Emulating game console classics on the Raspberry Pi


The RetroPie project [3] takes an approach similar to PiMAME. RetroPie is an SD card image you can use to boot your Pi, then you can start preconfigured emulators with a mere push of the button. Alternatively, you can use a setup script to tailor the environment. The image starts the program EmulationStation after an automatic login. EmulationStation is a graphical launcher for the emulators.

For each emulator, the program displays a full-screen splash screen. Using the left and right arrow keys, you can switch between the emulators. As indicated previously, if you have taken the extreme measure of using a small analog television, the names of the systems will be more easily recognizable. In all other cases, this type of presentation is actually annoying.

RetroPie shows you a list that allows you to see all the available systems at a glance. EmulationStation, however, displays only those systems for which games can be found in the ROM directories. If you want to emulate not more than three consoles, you will be able to easily deal with the layout. The launcher lets you select the desired game even before the emulator is started.

RetroPie contains a few emulators not found on PiMAME (Figure 3). Among these is a Sinclair ZX Spectrum for the 8-bit computer as well as the MS-DOS emulator DOSBox. The biggest appeal of the RetroPie project is the description on the homepage showing how to connect the original gamepads of old game consoles to the Pi [4].

Figure 3: The Pi can even emulate the famous Breadbox.

Theoretically, you could plug every joystick and every joypad into the Raspberry Pi with a USB connector; however, each controller would need its own USB port. The additional power draw may cause problems with the power supply. This situation could be avoided with the connection of an active USB hub; however, the proliferation of USB connections might detract from the retro gaming experience.

Consequently, the approach taken by the RetroPie project for connecting original gamepads of old consoles to the GPIO pins of the Pi is particularly appealing. On eBay, an original joypad for the Super Nintendo costs on average only five Euros. For the complete SNES console, you often pay ten times as much; and, depending on the condition and equipment, the cost could be even higher. To connect the gamepad, you can directly wire the gamepad to the appropriate pins of the Rasp Pi according to the directions on the homepage.

RetroPie also offers an adapter board for purchase that simplifies the configuration process and utilizes protective wiring. In terms of support software, a small C program runs in the background on the Pi, polls the GPIO pins, and passes the control actions on to the emulators.

Level Up

If all these options do not meet your burning retro-gaming needs, you can find dozens of projects online devoted to the additional task of designing a retro housing for the Pi. These designs range from repurposed console cartridges and home computer housings all the way to replicas of arcade machines, all with the Pi on the inside. You can build these designs by hand or with the help of a 3D printer.

Buy this article as PDF

Express-Checkout as PDF

Pages: 4

Price $2.95
(incl. VAT)

Buy Raspberry Pi Geek

Get it on Google Play

US / Canada

Get it on Google Play

UK / Australia

Related content