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How to turn your Raspberry Pi into the ultimate retro gaming machine

If, like me, you just can’t seem to get your hands on an NES Classic this holiday season, fear not, there are other options. I love Do-it-yourself projects so, in this guide, I’ll walk you through the steps to turn a $35 Raspberry Pi into a system that can do far more than just play 30 Nintendo games. You’ll need a Raspberry Pi to get started. You can buy a package with everything you need right from Amazon. Already have one? Let’s get started.

What you need:

  • keyboard
  • mouse
  • display
  • microSD card and SD Card adapter
  • Xbox One/PS3/PS4 controller

Download the RetroPie image

retropie

RetroPie is going to be the heart of your machine. It’s the software that will power the Rasperry Pi and all of your emulators. It’s a small download, and you’ll need to make sure you have a microSD card plugged in to install RetroPie onto (this is the easiest option; I recommend using an SD card adapter.) Unzip this .GZ file using WinRAR or another unzipping tool, and remember where you saved the file. Grab it right here.

Write RetroPie to your microSD card

win32

This is really easy. On Windows, download “Win32 Disk Imager.” There are similar disk writing tools for OS X (I run Windows, so I used Win32 Disk imager.) LifeHacker recommends RPI-sd card builder if you’re on macOS, and it should be just as simple.

With Win32 Disk Imager open, simply choose the image file that we downloaded and unzipped in step 1. It should be called “retropie-r.1-rpi2_rpi3.img” (as of December 2016). Next, make sure you’re saving it to the right spot by selecting the right drive letter at the end of the file path. Choose the microSD card that you inserted into your computer in step one. Click “Write” and ignore a pop-up message that warns you about deleting content.

After about 30 seconds or so, the file will finish writing to your microSD card. Eject it from your computer.

Place the RetroPie microSD in your Raspberry Pi

retropie6

Now you’ll want to remove the microSD card from your Windows or Mac machine and place it into the Raspberry Pi. On the Raspberry Pi 3, the model I’m using for this guide, the microSD card slot is on the bottom of the computer. Gently slide in the microSD card with the pins up. It won’t work, or you’ll damage the microSD card, if you place it in improperly.

Plug in a controller of your choice

retropie4

For the sake of brevity, we’ll show you how to use a wired controller. After you’ve configured the system for the first time, you can add a Bluetooth controller by accessing the RetroPie settings menu and installing a Bluetooth USB dongle. In any case, for our sake, simply plug in an Xbox One or PS3/PS4 controller into a free USB port on the Raspberry Pi. Then power up the machine.

Configure your controller

retropie2

The Raspberry Pi will begin to boot. You’ll see the RetroPie splash logo and, after about 30 seconds, a screen that alerts you it has detected a controller. Follow the instructions by holding a button on the controller to configure it. Next, you’ll define each gamepad button. You’ll start to get to an area of buttons that may already be mapped, so just hold a single button to skip through these.

Install some ROMs (games)

roms

If you still own a bunch of old NES or SNES games (or any number of other games from the variety of platforms supported by RetroPie), you can use various tools to convert them to software versions of the game, simply referred to in the emulator world as ROMs. RetroPie supports more than 50 gaming systems, so you should have a big selection of ROMs to choose from.

The easiest way to do this, according to the official GitHub guide, is to take any USB stick that’s big enough to fit your ROM library and plug it into your computer (not the Raspberry Pi.) Create a folder named “retropie” then eject it. Next, plug it into your Raspberry Pi. Wait about 30 seconds and unplug it. Put it back into your main computer and, this time, you’ll see there’s a new folder named “roms” under “retropie.” Open it and open the right folder for each emulator. Dump your ROMs in that folder.

After they’ve finished transferring, move the USB stick back to your Raspberry Pi.

Game on!

That’s all there is to it. Easy as Pi! You’ve now successfully installed RetroPie, configured your controller and moved over a bunch of games. Select the system and game you want to play from EmulationStation on the RetroPie and you’re good to go. Check out the settings menu for other options, like configuring Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks. The basics are finished and, better yet, you no longer need to head out and buy an NES Classic.

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Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...


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