Let’s Build A Retro Gaming Console

I’ve had a Raspberry Pi mini-computer sitting next to me for over a month now. I’ve seen many of the mainstream sites and tutorials and even a few hidden projects. I haven’t fully written out my particular blueprint for success, but I think I’m ready to stop procrastinating and build a retro gaming console to call my own.

The Obligatory Disclaimer

Building a Raspberry Pi game console requires emulating games. The emulator will be loaded onto the Pi and you download or transfer game ROMs on it to play them. The real disclaimer of this disclaimer is that you should obtain or have already obtained the games that you’ll be loading onto the emulator in a legal manner(I.E. by owning a purchased copy). This is your responsibility.

This really isn’t so much a guide as it is my specific setup. I am trying to be thorough, however. Because it’s not a straightforward guide, I recommend not blindly following my setup step-by-step as you will undoubtedly benefit from reading ahead and looking at other sites before even starting your own project.

What games can be played

Lots! I’ll go over the RetroPie emulation software I’ll be using a bit later, but you can look at a list of gaming rigs that can be emulated. For my project, I’m only interested in the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Do some reading ahead if you are desiring more, especially from systems that require controllers with more buttons, as there may be some issues, or at the least extra levels of difficulty to get more complex setups working. With a SNES variant controller, there’s no need for me to worry about programming different controller setups for different menus of game ROMs for different systems. The SNES controller can handle any SNES or NES game in one setup. I’ll go over these issues later as well.

The Parts

I’ll be using a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B along with:

  • Kingston 8GB Micro SDHC card
  • AC Adapter
  • HDMI cable
  • 150 Mbps Vilros Wireless802.11b/g/n nano USB adapter
  • Keyboard
  • Buffalo Classic USB Game Pad for PC (Possible wireless USB controller as an alternate)
  • USB Keyboard and mouse
  • FTP software
  • Computer
  • Router
  • RetroPie
  • Win32DiskImager
  • Extra hardware that strikes my fancy as I’m building(to be detailed in upcoming articles)

A Little About Quality and Choosing Parts

If you’re just wanting to verify the compatibility of a specific card or piece of equipment, or if you suffer from an occasionally obsessive personality like me, you can read exhaustive specifications and what parts will work on the Raspberry Pi Wiki. This is a great place to go to make sure your SD card works or to try and eek out the best possible setup for your needs and desires.

After finding and watching MonkeySpaz5000’s YouTube video, I decided to go with the Buffalo as my controller of choice, but there are tons of controllers you could feasibly use. Just search for different USB controllers. I chose a SNES variant controller for the reasons I mentioned above – it will easily play NES and SNES games without any fancy setup or extra programming. I also chose the Buffalo for an authentic look and feel. I do have an alternate, wireless controller, but a bit of experimental testing will need done, and I’ll reveal more about that in a later post.

I bought a Raspberry Pi 2 Complete Starter Kit from Amazon, because I had originally intended to start with a project to build a home entertainment box(which I will get to, but later rather than sooner now). The starter kit includes the HDMI cable, USB adapter, AC adapter and SDHC card. It also comes with little heat sinks you can attach to help keep your Pi cool and a plastic case. I actually owned a second Pi, but gave it to a friend as a gift along with the case(and maybe even the heat sinks). I need to round up and do another inventory of exactly what I still have. The point I’m getting at is you can do more research if you like to find the exact parts you want. I’m satisfied with the parts that came with my starter kit, for my first game-console project.

I’m okay having parted with the case to my Raspberry Pi, because I’d like to take the extra step and spend the extra money on having a custom case 3D printed.

Inspiration and tutorials

There’s a handful of sites I looked at to get ideas and help on putting together a Pi gaming emulator.

In part 2, I’ll go more in-depth with my plans to build a snazzy case to house the Raspberry Pi – dimensions, additional hardware and materials.

Part 1.5

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Jeremy Stratton

Jeremy Stratton

Jeremy's lived long enough to see his favorite games making a comeback in High Definition and Indie games with old-school ideals. He also loves cooking and photography.