After being fascinated by the pixel-centric demake art of Junkboy, I tracked down a bit more of his work and was surprised that he does a lot more than 8-bit pastiches of modern games. Giving his first name as Markus, the Swedish artist answered my question about his origins, process and thoughts on retro vs. modern games. Read on to learn about the Stockholm resident whose art fuses the video game medium’s past and present.
Can you walk us through your CV? School, how your artistic career got started etc.?
I’m self-taught, never had any formal art training. I’ve had this vague idea of wanting to work with video game graphics ever since I was a kid. I remember being especially blown away by the animated cut-scenes in “Full Throttle” back in middle school. I think everything I drew or did since then was somehow to facilitate this dream of becoming the guy who drew all those awesome 2D graphics I’d seen, not only in Full Throttle, but in games like “Metal Slug” and “King of Fighters”.
Of course, once I grew up 2D games barely existed anymore, so what to do with a 12-year-old skillset? Just pretend like it’s 1993 all over again.
How did you start drawing for Level Magazine?
Thomas Wiborgh, one of the editors and founders of Level, stumbled upon me somewhere online a couple of years back and asked if I wanted to draw some stuff for them. Having been an avid reader of theirs for years, it didn’t take much convincing.
What’s your process like? Do you get assignments requesting specific games or can you choose which game you feel like de-making?
We usually have a theme outlined for each issue, based on current trends or the type of games that are being released that month. So with that in mind me and the chief editor pick a game we think would make sense to “demake” in that context, or “premake” as we actually call it in the mag. After that I’m overcome by the magnitude of the task at hand, after which I wallow in self-pity and procrastinate up until a few hours before deadline.
Do you start with a screenshot for inspiration? Do you play a bit of every game you create a de-make of?
I try to sample a bit of everything. Playing the game is of course essential just to figure out what the key mechanics are and the core gameplay is, so you can try to work that into the piece somehow. Screenshots, especially promotional ones, are interesting because they usually highlight the things the developer or publisher wants to show off.
What kind of hardware are you using?
Nothing fancy really. An old PC with one foot in the grave, a couple of 24″ monitors and a Wacom tablet. To actually make the graphics, I tend to fiddle around in Photoshop and a program called GraphicsGale. I used to make pixel graphics with a mouse, but after much ridicule by some former colleagues of mine I switched to the Wacom and now I can’t imagine ever going back.
What do you think is behind the love that retro games have been experiencing? Do you agree with the belief that people had more fun with old-school games than they do with new ones?
I don’t necessarily believe that old-school games are objectively more fun than modern ones, but I do believe that gamers who grew up with the games that had three continues, relentless difficulty and a complete lack of casual social gaming elements, yearn for more of the stuff that made them fall in love with games to begin with. It’s a good thing that developers and publishers have started to figure that out; I just hope gamers put their money where their mouths are.
What element of each game did you focus on to create the demakes?
The single most important thing for me, mainly for my own amusement to be honest, is to try and put the game in a certain historic context. When I did the “Resident Evil 5” one for example, it seemed to me that the characters, setting and strong focus on action and gunplay directly paralleled the late 80s, early 90s trend of sweaty, muscle-bound top-down shoot ’em ups. Capcom had of course their own excellent entry in that genre, “MERCS”, so I based the demake on that.
Are the pieces intentionally kind of opaque? Are you building them as puzzles for the players’ eye to figure out?
I have to admit that there’s very little conscious thought that go into the compositions and such. Usually, I’ll just arrange the image elements until they look alright to me, going by my gut and that questionable experience which comes from having played video games for the majority of one’s life, which coincidentally is directly related to the size of one’s gut.
I showed your work to an acquaintance and the first thing he wanted to know was whether they were playable. Which of the demakes would you want turned into a game? And why?
I love explosions, hot pink bullets and racking up a big score, so my answer would have to be “Bayonetta”. In fact, if SEGA gives me a big bag of money I would happily make the demake a reality. An autographed copy of “Outrun 2” would also do. Or a bag of Cheetos.