I’ve been meaning to put together a retro-pi for some time. My SNES is getting on and as much as I love the Vega and Mini-NES I haven’t got space for every retro system that kick-starter comes up with.
Over Christmas I started looking into it properly, and realised I’d actually got pretty much everything I need. For the price of a couple of USB controllers (4 quid on eBay for SNES or a tenner the pair on Amazon) and an HDMI cable I could set up a complete system!
Very little in life has made me quite this happy.
What’s more, having put the photos online at least four people have asked me how they can make their own – so here’s the tutorial!
What You Will Do:
You’re going to install a retro-game emulator called “RetroPie” to a Raspberry Pi. This will allow you to download and play games from a wide variety of systems up to the Nintendo GameCube. (While the software caters for consoles right up to the Wii, I’ve found it struggles with N64 – both Goldeneye and Ocarina of Time were unplayable).
How hard is it?
It’s very easy. The emulator is all pre-packaged and the parts all slot together. The most difficult part is tracking down the games to load on to the Pi once it’s all up and running, but I’ve been able to find everything I’ve looked for to date. Once you’ve found it, installation is as simple as plugging in a flash card.
You Will Need:
- Raspberry Pi3 *
- Raspberry Pi3 case. *
- 16GB micro SD card.
- USB game controller(s). (You can get most types, so pick your favourite.)
- 2GB Flash drive.
- HDMI cable.
- 5V 2A micro USB adapter.
(*I actually used a Pi2 as that was what I had lying around. The only difference is that you need to also get a USB WiFi dongle as well. And a Pi2 case.)
Also to set up:
- USB keyboard.
- Laptop/PC with an SD card reader.
There are three stagesin the setup, and a fourth if you’re loading Spectrum games to ensure your controllers work OK.
Stage One: Prepare your SD Card
Plug the SD card into an PC or Laptop.
- If you’re using an old SD card then download an SD formatter and reformat it. (Make sure it formats to the correct size).
- Head to the RetroPie downloads page and click on the link for Raspberry 2/3.
- Download 7-zip (32 bit for Windows – there are separate links for equivalent Mac applications.)
- Open 7-zip, and find the RetroPie download from step 2. Click on EXTRACT. (This will convert your “RetroPie*.img.gz” file into a “*.img” file.)
- Download Win32 Disk Imager.
- Open Win32 Disk Imager and find the RetroPie*.img file from step 4. Ensure that the DEVICE is pointing at your SD Card, and click on WRITE
Your SD card is now ready!
Stage Two : Prepare your Raspberry Pi
- Insert the SD card from Stage One into your Raspberry Pi. Put the Pi into the case, attach the HDMI cable to a television, plug in the USB keyboard, and one of the USB Controllers. Finally, attach the 5V 2A micro USB adaptor.
- Wait. The Pi will unpackage the RetroPie image for you.
- After a few minutes you’ll see a WELCOME screen come up. Hold down a button on the controller and you’ll enter the configuration screen. (Don’t worry if you make a mistake here – it can be corrected later on.) Follow the instructions to map your controller to the relevant functions.
- When you see the RetroPie menu appear, select it (this is button A on a SNES controller), and then select the WIFI option. Follow the instructions to select your WIFI network and provide your password.
- Connecting to WIFI will make it easier to make updates to your system from your PC or Laptop over SSH via Putty or a similar application. This avoids the need to have the keyboard plugged in the whole time. (The RetroPie menu also has an option that confirms your IP address).
- You can attach any additional controllers at this point. If you press START button then you will find the option to CONFIGURE INPUT, which will allow you to re-map your controllers at any time.
You’re now ready to import some games!
Stage Three : Loading games
Retro games are stored for emulators as ROMs. RetroPie doesn’t ship with any provided as there is a legal grey-area here. In theory you should only download games that you already own.
This is potentially the most frustrating part of the process. You will find that there are some sites you prefer over others, and you’ll sometimes need to try two or three different sites and/or downloads before you find one that works. It does get less frustrating with time and experience, though.
I’m going to try to find Little Big Adventure. I’ve typed “Little Big Adventure Playstation rom” into Google, and I’ve avoided the first two sites that have come up. The third appears to be a dial-up connection from Mongolia or somewhere, but it’s working.
While that’s downloading:
- Make sure that your USB flash drive is blank, and formatted to FAT32 or NTFS.
- Create a folder called “retropie”
- Plug it into your Pi.
- After a minute you can remove it and plug it into your PC, where you’ll find the retropie folder now contains a folder called “roms” which in turn contains directories for all of the systems that are supported.
- Check the download folder for the ROM that we downloaded above. There will usually be a zip folder. In this case it’s an RAR which I can extract via 7-zip (see Stage One). This has generated one BIN file and one CUE file, which are good for Playstation.
- We need to copy the files to the correct folder on the flash-drive. For Playstation, that’s psx.
- NB – whenever copying new files to the pi, I recommend deleting any other ROMs from the flash-drive. I’ve found these tend to over-write any existing copies of the files, which means you then have to reload the metadata.
- Once the files have copied across, remove the flashdrive from your PC and attach it to the pi. Allow a couple of minutes for the files to port across.
- Remove the flash drive, press start, and reboot.
- You’ll find there is now a Playstation option on the menu bar! Selecting this will show you the new game file, and selecting again will load the game!
- Press SELECT and START at the same time to close out of the game and return to the Playstation menu.
- Press SELECT and then EDIT METADATA. Click on SCRAPE. Hopefully your game will come up automatically, (otherwise it may be necessary to click on INPUT and play with different word combinations to force your game details to come up.) Select your game and SAVE!
Repeat Stage Three for as many games as you want to load into the emulator!
At this point the main use for the keyboard is to input details when searching for metadata, so you can put it away until needed.
Stage Four : Controller configuration for Spectrum games
If you’re not going to download any Spectrum games then you can skip this stage.
Some games (like Manic Miner) work fine straight away. Others I’m finding do not. When this happens, try the following:
- Load the game.
- Hold down SELECT and X
- Select Quick Menu
- Select Controls
- Cycle through User 1 Device Type to Kempton Joystick (ooooh the feels!)
- Select Save Game Remap File (NB -make sure you select GAME and not core.)
- Press B to go back one menu
- Select Resume
This usually seems to resolve any issues, and the system remembers the setup the next time you load the game.
And that’s it! Answers to any additional questions are usually available from the RetroPie site, and MagPi magazine has had a number of innovative projects that embedded a Pi Zero actually into the controller if you want to get really flash.
Knock yourselves out!