You don’t have to be a coding whizz to set up your Raspberry Pi to run as a retro gaming console. In fact, the process is actually an enjoyable and easy project for a rainy afternoon. Here, we’ll take you through 7 easy steps to creating an all-inclusive retro gaming console that can blow any Classic NES out the water. We’re not using any jargon or tech-speak here, just simple facts and clear instructions that will leave you with a personalised gaming powerhouse. This guide uses Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and the free emulation software Retropie, and has been written by a Raspberry Pi newbie for a Raspberry Pi newbie.
Tech Shopping List
Raspberry Pi 3 Model B – £30 Amazon
The latest model not only provides the best quality for money, but is also wifi and bluetooth enabled, and that will come in handy later.
Raspberry Pi Case – £5 The Pi Hut
Keep your motherboard safe in a hard shell case that not only keeps the dust at bay but also gives you easy access to all your ports and breathes new aesthetic life into your project. No-one wants a bundle of wires under the telly, and you can even house your Pi unit in an old retro console for the ultimate aesthetic effect.
This Pi model only takes MicroSD cards. While 16GB will hold the operating system you’re going to download as well as a couple of games, there’s no shame in splashing out to the 64GB card for storage peace of mind.
Raspberry Pi Power Supply
The Raspberry Pi can take power from a standard mini USB cable, but for ultimate performance many people use a dedicated power unit.
That good old friend.
Gaming JoyPad Controller
You’re going to need something to play your games with. Thankfully the Pi 3 Model B supports Bluetooth input, so you can easily play with a PS3 or Xbox 360 controller. For a complete experience, you can also use dedicated USB retro controllers or a Bluetooth model.
The USB keyboard is a necessity because you’re going to need it to input text. Don’t panic, it’s nothing strenuous – just a couple of inputs that we’ll provide right here.
Step 1 – Download Retropie
Retropie is a free operating system available online through their official site. It’s the easiest interface to work with, and comes with Emulation Station included in the package. Make sure you download the right version of the software for the Pi model you are using, as there are several listed on the site.
After you’ve secured yourself a Retropie download, you’ll notice that the file is stored in a .gz file format. To make this file suitable for use with your Raspberry Pi, you’ll need to extract the data using Winzip or 7zip. You can check how to download and use this software on their official site, and the same goes for Win32 Disk Imager which you’ll need for the next step.
Step 2 – Write Retropie Onto Your MicroSD Card
The next step in your Retropie set up is to write the file to your SD card. Now that you’ve extracted the file, you need to place that file onto your card in a format that the Raspberry Pi will recognise. To do this, Win32 Disk Imager is required. Simply follow the instructions available through the download site to get your Retropie software over to the card.
Step 3 – Install Retropie On Raspberry Pi Using MicroSD Card
Once your Retropie operating system is securely on your MicroSD card, you need to install it onto your Raspberry Pi system. Insert the MicroSD card into your Pi motherboard, and connect your keyboard, controller, HDMI, and power supply. When you switch the unit on, Retropie will automatically install itself on the Pi and you will be asked to configure your controller. Simply press the controller buttons that correspond with the on-screen instructions to map.
This is where having that WiFi enabled model comes in handy. To configure the WiFi settings, go into the Retropie main menu and connect to your preferred WiFi network through the Settings section using your keyboard.
At this stage, many users find it useful to make sure that the operating system is using all the available space on the MicroSD card. Pressing F4 on your keyboard will bring up a command line. Type the following into the command line, word for word, space for space:
Then choose ‘expand root fs’ from the menu that appears and reboot the Pi to ensure your card is being used efficiently.
The next precaution you may want to take involves making sure all the elements of the operating system are up to date. Return to the command line and type:
sudo apt_get update
sudo apt_get upgrade
This process can take a bit of time seeing as your system is essentially scanning everything that may not be up to date in the Retropie operating system software and downloading and installing patches to bring your system up to standard.
Step 4 – Find and Download Emulation ROMS
While your Pi is updating its software, you can take some time to get to the really fun (but contentious) part of the Retropie setup. The games that you will be playing on your Raspberry Pi system are available to download online as ROMS. Your Retropie games list can include titles from a wide variety of consoles, the biggest variety we’ve seen yet. Pretty much everything up to the late 90s is supported through the Retropie Emulation Station, as well as Gameboy Advance titles that run surprisingly well. You can check out the full Retropie games list from the folks over at GitHub. Your DIY retro gaming console will be able to run more consoles than many consumer products offer and you can easily personalise your collection for storage efficiency and ease.
However, it’s worth remembering that you can only legally download ROMS for games you already own in hard copy. So don’t use ROM download sites for games you don’t already own… <cough>. You can find copies of games you definitely already own through a multitude of sites. Obviously, flex your internet awareness muscles and don’t download anything that looks remotely suspect. A widely trusted ROM download source for a number of consoles is Emuparadise which provides a host of supported emulators.
You can even find dedicated ROM download sites for specific consoles that will be helpful if you are looking to create a dedicated console machine.
Step 5 – Format USB Memory Stick
Before you can transfer your ROM downloads to your Retropie operating system, you need to make sure your Raspberry Pi can read the file locations on the stick. To do this, insert the USB into your computer and create a folder called retropie. Then simply plug the USB into your Pi and allow it to generate the appropriate sub-folders that the system will use to recognise your ROMs.
Step 6 – Transfer Downloaded ROMS To USB Memory Stick
When you place your USB back into your computer you will see that your retropie folder now houses extra sub-folders, including one called ROMs. In here, there is a dedicated folder for every console that Retropie supports. Add your ROM downloads to their respective folders and return the USB to the Pi system.
Wait for your Raspberry Pi to work out what you’ve just plugged into it, and simply refresh the Emulation Station. Your games should be ready and waiting for you, nicely filed under their respective console header.
Step 7 – Tidy Up Emulation Screen
This is all well and good. You have your retro gaming console running on a Raspberry Pi and all the games you could possibly hope for. But it’s a bit cluttered, and we’re used to clean interfaces. Using a process known as ‘scraping’ you can grab the meta data and game cover art from the internet and import it straight into your Retropie interface.
Congratulations! You just created your very own retro gaming console using the Raspberry Pi. You’re in for a real retro gaming treat and hours of throwback fun. In general, the Sega Mega Drive runs beautifully on the system, with N64 reviews coming back relatively varied. Raspberry Pi retro gaming can be incredibly varied, and the process of creating your own retro console is rewarding in itself. Through these simple steps to setting up your Retropie software and making the most out of its potential, we hope you’ve managed to secure yourself a brilliant homemade retro gaming unit.
If you have any further questions, feel free to comment down below. Once you’ve perfected your DIY retro gaming console let us know what you’ve been playing and how you found the guide!