This recent trailer shows off a variety of visual effects now possible in 3dSen.
Source: Geod Studio (YouTube)

One reason is because 3dSen’s rendering engine offers an ever-increasing number of tricks for interpreting games’ flat bitmaps as 3D objects. For example, if you watch the emulator’s latest YouTube trailer, you’ll notice details like Super Mario Bros.’ title screen and suspension bridges morphing and bobbing smoothly, a Castlevania background skeleton swaying on its chains while casting a shadow, the Super Mario Bros. 3 royal palace’s floor extending “out” of the screen, and so on.


All of these touches exist solely because Tran took the time to carefully implement them on a per-game basis. You can see why a brute-force computer conversion wouldn’t prove compelling; translating NES graphics into 3dSen is very much an art. Another person could try and convert a given game and come up with an entirely different-looking result. (And in fact, they might have the chance to do that, since one of the project’s next major phases will be releasing the 3dSen Maker tool so that users can 3Dify games themselves.)

As many tricks as 3dSen has up its sleeve, some games present too many challenges to convert, at least right now. “Games with perspective/pseudo-3D graphics and/or 3D gameplay are very hard to be 3Dified with the current 3dSen engine,” said Tran. “3dSen will need a lot more work to be able to properly handle them.”


You heard it here first: The hardest thing to 3Dify is 3D itself.

Since it takes so much work to convert just one game, Tran has to pick and choose where to focus his efforts. Once he weeds out the technically difficult games, Tran uses several criteria to help decide which games to do next. These include how popular a game is on the internet, how often 3dSen fans request it, and how nostalgic Tran himself is for it. Tran plans to convert as many games as he can. Unsurprising, considering that the 3D visuals are 3dSen’s main attraction.

Playing through The Legend of Zelda in the VR-headset version of 3dSen.
Source: Mike Matei (YouTube)

Another area that may get more attention in the future is alternate control methods. 3dSen’s VR version already supports standard VR controllers and offers what is by most accounts a very pleasant virtual lightgun experience. Potential exists for adding motion-based punching to a game like Punch-Out!!, for example, but that’s on the backburner for now.


3dSen is the rare emulator that focuses not on accuracy or compatibility, but a completely unique feature all its own. While translating 30-year-old NES graphics into 3D voxels probably won’t spark a larger trend, the best 3dSen conversions really are neat to look at and play with, and people seem to dig the idea of experiencing childhood favorites from a new perspective.

3dSen Maker’s release will add some exciting creative potential, too.

“Please keep in mind that we can have many profiles with different 3D interpretations for each game,” said Tran. “It will become interesting to see different 3D interpretations from different people.”