How a new emulator generates 3D scenes from 2D NES games

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3DNES brings a new perspective to some very old games.

The world of NES emulation hasn’t been all that exciting since the late ’90s, when NESticle provided “good enough” emulation accuracy and stability for any NES game out there (though there has been a lot of subsequent work to get that final bit of true emulation accuracy). So it was a bit of a surprise this week to stumble across a new NES emulator that provides a genuinely new perspective on decades-old games by rendering them in three dimensions.

The 3DNES project, as the name implies, extends the 2D sprites of the NES into the Z axis, letting players rotate the camera around to see the sides and back of the formerly flat sprites. This isn’t just a conversion of every pixel into a uniform voxel, either. In a game like Super Mario Bros., for instance, 3DNES converts pipes to into cylindrical 3D models, with bulging piranha plants embedded in the center. In Mega Man, ladders remain in the background while wall-hugging enemies are accurately placed on the sides of thick blocks.

The emulator’s developer, who goes by the handle “geod” online, has been posting videos of the work-in-progress emulator for months. This week, he finally took his work public, posting a playable beta version that runs through the Unity Web player and can load arbitrary (and definitely legally obtained) ROMs from the cloud.

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