Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need to Know

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Who could have thought that in this age of immersive, 3D network gaming with webcams, headsets, and chat, that comparatively basic games from the past would still prove popular?

Indeed, who in their right mind would have guessed that the little Raspberry Pi could prove so vital as a platform for so-called retro gaming, offering support for a vast array of emulators and different types of controller device.

We’ve recently looked at setting up a “RetroPie” and configuring game controllers, but there are a few other things you will need to know in order to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi-based retro gaming centre, including a run-down of the potential outlay and the best places to find and download games.

You might also need to know more about the controller options or even be looking for some ideas about how to mount your RetroPie, and this article has you covered.

What You Need for a Raspberry Pi Gaming Centre

If you’re already the owner of a Raspberry Pi then you may well be aware of the budget that you need to setup the device as a gaming centre.

As well as the device itself, you’ll need a display cable, SD card for storage and a keyboard, as well as a network connection and controllers. On top of the Raspberry Pi price of $35, you’ll also be spending as much as $53.02 for the full set of gear:

  • Micro-USB power adaptor – $9.91
  • USB keyboard – $8
  • 8 GB SDHC card – $8
  • Ethernet cable – $1.87
  • HDMI cable – $3.99
  • 2x game controllers – $14.52 (for the most basic, Nintendo-style USB option)
  • USB card reader – $6.73

(See What Is The True Cost Of Running A Raspberry Pi? for price information on other configurations.)

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Keeping the price under $60 you’ll also need a case, but how you deal with keeping your RetroPie secure depends on how you plan to use the device as a retro gaming centre – see below for more on this.

Finding, Importing and Playing Games

Many websites and methods exist for finding ROMs that you can then import and play on your RetroPie machine.

Here is a list of some ROM libraries that you might try:

It can be difficult to assess the reliability of these sites in offering the correct ROM; similarly, establishing how trustworthy they might be can also be tough. For the best results, make sure you scan all downloaded files with an antivirus/anti-malware tool.

You might also choose to download your ROMs from the Bittorrent network, although again be aware that you should check these for malware and viruses before attempting to run any of them.

One of the stumbling blocks of retro gaming is ROMs. If you don’t have the original game media for the ROM you have downloaded, you’re taking a risk. Given that so many retro games can be bought on eBay and game trading sites for low figures, however, there really isn’t any reason to breach copyright law.

Controller Options – Basic Joypads and Xbox 360 Controllers

Previously we looked at using both standard USB joypads and Xbox 360 controllers with your Raspberry Pi retro gaming centre, but the possibilities with connecting controllers to your RetroPie are much wider.

For instance, it is possible to connect N64 controllers to your Raspberry Pi using the GPIO header, while multiple PS3 controllers can also be hooked up using USB and dedicated drivers.

Ultimately, however, which controller option you use will probably depend upon the retro gaming experience you want. If you’re looking to relive heady days playing on the Commodore 64, for instance, you might be happier switching between the keyboard and a two-button joystick than ignoring most of the buttons on an Xbox 360 controller.

Where You Might Mount Your RetroPie

If there is a problem with the Raspberry Pi it is probably that it is too small. As soon as you start connecting HDMI and Ethernet cables the device becomes tricky to position accurately (unless you use a popular hook-and-loop fastener, for instance).

One way around this problem is to mount the little computer into a bigger device. This might be an old HDD case or even a Lego construct, but for the purposes of creating a retro gaming machine you might prefer to attach it to the insides of an old games console.

Similarly, if you can get your hands on an old table-top arcade machine or even a traditional games cabinet (or failing that, build one) these should also prove suitable and eye-opening ways to house your retro gaming Raspberry Pi.

If you choose one of these options it will certainly prove to be a talking point!

Retro Gaming with the Raspberry Pi: Easy Win!

If our previous two articles on setting up RetroPie and using your Raspberry Pi as a retro gaming centre didn’t convince you then surely being faced with a library of ROMs, a price for all the equipment you need and the possibilities of storage (from Velcro-style mounting to placement in an existing or custom-built arcade machine) will tell you everything you need to know about using the Raspberry Pi as a retro games station with a choice of emulation platforms and controllers.

This is perhaps the optimum use for the Pi, and I’d even go as far as saying that it is even worth buying a second device just for running RetroPie.

Image Credit: Alfred Hutter

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MakeUseOf TechGuy

Had a horrible time with the front-end for RetroPie, thanks to it’s worthless config utility not centering thumbstick input on reset – my controller apparently started with a slight left drift, so try to configure any of the buttons resulted in them all being “left”. Both the PS3 controllers I own were the same, apparently. Eugh.

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Dean Syme

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