Thankfully building your own retro gaming machine has never been easier. There are many homebrew kits to help you get started and whilst it is only legal to acquire roms for games you already own, there are fan made games online that are freely available. But lets be honest, we all know what retro games are and we know why you’re reading this today.
Luckily for you, we’ve built our own retro gaming machine with the incredible (and free) Retro Pie OS and a little bit of kit called a Raspberry Pi. Interested? Well lets get started.
What is a Raspberry Pi and where can I get one?
Back in 2012, the first Raspberry Pi was created in the United Kingdom as an educational aid to encourage children to program. With the mission statement of democratising technology – the Raspberry Pi foundation believe in easy access to computers.
With this in mind, it is easy to see how the Raspberry Pi became so popular. Prices begin as low as £15 for an entry level machine. The machine we’ll be discussing today is the very affordable Raspberry Pi 3. I bought mine from the Pie Hut as a ready to make kit but you will have just as much luck on amazon too.
What is RetroPie and where do I get it?
Putting it simply – RetroPie is an operating system with built in emulators. It can run almost any game imagineable. It is completely free and is available here on the official RetroPie website.
It can successfully emulate practically anything. But some of your favourites will include: Nintendo Gameboy, NES, SNES and N64 games. SEGA Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive and Saturn games. Plus Playstation 1 and 2 games.
What will I need?
To build your own retro gaming machine you will need:
- Raspberry Pi 3 or 4 Machine or Kit
This should be obvious but you’ll need an actual computer for this job(!). There are plenty of brilliant kits available but ensure you have a power supply.
- Raspberry Pi 3 or 4 Case
You will be needing a case for your little emulator of joy. These can be picked up for around £5 each but nicer looking cases cost more. Get the excellent NES case to complete the look.
- HDMI cable
This is how you’ll be connecting your retro gaming machine to a monitor.
- USB Keyboard and Joypad
Any respectable gamer will have these but ensure YOU have them too.
- 16GB SD Card (plus reader) and a USB Memory Stick
Last but by no means least, make sure you have a good sized micro SD card and USB Memory stick for this job. The card will store your games and operating system, the USB stick will transfer games from your computer to your brand spanking new gaming machine
How do I install RetroPie onto my Raspberry Pi?
Installing RetroPie to your Raspberry Pi could not be easier. Firstly, on a standard Windows PC you’ll need to to install the free tool Win32 Disk Imager (the Mac alternative is the ApplePi Baker) and secondly download the RetroPie SD Card image from the official website. Don’t forget you’ll need to get the correct OS version for your Raspberry Pi hardware.
Insert your SD Card into the reader (you did remember to get a SD Card reader right?) and use either Win32 Disk Imager or ApplePi Baker to create your RetroPie SD Card.
Once complete (it really won’t take long) stick the SD Card into your Raspberry Pi hardware. Ensure you’ve plugged in a HDMI cable, your USB Controller and USB Keyboard into any of the four available USB ports then power it on. Don’t be fooled, there are no power buttons on a Raspberry Pi, but once the power is on you’ll see a little red LED on the board.
When the Raspberry Pi is turned on and the tiny machine is connected to a display, you’ll see RetroPie begin installing. Simply set up your controller when prompted and also use your keyboard to connect to the WiFI. We do recommend this – it enables you to have access to fantastic imagery and enrichment sites for your classic game collection.
How do I get games onto RetroPie?
This is where things become complicated but not because it is hard to do, read on for more insight.
There are plenty of sites you can download ROM files from for your favourite classic retro games. The RetroPie OS and the inbuilt Emulation Station can work with 7z files and supports a number of other file types. However, please be aware that downloading ROM files is illegal unless you own the game already. We will not tell you where to get games from, but Google absolutely will. Please note there are lots of completely free and legal homebrew games available to play also!
Once you have acquired your ROM files, plug your USB stick into your computer – format it to fat32 and create a folder on your USB Memory stick named retropie. Then simply remove the USB stick and plug it into your Raspberry Pi. After a few moments (give it 5 minutes to be safe), remove the USB stick from your Raspberry Pi, it will have created a folder format for you to transfer games onto the little machine.
Plug your USB Stick back into your computer and transfer the game files to the appropriate folder on the USB stick. Then (one more time now) plug the USB stick back into the Raspberry Pi and the little box of tricks will begin copying over the files.
After a few moments the games will appear in your Emulation Station library. It is as simple as that.
Can I play any game on the RetroPie?
Effectively yes, depending on the model of Raspberry Pi you bought. The Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB) model will absolutely play anything. You’ll be able to play NES, SNES, Mega Drive, N64, Saturn, PSone and potentially even some PS2 games. But on the Raspberry Pi 3 you’ll be absolutely fine playing 8bit and 16 bit retro games.
There are some very rare titles that you may never be able to play if not for the RetroPie, like the aweomely fun Battle Mania: Daiginjō.
It really is that easy
We were able to set up our RetroPie machine within an hour and it was ready to play games before we knew it. Having an emulator that can fit in the palm of your hand has an immense amount of benefits. It frees up laptops to do what they do best and puts consoles back into the living room.
The versatility of the Raspberry Pi hardware has been a blessing. It has made retro gaming more accessible to the average man again, collectors and purists be damned. We’ve had more fun with our SNES and Mega Drive classics without having to risk our precious one of a kind consoles.