SBCs (Single Board Computers), such as Raspberry Pis, is a favorite platform of the DIY community in building a retro gaming machine because they’re compact and inexpensive. For as low as $50, you can already build your own retro gaming machine which is one of the most popular projects built with SBCs. Aside from the hardware, another important aspect of a retro gaming machine is the emulator- the software that runs retro games. There’s a lot of emulators available but the most popular is the RetroPie.
What is RetroPie?
RetroPie is an emulation system and management application for retro games built primarily for the Raspberry Pi, hence the Pie in RetroPie. There’s a wide selection of retro games from a variety of classic systems that you can play on RetroPie. Although it’s built for the Pi, it can also run on other platforms like ODroid C1/C2 or any Debian-based PC.
RetroPie packages RetroArch and EmulationStation together. RetroArch is a front-end for emulators that lets you run retro games on a gaming platform like PCs, game consoles and SBCs, while EmulationStation is the graphical front-end of RetroPie which is basically responsible for the RetroPie’s look and interface. EmulationStation is also responsible for the configuration of your game controller, selecting your themes and any other settings on RetroPie. RetroPie is loaded with incredible features and you can download it for free from RetroPie’s website.
RetroPie is fairly easy to install with its user-friendly interface and set-up process. First, make sure that you have all the hardware you need. Since it’s built for the Pi, we’ll be focusing on installing it on a Raspberry Pi.
Aside from the Raspberry Pi board, there are a number of things you need for the setup:
- MicroSD card where you will load the RetroPie image.
- PC/Laptop with microSD card reader for downloading of RetroPie image and other software for the installation.
- Video cable (depending on the RPi that you have)
- HDMI screen
- Raspberry Pi-compatible power supply
- Game controller which can be wired/wireless/Bluetooth depending on the RPi model you will use.
- USB keyboard for easier configuration on the RPi.
- USB flash drive to transfer files from your PC to the RPi.
- RPi casing to keep things neat and organized. Games can exhaust the system if used for longer periods thus, it’s recommended that you use an RPi casing with a built-in heatsink to avoid overheating.
You can also just opt to buy a complete Raspberry Pi kit to make setting up even easier. If you have all the necessary hardware, then you can proceed to installing the RetroPie by following these steps:
- Download the RetroPie image here: https://retropie.org.uk/download/. Select the image for the RPi that you have.
- Download a program that will flash, or write, the RetroPie image to the microSD card. There are several software you can use such as Raspberry Pi Imager or Etcher.
- Write the RetroPie’s image to the microSD card reader using the application of your choice.
- Once done, you can insert the microSD card to your RPi, boot it up and you can start configuring your game controller and any other settings on your newly setup retro gaming machine.
- After the initial setup, you can only see a few games that are preinstalled with RetroPie. Next thing you need to do is add the ROMs, or the digital copy of the retro games, to the RPi so you can see and play games from other game systems such as NES, Playstation, n64, etc. The best way to do this is to download the ROMs using your PC, save them to a USB drive, and transfer them to the RPi.
- Make sure you restart the EmulationStation after adding the ROMs so your newly-added games will show-up.
You can also install RetroPie on top of a Raspbian OS. Here’s a guide if you want to give it a try: https://www.hackster.io/dmitry21/retropie-full-guide-for-raspberry-pi-gaming-machine-86f0ee
Aside from playing retro games, RetroPie comes with other cool features that will make your gaming experience fun and enjoyable.
If you want to take a break from playing games, you can watch movies or listen to your favorite music from Kodi. RetroPie already has all the Kodi libraries you need. All you need to do is navigate to optional packages from RetroPie’s setup menu and look for Kodi’s packages. Follow the installation process, restart your Pi and you can start using Kodi to watch movies or to relax your eyes while listening to music.
After adding in the ROMs, you can already see your favorite games but the screen surely looks boring and monotonous. In order to add visual appeal and more info about the games, you can use RetroPie’s Scraper. It basically scrapes for the game’s thumbnail or box art, and additional information, otherwise known as metadata, so the screen looks more presentable and playful as you scroll through your game list.
Shaders and Overlays
Shaders and Overlays are similar to the filters you add to your photos to alter their appearance according to the look that fits your vibe. If you want to reduce the pixels when playing high resolution games or add CRT layers to smoothen the videos, you can choose from the available shaders and overlays.
There is never a dull moment with RetroPie. Aside from playing with Shaders and Overlays to alter your screen’s appearance, you can also install themes and change them if you want a fresh look from time to time. RetroPie also lets you update your installed themes as well for enhanced appearance.
Did you know that RetroPie has a web manager? I bet not. This utility is a one-stop-shop to check your system’s performance like the CPU temperature, the CPU utilization, ROMs, BIOS, system status and much more. Like Kodi, it’s not pre-installed but RetroPie has got all the libraries if you choose to enable this feature.
RetroPie understands that some ROMs may not behave as desired with some emulators. That’s why it has a collection of emulators for different gaming systems so you can choose the right emulator for your ROMs for a more engaging gaming experience.
Plug and Play Controllers
One reason RetroPie is so popular is because it supports a wide variety of game controllers. Not only those from popular game consoles but even those generic ones. RetroPie saves you the hassle of manually mapping each button to its corresponding function by automatically calibrating the game controller after you plug it in.
There’s not one reason not to love RetroPie. With a wide selection of retro games, you can install a walk-in-the-park installation, user-friendly interface, amazing features, and support for other gaming platforms. It would be hard to take it down from its spot as the best retro games emulation system.