Miniaturisation is a wonderful thing: you can now play ROMs for virtually every retro gaming system ever on a Raspberry Pi computer the size of a NES cartridge. But where’s the fun in that? What you really need is a sweet retro arcade case to put it all in!
Note: Downloading ROMs you don’t already own in physical form is illegal, etc., got it?
What is RetroPie?
RetroPie is an OS image you can burn directly to SD card and boot straight into your retro gaming fun; adding ROMs is then easy over the network share it creates. Christian walked you through the basics of getting RetroPie up and running here, so read that first.
PiMAME (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator), recently renamed PiPlay after a successful Kickstarter campaign, is another such all-in-one solution that you burn straight to SD card, but it includes a nice Web interface for uploading ROMs. Check them both out and see which you prefer; RetroPie is certainly the most well known at this point.
Porta-Pi Arcade Kit
From RetroBuiltGames, $50 will get you a laser cut wooden cabinet panel kit, though you’ll need to source the screen and buttons yourself. A full kit with screen, speakers and buttons costs $305; or for the true DIYer, you can buy the raw plans for $25. An absolute basic set of plans can also be downloaded for free. A Porta-Pi “Lite” cabinet is also available, which removes the built-in screen in favour of simply using an HDMI connection to existing HDTV. It may seem pricey, but the end product is incredibly professional.
If you have a 3D printer (like the Cubify Cube, reviewed here) with an 8×8-inch build area, you might want to download these plans for a truly portable Pi MAME system. Featuring a 4.5-inch TFT screen and a Teensy custom controller for the buttons, the author actually recommends you don’t attempt this exact design, but it could serve as a basis for your own project – read through his comments to read about issues faced. It still looks pretty incredible.
Full Size Upright 4-Player Arcade Cabinet
Portable single-player RetroPie arcade? Waste of time! Real geeks build a 6-foot tall upright arcade cabinet with enough standing room to accommodate 4 players. Originally designed around a PC running Windows XP which was starting to struggle, the creator stumbled upon the Raspberry Pi and all was well with the world again.
Apart from serious woodworking skills and a ton of buttons, you’ll want an I-PAC4 module ($65) which takes up to 56 button and joysticks inputs (enough for 4 players plus coin and start keys each) and maps them to a standard keyboard interface with no delays.
No build plans are provided though, so you’re on your own there. How hard can it be? Answer: very.
The Ikea Builds
Ikea storage boxes good for many things, but I think this project shows an arcade cabinet is not one of those. The monitor is mounted on the lid, with slots cut in the side to stand it up when in use, while still maintaining the ability to hide everything away when you’re done playing.
I’m going to give this the award for ugliest build ever – it just looks silly. The guy who built it even admits to eventually bypassing the built-in monitor and hooking it up to the TV anyway.
This one built with an Ikea table is a lot more promising, but the flat surface mounted display isn’t exactly ergonomic – apparently these were called “cocktail cabinets” back in the day. Unlike a lot of these projects, the Flickr page has a good number of detailed photos of the process so you should have no trouble building it. If you build only one RetroPie game station this weekend, make it this one.
Though currently out of stock, the $120 Cupcade project from Adafruit is so tiny it borders on ridiculous and probably useless. Complete with tiny thumbstick, equally diminutive buttons and minuscule 2.8-inch screen, they claim it can be put together in 4-6 hours.
Look all serious and business-like as you walk around with this briefcase, then open it up to reveal your true intentions. Fully self-contained, everything is embedded nicely in foam padding including a 10,000 mAh battery. No advice is given on expected battery life though, but I wouldn’t expect more than a few hours with that 7-inch screen.
The Instructable project page is pretty detailed, though the real difficulty will be in sourcing all the components affordably.
Also buy: RetroPie GPIO Adapter
For the original retro experience and to free up USB ports, you can wire in some genuine SNES controllers with the help of this GPIO adapter. Available now for $17.
You can of course, just use some modern gaming controllers with a Rasberry Pi with these setup tips. And honestly, if all this woodworking and kit building seems like a lot of effort – just hook your Pi and play some games!
Have you made your own RetroPie gaming station? Link to some pictures in the comments, we’d love to see your efforts.
Image Credits: Roger Braunstein Via Flickr