“Build a Retro Gaming Console” is one of the most popular programs I have run at the library. In it, we build an old school video game console (ala Nintendo or Sega) from a Raspberry Pi computer. If you’ve read my Intro to Raspberry Pi and Raspbian article, you’ll be familiar with the process of installing an operating system on a Pi. In this tutorial, we’ll be installing an operating system called RetroPie, which includes dozens of retro gaming console emulators.
The program works like so: I start with a brief tutorial explaining the process outlined in this article, then I hand out to each patron a Raspberry Pi and the necessary components to build the console. Once everyone has the components, I walk them through the build process.
The Raspberry Pi and all of the necessary components for a single build come out to roughly $60. My library charges $20 to register for the program, so we run it at a net loss. Keep that in mind when designing the program for your own library. One alternative could be you purchase the components for one build and use it to show the patrons how to build one themselves, providing them with an instructional handout. Another alternative, would be to simply charge more to register for the program, though this will obviously affect the number of patrons who register.
Anyways, on to the program…
Raspberry Pi 3 B+*
MicroSD card (8GB minimum)
MicroUSB Power Adapter (2A minimum)*
USB-to-SD card adapter (if your computer doesn’t have an SD card slot)
USB Gaming Controller (if you would prefer to not use a keyboard)
Raspberry Pi 3 Case* (added protection and style)
* you may find kits online that include the Pi, a power adapter, and a case. These are generally less expensive than buying each separately.
Step 0: Make sure the MicroSD card is empty and formatted to FAT32
Windows users: To check the format, first plug the MicroSD Card into your computer with an SD card adapter (or a USB-to-SD Card adapter if your computer does not have an SD card slot). In File Explorer, right-click the SD Card drive and click Properties. Under “File System”, it should read FAT32. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to reformat it. To do so, right-click on the driver again, but this time click “Format…” In the new window, make sure File System is set to FAT32 and click Start.
Mac users: You can check this by right-clicking on the MicroSD card icon and selecting “Get Info”. If it’s not formatted to FAT32, open Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility), select the MicroSD card and click “Erase”. In the new window, make sure Format is set to MS-DOS FAT and hit Erase.
Step 1: Download the RetroPie disk image
Go to retropie.org.uk and click the Download tab at the top of the page. On the Download page, click on the link for Raspberry Pi 2/3 (it’s on the right side in red).
Step 2: Download the Disk Writing utility
A disk writing utility allows you to “mount” a disk image (in this case the RetroPie installation file) on a removable hard drive (in this case a MicroSD card). Without it, you won’t be able to install the RetroPie operating system to the Raspberry Pi.
2020 UPDATE: There is a new and better disk writing software that has become available for both Windows and Macs called Etcher.
Windows users: Win32DiskImager is an excellent, free disk writing utility. The easiest way to find the utility is through SourceForge. Click the download button in green at the top of the page. Once completed, install the file as you normally would. Mac users: Win32DiskImager is not available for OSX, instead you will download a program called ApplePi-Baker. The program can be found at the developer’s website, Tweaking4All. Scroll down until you see the green section with the heading “Download ApplePi-Baker v2.” Once the download is complete, install the program.
Step 3: Mount the RetroPie image on the MicroSD card
Etcher is super easy to use. Here’s how:
- Click “Select Image” and choose the RetroPie image we downloaded in Step 1
- Click “Select Target” and choose the blank MicroSD card
- Click “Flash!”
- You’re done!
Windows users: Open Win32DiskImager. Click the folder icon next to the field named “Image File” and select the RetroPie image you downloaded in Step 1. Next, under “Device,” select the drive in which your MicroSD card is located. Finally, select “Write.” Mac users: Open ApplePi-Baker. Under “Select Disk(s)” choose your RetroPie IMG file. In the next section, click “Restore” and choose the destination: your MicroSD card.
Step 4: Install RetroPie
Once the disk image has finished being written, safely remove the drive from the computer.
Connect your Raspberry Pi to a TV or monitor with the HDMI cord. Connect a wired controller or keyboard to the first USB port on the Raspberry Pi (top left port).
Before you plug in the power adapter, stick the MicroSD card with RetroPie into the Raspberry Pi (located on the bottom of the board opposite the USB ports). Once the MicroSD card is in the Pi, the Pi is connected to a TV/monitor with an HDMI cord, and a controller/keyboard is connected to the first USB port, you may connect the Raspberry Pi power adapter and plug it into an outlet.
The Raspberry Pi will take a few moments to boot. You should see the screen flash the RetroPie logo and lines of code followed by a white screen reading “Emulation Station.” A window should appear shortly asking you to Configure Input. Follow the prompts to setup your controller or keyboard and you’re done!