as her work on GamesRadar, Louise writes for NME, T3, and TechRadar. When she’s not working, you can probably find her watching horror movies or playing an Assassin’s Creed game and getting distracted by Photo Mode.