In this post I will show you how to turn a Raspberry Pi Zero into the ultimate Retro Gaming Machine.

We will do this by plugging some cables together and than install RetroPie on the Raspberry. This project shouldn't take you more than half a day, so you'll be up and running, playing games from your childhood in no time.

RetroPie

RetroPie is a collection of programs, which allow you to emulate many retro gaming systems. It's open source and an awesome project. A full list of supported consoles is available here.
Because we will install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi Zero with very limited processing power, not all systems will work well. That being said, it is definitely fast enough to emulate the NES, SNES and various GameBoys.

Parts

To follow along you will need the following parts.
I linked to the Amazon product page using affiliate links but feel free do buy them (or similar ones) anywhere you want.

Pi Zeros are usally sold out everywhere, because they are awesome.You might have to wait a bit until you can get your hands on one.

You can also get an SNES Controller for about the same amount of money. It enables you to play SNES games as well. Furthermore, you can just as easily use an XBOX 360 or PS3 Controller if you happen to own one.

I assume that you have lying around somewhere:

  • a micro USB Charger
  • a USB Stick
  • a cardboard box and some paint

Build your case

I used an old cardboard box, cut a hole for the cables in it and painted it with acrylic paint in the style of the NES.

PROTIP: Ask someone who can paint to do this.

If you have access to a 3D printer, there are also many free models on the internet. For example this one here on thingiverse

From my experience you don't have to care about ventilation for the Pi Zero. I just glued mine on the bottom of the box and never had heat issues.

Install RetroPie to the SD-Card

Use the official step-by-step guide on Github or watch one on of the many video tutorials on Youtube.

Wire it up

  • Put your Micro SD Card in the card slot on the left of the Pi
  • Plug the HDMI Cable in the HDMI Slot on the Pi and into your TV
  • Plug the USB Splitter in the Port labeled "USB"
  • Plug your controller into the USB Splitter
  • Plug in the power cable in the Port labeled "PWR"
  • Your Pi should boot up now

First Run

Start configuring your controller by following the instructions on the screen. If your controller has less buttons than RetroPie is trying to configure just skip them by pressing any key for a long time.

Get ROMS

The files containing the games are called ROMS. I won't link to a website where you can get these (for legal reasons) but a simple Google Search for "NES ROMS" or "SNES ROMS" should get you started. ROMS are usually about 5 MB big so the download does not take long.

If you are signing up for something or installing anything on your PC to get ROMS you are doing it wrong. You might want to try another site.
There is also no need to use BitTorrent for this if you don't want to. There are many easy to find sites which will provide free direct downloads.

Move your ROMS to the Pi

We'll do this by moving the ROMS from the PC to a USB Stick and then plugging the USB Stick in the Pi:

  • make sure your USB Stick is formatted in FAT32
  • create a folder called "retropie" on your USB stick
  • plug it into the pi and wait for it to finish blinking
  • RetroPie has now automatically created all the folders you need on the USB Stick
  • pull the USB stick out and plug it into your computer
  • add the roms to their respective folders (in the retropie/roms folder)
  • plug it back into the raspberry pi
  • refresh emulationstation by pressing F4, or choosing quit from the start menu

Play a Game

  • Select a console from the main menu
  • Press the A button to Start a game


Next Steps:

Still feeling productive? Here are some extra steps to do if you want to get more out of your RetroPie:

Start the Scraper

Use the built-in scraper from EmulationStation to get meta information like pictures of the box, ratings or number of players. To do this you will need a connection to the internet. I used an old USB Wifi dongle, which I plugged into the USB Splitter. You will also need to connect a wired USB keyboard to type your wifi password. After that reboot your Pi by pulling the power chord and select RetroPie from the main menu. Here you select menu point WIFI and connect to your network.

After that you can start the scraper:

  • Press Start on your controller
  • Select Scraper
  • Configure the scraper to your liking
  • Press "Start Scraping"

Hotkeys

There are some special key combinations on the controller you can use to better your experience:

  • Start + Select: Quit the current game
  • Select+Right-Shoulder-Button: Save
  • Select+Left-Shoulder-Button: Load

Click here for a full list of hotkeys.

Themes

There are a lot of Themes available for EmulationStation. Themes allow you to customize your experience. Go to RetroPie in the Main Menu and select ES Themes. Here you can download new Themes. Again, you will need a Wifi Dongle and a Keyboard for this.

After you downloaded some themes, you can activate them by pressing "Start" and going to "UI Settings"

Have fun!