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Indie dev gets HoloLens to run 8-bit Nintendo games in 3D

Independent developer Andrew Peterson has created a software emulator that uses Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality headset to display Nintendo Entertainment System games in a 3D space, giving retrogamers a new way to experience 8-bit favorites like Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong.

While Peterson’s N3S emulator has not yet seen an official release, HoloLens owners can compile the project’s source code for an early taste of what could eventually become the definitive way to play classic video games.

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Built off of existing NES emulator Nestopia UE’s Libretro core, N3S uses HoloLens technology to project and display emulated 8-bit games within a room-sized environment. Peterson offers a more technical explanation regarding N3S’ inner workings at the emulator’s official website.

In addition to displaying emulated NES software on a large mixed-reality display, N3S allows users to view in-game elements from any angle, giving Nintendo’s sprite-based games an eerie 3D effect. Similar technology was featured in 3DNES, an emulator for Windows that presents NES games in 3D via voxel rendering.

N3S is still in an experimental phase, however, and the project currently lacks expected features like sound emulation and save states. Players also shouldn’t expect consistent performance across multiple games, as Peterson needed to create numerous workarounds in order to introduce HoloLens support at a basic level.

“The HoloLens won’t run most games full speed, especially when the editor is built-in and people make more complicated 3D meshes for the sprites,” Peterson explains in the above video’s description. “I’ve also had to hand-tune and optimize the app for HoloLens in a way that won’t work with many games to get a consistent enough FPS. But … it is really cool.”

Future updates for N3S will introduce a voxel editor, giving users the ability to create and save 3D meshes for individual game sprites. Peterson also outlines plans for an N3S file repository that will automatically download user-created 3D definitions for specific games, rendering them instantly compatible with HoloLens without needing additional tweaks.

N3S in its current state works best with NES games that use solid backgrounds, like Super Mario Bros and BurgerTime. Peterson is currently working on optimizations that will introduce support for more complex games like Mega Man 3.