Two or three times a year, I lose an hour to the pixel art bliss of a tumblr called Noirlac (opens in new tab). Since 2010, the tumblr blog has been devoted to posting pixel art from (mostly) Japanese games, adding up to an amazing and eclectic archive of thousands of pieces. Some are animated with seizure-inducing strobes of color. Others are static backgrounds from visual novels or the cutscenes of Japanese games. Peruse the archives and you'll find Robocop and Batman and Star Wars and Hellraiser scattered among cityscapes and picturesque sunsets and depictions of daily life.
I love Noirlac because it feels somehow random and curated at the same time. I think that's because it's just such a vast archive—every time I scroll back through months of postings, I'm struck by how many thousands of videogames exist that I've never seen or heard of or even imagined. It's the digital equivalent of the sensation I got the first time I walked into the famous retro game store Super Potato in Tokyo and took in the hundreds of Famicom and Super Famicom games tightly packed onto shelves that were themselves tightly packed into narrow aisles. Basically: wow.
You could get lost appreciating the pixel art of Noirlac's archive for weeks. One thing that makes it especially captivating—but also frustrating—is that not a single image is sourced. Every game is nameless, a single second devoid of context frozen in time. Without a vast knowledge of Japanese games, most of these images feel hopelessly unknowable, which just adds to the mystery and power of each image. My imagination takes over, like it did reading game magazines like Nintendo Power when I was younger. I would read about a game that was only released in Japan and fantasize about it coming to the States. My imagination was almost certainly better than the games themselves.
Part of me loves the mystery of Noirlac posting pixel art of Elvira and a landscape of an alien planet in the same day. But I also know that art should be credited, and Noirlac could be serving a genuinely important role, archiving the art of little-known games. Thankfully, someone else took on that task with the tumblr blog , which has reposted much of Noirlac's archive with the game name and a link to Mobygames. This is how I know that many of Noirlac's images come from games made for the PC-98, a Japanese line of personal computers that obviously never caught on in the west. There were more than 4000 PC-98 games, as chronicled by fansite , and I've heard of basically none of them.
Noirlac sourced helps fill in that archival role, though it's no longer frequently updated. Meanwhile, Noirlac soldiers on as a collection of the weird and the beautiful and the grotesque of picture art, reminding us how many different things you can do with a few colors and a few thousand pixels—pretty much anything you can imagine.
And if you don't want to get all philosophical with me, they make for some great phone wallpapers.