Learn how to assemble, install and customize retropie to build a home emulation console.full course
Retropie is a project which allows you to quickly install, manage and play a variety of emulators for various video game consoles. Its an excellent way to get started with most of the installation and configuration taken care of for you.
Retroarch provides a common platform for installing, configuring and running emulators. Because there’s some overlap in terms of controller configuration, running games, etc… it can become unwieldy to do this for multiple emulators. Retroarch reduces this overhead by essentially letting you configure once and then add systems (called cores) and apply the common configuration to new emulators.
EmulationStation is a front end which manages your games libraries (including box art, demo videos and game metadata) as well as the systems that you have installed in RetroArch.
When you combine these two you get a slick user interface, the ability to easily add games to your library or consoles to your system and a lot of ability to customize to make your Retropie system unique.
You’ll need the following to get started:
A raspberry pi. I personally recommend canakit (especially if you are new to raspberry pi). Their kits come with everything you need, with basic, but high quality components and are priced correctly. This model is the top of the line, comes with plenty of RAM and a 128GB SD card, which should be more than enough to run most consoles.
SD Card to USB Adapter
I also recommend getting a USB 3.0 SD card adapter. The canakit comes with a 2.0 USB adapter, which can be a bit slow. This one has USB-A and USB-C adapters.
Double check that your computer supports USB 3.0 first. It should be a USB plug with a blue color on the plug.
You’re going to have to find the best controller that suits your needs. I prefer an XBox style controller because I think this is the most compatible controller and I like the style. Wired vs wireless is your choice as well. I prefer wireless and since the raspberry pi is bluetooth compatible, you can use an XBox One controller (although they can be pricey and I’ve never set one up).
I personally use XBox 360 wireless with a wireless adapter.
You’ll need a keyboard for a bit of setup. If you have a USB keyboard that you can reuse temporarily it should be fine. I personally use a logitech wireless keyboard. There are a few reasons for this. One, I think setup is a little easier because I can put the pi anywhere on my workspace and don’t have another wire laying around. Two, I like to take my retropie on the road if we’re having a group trip and if I need to do some quick configuration or debugging I may not want a full size keyboard. Three, for pis that are installed (on the backside of a TV, for example) sometimes its more convenient to use wireless. Four, when doing setup, its often easier to have 2 keyboards (one on the pi and the other controlling your other computer for reading the how to and copying files to USB) I like having a wireless one for the second keyboard for reason one above. This is your preference and its optional. Here’s what I use.
You’ll also need a way to write the retropie image to the SD card (supplied by the canakit). You can download raspberry pi imager here. Although you can use balena etcher as well, imager comes with lots of different OS options. If you decide to use etcher instead, make sure to pickup the retropie image here. Make sure to get the one for pi 4.
You’ll also need a collection of ROMs, which are the ‘game files’ you need to run on the emulator. I’m not going to get into how to find and download them. I do recommend finding a complete ROM set for the consoles that you want to install and then paring it down to the ROMs that you own (or actually want to play). Complete sets generally will have everything that you need and have been curated to have the correct names. Although EmulationStation is very forgiving and can detect the correct name from a file name, its much better to have the files named correctly from the start.
Using a complete set is especially important for MAME because some ROMs are only compatible with certain MAME versions. You’ll want to use the correct ROMs for the correct emulator and starting from a complete set makes that much easier.
Let me know in the comments what controller(s) you plan to use and if there were any issues setting them up. I’d also like to hear about other keyboard options that you might be using as well.
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