One of the reasons I like the Raspberry Pi is that it lets you take hardware and turn it into a dedicated purpose based appliance. Cheaply! And one of those uses is to make a retro game system. I've used the Raspberry Pi Zero before but I was hampered by the fact that it lacks network and Bluetooth access. To get that you need to purchase a USB hub, wifi dongle and if you want it an Bluetooth fob.
Here's how I did it with an 8Bitdo Bluetooth SNES style controller.
Download Retropie for the Zero onto another Pi Zero (non-wireless one, I have a few). I could not get the image to boot on the new device so I setup a hub with a wifi dongle and keyboard on an old version.
After the image reboots to resize the file system then F4 to get out of Emulationstation and on the command line run this command.
That will take a while to run and you will need to read part of the upgrade and press Q at a point. That annoys me as those commands should run unattended. Meh.
The purpose of this is to get the underlying Raspbian OS up-to-date.
When you’re done run sudo shutdown -h now and swap the old Pi Zero for the Pi Zero W. Unplug the wifi dongle, you don’t need it anymore. Boot up the Pi Zero W with the keyboard attached via the USB adapter.
Once it boots up press F4 to get back to the CLI and run these commands.
cd RetroPie-Setup sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
And select "U Update all installed packages" with your arrow keys. I don't know if that step is necessary but I do it out of habit. I like making sure I have the latest updates. That will take a long while too and reboot when it's finally done.
I already had the cables and power supply but I'm trying to be complete. Not counting the case it's ~$70 for this one player setup.
It's not a Raspberry Pi 3
The overall experience is good and if you limit your retrogames to the older 8bit systems then you'll like it. But the Pi Zero W doesn't have all the CPUs and RAM of the bigger Raspberry Pi 3. The good Neogeo games won't play well. Sometimes sound suffers due to CPU use. Lag is a thing.
But if you have the technical know how this beats the Nintendo Classic by a mile.
One of my recent hobbies (aside from breaking my WordPress site) is anything related to the Raspberry Pi. I use it as a network media player in my living room, USB computer on a stick and as a retrogaming console.
Nintendo recently released the NES Classic Edition which comes with 30 built in games. This holiday season it will be a big hit and it sold out almost as quickly as it was released. With a Raspberry Pi 3 running Retropie you can accomplish almost the same thing. It just takes a little geeky work and some parts.
Here’s the parts and links. I usually just drive out to Micro Center in Westbury and get it in person.
Borrow a USB keyboard from your PC or Mac so you can enter your wifi key. You won’t need it afterwards. I do all my Linux admin via ssh from my PC or Mac.
Your Raspberry Pi 3 running Retropie is a Linux server. It’s running a Debian based distribution called Raspbian. If you’ve spent time administering an Ubuntu LTS VPS then this will feel very similar if not downright identical.
The reason for getting your Retropie on the network is simple: once you do you will find a new Windows share at \\RETROPIE and you can deposit the NES ROMs you obtain in \\RETROPIE\roms\nes as easy as drag-n-drop. You’ll have to do some research where to get them yourself. They’re not hard to find.
When you do obtain NES ROMs make sure you keep them in individual ZIP archive files. Don’t extract them, just from them as is into your nes directory. Once you’ve gotten your roms onto your new system, press the “start” button on your controller and restart emulationstation.
So many emulators to use
Retropie supports many retro arcade systems. My favorite are MAME, SNES, NEO GEO and of course NES. I don’t play a lot of Atari 2600 games though I should. That’s one of the systems I had as a kid.
The emulators are easy to use. Generally you just drag the ROM zip file into it’s directory. Use \\RETROPIE\roms\nes and \\RETROPIE\roms\snes for the right one. You’ll see many more directories there but for now ignore them. You can explorer them later.
This is not a game system for everyone
If you are just looking for the classic NES games and can get your hands on one even with the small controller cables, then do so.
This illustrative YouTube video can explain the mindset of people who do this sort of thing.
You’ll either immediately understand where I’m coming from or you wont. That’s OK, some people just enjoy the nerdy aspects of things.
Using a Raspberry Pi 3 with Retropie is purely a geeky exercise. It works, it works well. It’s easy to maintain provided you are willing to learn the Zen of the Debian Based Linux Server™
Part of the appeal of the Raspberry Pi 3 is that it is a server with a quad core ARM CPU running at 1GHz. It has 1 GB of RAM built in. With a 32GB microSD card, case, and A/C adapter it’s a full on Linux server for less than $70.
Setting up a small PC with similiar stats will run you at least $200. The small size of the Raspberry Pi 3 shouldn’t take away from the fact that it is a Linux server. It has a default user ID and password. You should change that if you’re concerned.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Yesterday I did the following.
