You guys know me; I am about the opposite of cutting-edge when it comes to technology. I simply don’t have time to keep up on the latest whatever, so sometimes it’s months or years after the fact that I’ll be hearing about something everyone else was already enjoying. Such is life!
Anyway, late last week I came across an intriguing article on “How to build an all-in-one retro game console for $35” that introduced me to a little computer called the Raspberry Pi. A tiny computer for $35 that had all sorts of ports and could run Linux and people were tricking out to do a wide variety of things? Sounded really neat, and I wanted to try my hand at one. My SNES console (actually two) are both on the fritz, I only have one workable controller, and half of my cartridges won’t work (not to mention that the battery back-ups inside of them aren’t working any longer). So to upgrade everything to a little emulator console was appealing to me, especially since I’ve bought these games two, three times over.
After doing some reading (and getting more and more excited about what the Pi could do), I landed on the Super Nintendo Pi page, which had a pretty straight-forward and detailed guide how to take a Pi and get a retro console up and running on it. The first step was to assemble my materials, and so I bought three things from Amazon: a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 (which not only had the Pi, but a microSD card, HDMI cable, and a protective case), a USB keyboard, and a SNES-style gamepad. All of that cost around $86.
Yesterday I got everything in the mail (thanks to Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping), and indeed, the Pi was insanely small. Like that picture up there? That’s probably life-size if a bit bigger. I put the case on, hooked it up to my TV (since I didn’t have a spare HDMI monitor and wasn’t going to spend another hundred or so on one), and got to work.
Actually, I realized that I didn’t have a card reader for the microSD card, so I had to make a trip out to Radio Shack (one of the few left right now) to get one, which tacked on another $6.
Now, I’m a total noobie when it comes to Linux. Never had to mess with it before, so this was a crash-course in how it works. The terminal interface was foreign at first, but soon it felt a bit like going back to the days of DOS and messing around with good ol’ config.sys and autoexec.bat. I started to learn some of the commands, and for a while things went swimmingly.
However, I did start running into snags — it wasn’t getting the updates that I needed and I couldn’t get my computer to FTP into the Pi to transfer the ROMs. Eventually I broke down and called my brother-in-law (aka “family tech support”) who taught me a few things about Linux and also helped me get the Pi hooked up to the ethernet (it wasn’t plug-and-playing, so there was an extra step we had to inject in order to get it online). From there it went great: I got RetroPie installed, transferred over the ROMs, set up the controller, and downloaded the artwork for each game for the menu.
Everything loaded beautifully. Now when I turn on the Pi, it goes straight into the emulator and doesn’t require a keyboard at all. The last problem was that none of the games’ sound was working, which I fixed by swapping out the HDMI slots.
BTW, RetroPie doesn’t just have an SNES emulator; it’s more of an everything emulator. It works up to the N64/Dreamcast generation and back to the Atari 2600. It even comes with Doom installed.
Start to finish, it was about a three hour endeavor — and totally worth it. I spent the last hour before bed playing Contra III and TMNT and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. And Chrono Trigger twinkled its eyes at me playfully as well. Hopefully this system will last a lot longer than my decaying SNES!