So! You like retro game systems?

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.

Raspberry Pi 3 $29.99 Micro Center
Raspberry Pi 3 case $8.99 Micro Center
USB charger (5 volts, 2.4 amps) $8.99 Micro Center
Microsoft Xbox 360 wireless controller for Windows 2 x $35.99 Best Buy
32GB microSD Class 10 $10.99 Micro Center
6′ HDMI cable $6.99 Amazon
Total: $137.93

OK, that added up quickly. The NES Classic Edition is $59.99. Add another $9.99 for a second wired controller and you’re only in for $69.98.

I begin to see what Lily means. Grownup’ing is a pain.

The XBox 360 wireless controllers that I linked to also include a USB transceiver. That part number JR9-00011 is cheaper than just a controller alone. I don’t know why.

Just about any USB game controller that works with your PC will work with Retropie. I picked these because I had a spare and I like being able to sit on the couch while playing.

Download and burn the Retropie image

Visit Retropie’s download page and make sure you get the one for Raspberry Pi 2/3. At the time of this post that’s version 4.1

I’ve never tried burning the image using a Mac. On a PC I just use 7Zip to expand the retropie-4.1-rpi2_rpi3.img.gz and use Win32 Disk Imager to write it to the microSD card.

There are some really good detailed instructions for installing and configuring Retropie here.

https://github.com/retropie/retropie-setup/wiki/First-Installation

When it boots you will be asked to configure your controller so you’ll need to get your XBox 360 controllers working.

think the Xpad driver ships and is activated by default. I don’t recall activating it myself. If that’s not the case then I’ll update this post.

  1. Put batteries into your XBox 360 controller, and plug the XBox 360 Wireless USB transceiver into any free port on your Pi.
  2. Press the stylized XBox button on your controller to turn it on and then press the button on the transceiver.
  3. The front of your controller has a not quite recessed wireless sync button. Press that and your controller will connect to your USB transceiver.
  4. Press a button on your controller to begin configuring it.

From the Retropie Git docs, you’ll configure the buttons like so.

The image is from that Retropie installation page. I didn’t want to hotlink the image as that’s rude. If it’s a problem I’ll remove the image.

You will get some of the button assignments wrong. Don’t worry, as long as you get the D-PAD, START button and A button assigned then you can redo it later on.

That USB transceiver supports up to 4 controllers. When you use PS2 emulation for games it not only works but so does the rumble part. That’s cool.

Network your Raspberry Pi 3

I happen to have an Etherenet connection onto my Raspberry Pi 3.  It also comes with a built in 802.11n wifi adapter. You want your Retropie on your network and being able to ssh to it is very useful.

https://github.com/retropie/retropie-setup/wiki/Wifi

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.

  1. ssh’ed to the retropie as the pi user.
  2. Ran sudo apt-get update ; sudo apt-get -y upgrade ; sudo apt-get -y dist-upgrade
  3. Ran cd Retropie-Setup then sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
  4. Selected “Update all installed packages” and skipped the OS ones because I already did those.
  5. Had coffee. See illustrative video above.
  6. 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.

Confirmed: I’m not getting the PC back anytime soon

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.

I was all set to write a small Windows 10 review too

Yesterday I came home and did my usual routine.

  1. Ate dinner (I get home after 7 PM).
  2. Changed and watched some quick TV.
  3. 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.

Yes, of course I bought it

wolfenstein

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.

It’s a 40+ GB download from Steam. Wow.

I really had no choice but to buy it

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. 🙂

Yep, F.E.A.R. 2 really is creepy

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.

Finished F.E.A.R. again

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.

Over 5 years later and it’s still scary

Since I have the F.E.A.R. games all on STEAM, I’m playing them over again from scratch. Between the music and sudden appearance of creepy bad guys, the game still is frightening.

This game was released in 2005. The graphics are definitely dated but the play is still very good. The next installment is supposed to have a more random appearance of bad guys but the original still feels like you are starring in a gruesome horror movie.