Ran cd Retropie-Setup then sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
Selected “Update all installed packages” and skipped the OS ones because I already did those.
Had coffee. See illustrative video above.
Ran sudo reboot to reboot box.
If you read that, stopped at step 2 and said “Are you kidding me?” then it’s alright. You’re OK. The NES Classic Edition is for you, it’s $60 and it is fire and forget. It does not have any network capabilities, it will never be updated. And there’s no legal question about using one either.
If you want to roll your own and don’t mind getting up to your neck in Geeky Nerdy things then maybe the Raspberry Pi 3 is for you.
This may fall under category of "bad parenting" but probably not. I hope not. Just don't tell Lily, OK?
My daughter saw all of the fun her brother has playing Team Fortress 2 and wanted in on the action. The kitchen iMac doesn't play games very well but my PC does. So I set her up on an account there, logged her into Steam and the rest was history.
She picked up TF2 quickly. Then she saw that she could play Borderlands 2, Torchlight II, Portal 2 (is there a "two" thing going on?) and spent hours on the PC.
Her normal activity is drawing on the iPad. She's really good and has developed a real skill. Video games are normally the domain of her brother. But they seem to like playing on the same TF2 server. When they're on the same team she plays the medic and supplies health to the other players. When she's on different teams she plays the scout.
She spent the whole evening playing and I had no clue. It wasn't till I went to turn off the light in the office that I saw her. Her mother would not be happy had she walked into the room.
There is hope that the has inherited Lily's Adult Supervision™ genes. I told her that I'd get a third PC for her, probably from Costco. Her answer?
That's wasteful. I can share yours when you are not using it.
I have no idea where she picks that stuff up. I've certainly never encouraged that sort of behavior.
Eventually headed to my PC to check the Interwebz (meaning: play FPS video games, my son wanted to show me something he earned on Steam).
I turned on my monitor and my PC was frozen at the BIOS boot screen. Weird. A quick reboot and I received the following message on my screen.
The SSD you put into this PC less than 2 months ago is about to suffer imminent and permanent death. Please back up all of your data again and press F2 to continue. Press F10 to enter the BIOS.
P.S. You suck.
That may not be the exact wording. You get the idea.
That PC is soon going to turn 6 years old. When this happened with the original drive a couple of months ago I believed it. I leave my PC on all the time and the old HD was slowing down and giving me grief.
Now it seems like there is something screwy with the system itself. Either that or I hit the jackpot and my SSD is dead but I find that unlikely.
I turned off the whole works, unplugged the PC and contemplated running to Best Buy and getting a new one right there. Then Lily got home and a calmer head prevailed. I explained what happened and in between my outbursts she got the idea.
Lily: “Don’t just get one right now. Do some research first and then decide.”
Grownups. They just don’t understand the thrill of instant gratification.
Except for being able to play Windows games, the dead PC isn’t that big a deal. Almost all productive work can be done on my old MacBook Air. I have a separate work laptop so my work from home days are not effected. Still, it’s a major pain and will kill more of my down time.
Oh, Windows 10 is good. Except for changing 2 settings and not having any use for the animated start menu, it really is a sensible upgrade from Windows 7.
I just completed Crysis 3 (a $5 purchase that got me to buy a new NVidia graphic card…) and was looking for a new game to play. Since I’ve owned every Wolfenstein game that was ever produced this seemed like an easy choice to make.
This game was released on April 30th and my pal Bob let me know. It’s available on Steam how could I not buy it?
I really enjoyed the original version because you had to sneak around and keep relocating. If the enemy in the game found you and you didn’t have time to prepare booby traps then you were toast. There were scenes when it was mass mayhem, but if you played it as all guns and glory then you didn’t get very far.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to disable the X-Ray kill cam. The bullet speeding through the air in bullet time is always cool, but seeing a graphic in the head view of what happens when the bullet hits? I can pass on that level of detail. 🙂
Okay memory, my bad. F.E.A.R. 2 really is creepy. I remembered it differently and the updated UI, graphics, etc. really make the game more playable.
After I completed the first game again, I instead replayed the DLC add-on F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn. That went quickly and I then started F.E.A.R. 2 from scratch. The key bindings are a little different from before (F is flashlight, E is use) but the game play really flows.
Just like the first game, playing the game late into the night and in the dark can freak me out a little. I’ll still complete the game quickly but I really can’t wait to get the third game once it comes out.
Once again I have completed F.E.A.R. and even played it in the dark. According to STEAM, it took me 9 hours. I must be out of practice because I had to quick save the game a lot. Due to the graphic violence and language I couldn’t play around the kids. The final scenes still gave me goose bumps.
Now to move on to F.E.A.R. 2. Project Origin. This game came out in 2009 and has updated graphics. The first time I completed this game, I rushed through the game a little quickly, this time I’ll take my time.