Old Game Memories
If you’re like me, you grew up with video games. Some of us grew up with a PlayStation 2. Some of us grew up with an Atari 2600. I myself played the original Nintendo Console when I was little. Fond memories of playing Dragon Warrior 4 on the NES console. I also remember my sister’s gamesave becoming corrupted and I was blamed. For many like myself, seeing games from our early childhood brings forth fond memories. I still feel a melancholy emotion when I hear the opening title screen for Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana.
Most of us don’t have those old consoles and games (Luckily, I never sell my games). You can always download a copy of the game as a rom file and play it on an emulator on your computer. However, did you know you can build your own retro console? It’s surprisingly easy and affordable! Time to get a Retropie!
2012, the Raspberry Pi Foundation created a small board that had the basic functionality of a computer. It wasn’t much, but it was built on the idea of being cheap. This allowed young children and teens to have a hands-on experience with computer hardware and how electronics work. $25 was something affordable that wouldn’t hurt your wallet if a student damaged it. It was something that classrooms could afford to buy in bulk for students as well. The focus of the Raspberry Pi was to teach hardware and coding at an affordable price.
As time went by, more tech-savvy people got their hands on the device and started pushing its limits. One may build a credit card sized Linux computer. Perhaps a device to notify you if the mail was delivered via text message. How about a customized webcam or security camera. Of course, even a basic robot made from an Erector set. The Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Website offers lots of information as well as many ideas from tinkerers around the world. When it comes to gaming, some have made their own arcade cabinets and even custom handhelds! Google “Gameboy Zero” and see what I’d LOVE to have for Christmas.
Building Your Retropie
Now to get to the topic at hand. The one you clicked on this article for! Retropie allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi (or run on PC) and allow you to use numerous emulators to play emulated games. Their website offers Retropie free of charge for download. However, you can also go the lazy route and just buy a pre-flashed Micro SD Card. If your thinking about building your own Retro Console, here is the basic items you will need:
- A Raspberry Pi (Latest model at this time is “Raspberry Pi Model 3B+”
- A Micro SD Card (Class 10, you need a fast read/write speed.)
- A way to connect your Micro SD Card to your computer to flash it.
- A USB controller (many retro controllers on Amazon for cheap. A PS4 controller works too)
- HDMI Cable to connect to your TV.
- Micro USB power cable recommended voltage of 5V and 2A in (Easy to find Raspberry Pi being sold as a kit that comes with this. Get the kind with an on/off switch for best results!)
- USB Flash Drive (For Simplest transfer of your downloaded games)
- A Case (Optional, but recommended) I got a nice transparent case with a small fan and heat sinks to keep it cool.
Flash your Micro SD Card
Get yourself a good Micro SD Card. It’s recommended size is 32GB Class 10. You need a fast read/write speed, so make sure it mentions the ability to save a high-quality video in cameras. Connect this card to your computer however you can. You may be able to use an SD Card Adapter to plug directly into your computer. I personally have a small USB adapter so I can connect it like a flash drive. Once you can connect it to your computer, you’ll need to “Flash” the Retropie Operating System onto the card. You can download that from Retropie’s Website: https://retropie.org.uk/
To flash Retropie on the Micro SD Card, you’ll need a program like Etcher (https://etcher.io/). It’s a very easy program to use. Once you flashed the SD Card, insert it into your Raspberry Pi and hook up the Power, HDMI Cable, and a USB Keyboard. You can plug in a controller at this time if you want. Then, turn it on and let it boot itself up for the first time. You’re almost there!
Transfer your games
Now you got your Raspberry Pi on your table. You got Retropie booted up and running. The only problem is…you have no games! Go find some roms for consoles you want to emulate. I won’t tell you how because Roms are a bit sketchy on the legality side of the law. Some say as long as you own the game but not a functional console, it’s okay. Others say it’s illegal PERIOD. There are some well known rom sites that recently shut their doors because Nintendo threatened legal action (even though they operated for 18+ years). Odds are, you’ve already dipped your toes into roms and emulators if your thinking of making a retro console. To get them onto your Raspberry Pi, there are two suggested methods.
USB Flash Drive (Easy):
Take a USB Flash Drive and use your computer to format it. I’ve used NTFS as the file system. Others have said they have been able to use FAT32 as well. I used NTFS with positive results in the past. After that, you need to create a folder on the USB Flash Drive named “retropie” (all lower case) and eject the flash drive from your computer. Now plug that into your Retropie and it will add additional files to that folder for what it will need and the “roms” folder. This folder has folders for all the systems it has packages installed for “PSX, NES, SNES, Genesis, GBA, etc.” Drop your roms in the folder they need. NES roms in the NES folder. Gameboy Advance in the GBA folder. You get the idea.
When your finished, plug the flash drive into the USB slot in your Retropie and let it sit for a while. It will begin copying all your roms to your Retropie. The more roms you have, the longer this will take. Wait for the light on your USB flash drive to stop blinking and pull it out. Reboot your Retropie (via the menu, don’t just cut the power!) and you should see some consoles listed with games!
Local Area Network/WIFI (Convenience):
Go to the Retropie menu on your screen and click on Wifi. It may prompt you to set your local area first before enabling wifi (early models of Raspberry Pi don’t have built-in wifi). You’ll need a USB keyboard to navigate the setup menu. This isn’t too complicated, but there are in-depth guides on setting up Wifi if you do get confused. On Windows, you can open your file explorer and type “\\RETROPIE” (in caps!) into the Address (or quick address). If your wifi settings are up and running, you should be taken straight to your Retropie’s files where you’ll see Roms and 3 other folders. You can open the roms folder and upload directly to your Retropie.
Enjoy the Retro Gaming Goodness!
You should be ready to go. When booting the Retropie with a USB controller plugged in, it should detect your controller. Then, it will automatically begin letting you configure the control inputs. I didn’t have much trouble with my PS4 controller, but I did have trouble with my Xbox One Wired controller (some have had no issues at all). Should you run into any problems, there are plenty of people out there with tutorials who have had the exact same problem.