To emulate or not to emulate, that is the question. Us classic gamers love the feel of an authentic vintage console controller in our hands when we play games. The experience feels cheated otherwise. Recently, I decided to purchase a Raspberry Pi, a type of micro computer that sells for $35 on eBay, and give emulation a whirl. I was surprised what I could play with my old PS2 controllers. The RetroPie is a collection of emulators with a very smooth interface. And it boots up almost as fast as an XBox.
RetroPie Emulation | The Legalities
The short end of it is that emulating video games is illegal unless you own an actual copy of the game or if the game is freeware. The files used by the RetroPie representing the old games you wish to play are known as ROMs. There are ways to download ROMs directly from the game, but the easiest way to get your hands on a ROM copy of a game you own is to download it from a ROM website.
RetroPie Project | Getting Started
The Raspberry Pi can be used for a multitude of things. I have the ability to switch the SD memory card to turn it into the RetroPie, but most of the time it serves as a video looper in the Hurricane Martial Arts lobby. With a lot of tweaking you can even make it a portable gaming device with its own screen, but I am going to discuss just the basics to getting a RetroPie up and running. There are more advanced variations of this set-up.
You will need the following components:
- Raspberry Pi
- HDMI cord
- 8 GB + SD Card formatted with the RetroPie / PiPlay Software (formatting the SD Card with the console image can be tricky–see below for suggestions)
- USB drive for ROM transfers
- USB Keyboard for set-up
- USB controller or a controller with a USB converter that the RetroPie can detect
- Micro USB power cord for the Raspberry Pi
Simply put all the components together and boot up with the SD Card in to get the RetroPie up and running. Putting the USB drive into the RetroPie and turning on the system will automatically copy your ROMs onto the SD Card. Not all classes of SD cards will work with the Raspberry Pi. I would recommend getting a preformatted SD card with the console image from an eBay seller. Finding the right seller might take some time but they will usually do the image for free. You could even possibly buy all of the other components in a bundle or kit from them as well.
RetroPie Console | Alternatives & Extras
There are a few things you can do to make the RetroPie work even better. First of all, I would recommend a casing for it. Since it is so small, it can be mounted easily. What I did was put a velcro backing on the enclosure and on the back of my TV since I plan on moving around the RetroPie. You could also mount it inside or on the outside of an arcade stick for a self-contained video game console. A more ambitious goal, and my next project is to make it wireless and mount it inside a Gameboy case with a touch screen monitor and HDMI output, as well as media center functionality. I will be sure to add it to this page when I get the courage to try it.
RetroPie Emulation | Conclusion
At such a small price point, the Raspberry Pi seems like a good alternative to collecting vintage gaming systems. Not only does it make it easier to hook up your various systems, but you can upgrade them to HDMI out. Do you have any experiences putting together Raspberry Pi or RetroPie projects together? Let us know in the comments!