Using Raspberry Pi for retro gaming

Games as in NES, SNES and other consoles.

This is where I do pretty much ALL my retro gaming as it’s just the easiest way, and being a stand alone unit it acts in a way like a gaming console.

Raspberry Pi? Can I eat it?

Is a small one card computer that runs linux. Today I recommend the Raspberry Pi 3, that’s about £34 or the £4 Raspberry Pi Zero.

So, what’s the difference?

The 3 comes with LAN ports, wifi and bluetooth and a 64-bit processor etc. More on it here. While the Zero is a minimalistic tiny cheap computer. It’s burger cheap. Got both, for various reasons. The Zero is PERFECT if you want to build a Pietendo, and focus on mostly NES and SNES (and sega mega drive). Being as cheap as it is, you can easy solder things to it and if you mess up it’s still cheap enough so you can buy another.

I recommend that you start with the “full size” Raspberry Pi 3 since it will have all the connections you need, and as a beginner that’s pretty handy. Or jump straight into the deep pool with a Raspberry Pi Zero.

We’ll start with the Raspberry Pi 3

So, what do I need?

This is the bare minimum of what you need, but the sky’s the limit. And there’s PLENTY of accessories and stuff to play around with it.

And I will now assume that you own a tv or monitor with HDMI input. That’s the first and most important thing. Or get a monitor just for this.

I recommend at least a SNES controller as Retropie got save points, and then you need those extra SNES buttons over the NES one. Hint: it’s Select + left shoulder to load save point and select + right shoulder to save.

This is the basic Raspberry PI 3 starter pack, and you can actually get those. Like this one. Or if you want the works with it, then Pimoroni got you covered with THIS pack if you want use your Pi 3 for more than just games. The essential kits is about £52 which isn’t much for what you can do with it. Strongly recommend Pimoroni, have purchased my Zero and stuff from there.

  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • Good fast memory card. Micro sd. Same as in smartphones. Class 10 UHS-1 or up. Up to 32GB, some 64GB cards works as well. But, a 16GB will get you FAR.
  • Power unit, for the Raspberry Pi 3 I really recommend that you get the official 5V/2.5A one.
  • HDMI cable
  • A case
  • USB controller (or two). I get mine from ebay. Got a nes and snes style ones, and a ps one style. Pretty cheap as well.
  • A keyboard. I use my regular wireless desktop keyboard in all mine, I just move the usb dongle from my computer. Just to plug it in and use it. And there’s a few things where you need a keyboard.
  • Software. I use Retropie since it’s pretty easy to get going. You download it from here, just select the one for the RPI 2/3.

So, how do I install Retropie?

Use this guide. That will give you pretty much all information that you need to get going.

So, where do I find the roms for it?

This is a bit of grey zone as you would need to own the games you put on it. But, Google is your friend. A tip: “fullset” is what got all games made for a certain console. Like “nes fullset” is all NES games. In theory at least. Heard that there’s good torrents on this. In theory.

Raspberry Pi 3 can run: nes, snes, gameboy advance, sega mega drive/genesis, some nintendo 64 games. Pretty much all 8/16-bit. Most 32-bit, and some 64-bit.

Ok. I found some.

Then you just follow this guide. It’s not that hard. Just remember that you need to restart emulationstation in order for the roms to show up.

That’s pretty much it. It’s surprisingly easy to get going, at least compared to doing the same on a regular pc where you yell out of frustration at least twice. Sadly there’s no easy retropie for windows.

Raspberry Pi Zero

This is where it can get a little bit difficult since the Zero comes without a LAN port etc and there’s a single micro-usb port for connections. Far from impossible. You just have to know a little about ports and stuff.

Most 8 and 16-bit games runs just fine on it. I’ve limited mine to mostly NES.

There’s two ways you can do it. Either as a regular Raspberry Pi in a regular case OR you can make yourself a Pietendo out of an old NES cartridge.

Software part is very similar to the Pi 3, but select Pi 0/1 on the Retropie download page

Classic way

I recommend that you always get the Pi Zero with the adapter kit since you WILL need it. That’s £8. Or the full complete starter kit for £24. Still worth it. Look at Pimoroni. Or find distributors on the Raspberry Pi Zero product page

And since it lacks any connectivity we’ll need to add that. And the easiest way is with a THIS, which gives you three usb ports and a LAN port. Since you will at some point need to use both usb controller and a keyboard. Which is a little hard to do with only one port. I’m using one very similar that I bought from ebay.

I recommend that you have a fully working Pi Zero before you build a Pietendo, collect the games you want on it. Like only NES etc,

Pietendo Custom built case

I recommend that you start with the software as it will be MUCH more handy with it outside the case. And you will need the 3-port usb hub with the pietendo project as well, so make sure that you have one. As that will give you a LAN-port that you might/will need.

  • NES cartridge. You’ll need a special bit for the screws on the back if you get original.Bits like these ones, get both kinds just in case. And might be useful for later projects.
  • Pi Zero
  • Power supply, either from a starter kit or any 5V/at least 1A. I use a regular 5V/2A with a cable this one, since the PI lacks a power button it will come in handy. A Lot.
  • Micro-usb extender, to move out the micro-usb port for power. Like this one
  • Mini-HDMI to full size female HDMI. Similar to this one. Be prepared to shop around a bit since not all supports HDMI CEC that will turn on your tv and set the correct input if your tv supports it. The current hdmi adapter cable in my Pietendo doesn’t support it, so I’ve ordered a couple another ones. Or just accept that you need to power on the tv and set the input yourself. And of course a regular HDMI cable
  • USB 2.0 small hub. I used one very similar to this one, that I just removed the plastic from.
  • Micro-usb adapter insert, that converts a regular usb plug to a micro-usb one. LIke this one

Build guide

Just remove the bits that’s in the way in the cartridge and dry fit everything before you glue it into place. And power it up and make sure that everything works. I used a regular hot glue gun. Do NOT glue the Pi Zero into place as you need it to be removable if you want to update it and such later on. The usb hub I secured with two glue dots under it and then pretty much each corner and front and back, and be careful to not change the state of the tiny little switch on the backside of the usb hub if it’s the same as the one I used since it doesn’t work if you happen to change it. I actually used a paper nail file to rough up the surface a bit before I glued things, or just use some sandpaper if you can find it. The cables was glued into place using a similar technique, glue on the bottom and then behind it.

And, that’s pretty much it. If you haven’t played around with similar things before it might be a little tricky at first but there’s a LOT of information just a google away. It’s a nice little project.

The sound isn’t always perfect. Any fixes?

Yes, I use two fixes myself that clears the sound up a lot. Sometimes it’s still a bit wonky but these little fixes helps. Require a little bit of knowledge, but nothing that you can’t figure out.

sudo nano /opt/retropie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg

And find the audio part of it and change it to

audio_out_rate=44100 

audio_driver=sdl

And

sudo nano /boot/config.txt

where you find and change

hdmi_drive=2