Turning a Raspberry Pi into a Retro Arcade

So you’ve got a Raspberry Pi.  Maybe it’s something you’ve worked with before or you just got it for the holidays and want to do something cool with it.  In this article I don’t assume that you have any prior knowledge of the Raspberry Pi ( though I do assume some common knowledge with computers ) and explain step by step how to install everything needed software wise to have your Raspberry Pi become an awesome retro arcade emulator.  In the last part of the article I’ll even outline one of the build I did to turn my Pi into an awesome coffee table arcade.  The software part of this build should take about 1 – 2 hours (or you can cheat and use the pre built image).  As for the hardware, depending on what you’re doing it could take as little as a few hours to a few days.





From this….




coffee arcade





To this….





So where do we start…

Well first we need to make sure you have everything you need, here are some of the items I recommend to get started:

  1. Raspberry Pi Model B+ (B PLUS) 512MB Computer Board, While the B+ might be overkill for a project like this I find that getting another model is just not worth the price difference.  If you want to look at other options thought you could also look at the Raspberry Pi Model A+ (256MB) though it does have less ram.
  2. Micro SD card.  While you could get a preloaded SD card in this case we’ll be installing a different OS then NOOBS so a blank micro SD card is best.  I feel that at the current price point it’s always better to get a 16GB card but here are both the 16GB and 8GB ones in the brand I use. Samsung 16GB EVO Class 10 Micro SDHC with Adapter up to 48MB/s (MB-MP16DA/AM)
    or Samsung Electronics 8GB EVO Micro SDHC with Adapter Class 10 Memory Card (MB-MP08DA/AM)
  3. (Optional) A good case… So this is a little ore tricky depending on how many of the pins you plan to use and which Pi you have.  For access to the standard pins I’m a huge fan of the Zebra Case – Raspberry Pi B+ (Black Ice), all my B+ have this case and it just looks real classy.
  4. (Optional) A wifi module is optional but this one works well with this setup. Kootek Raspberry Pi Wifi Dongle Adapter I’ll be posting a how to on setting up wifi via command line.
  5. (Optional) If the monitor you plan to use has an HDMI input you can use 3FT Gold HDMI Cable but if you have DVI only the following cable will also work HDMI to DVI Adapter Cable
  6. (Optional) Most of us have micro usb cables hanging around with usb wall adapters but if you don’t or don’t want to tie it up forever you can pick a cheap power supply too Raspberry Pi Micro USB Power Supply
  7. (Optional) Lastly I highly recommend the Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard with Built-In Multi-Touch Touchpad
  8. The last (optional) item I highly recommend is arcade joysticks and buttons.  I ordered mine on ebay for about $40.  The kit I had ordered was a Arcade JAMMA Kit w/ 2 Joysticks 4 & 8 way & 16 Push Buttons.  This kit was good quality and came with a harness that I was able to repurpose for my own use.
So now that I have everything…

Step 1: Download.

Download the Operating system image from PiPlay (formerly PiMame) – Scroll down for the download list and download the latest stable version (as of this article 0.8.0 Beta 7.

Step 2: Flash the OS on the SD card.

Depending on the operating system you have there are different ways to do this.  A quick google search on this topic will return countless results.  If you’re on a Mac you can also follow my quick tutorial.

Step 3: Plugging it in and starting customization

You can plug it all in now and insert your memory card into your Pi.  You can run all the following steps directly connected to the pi or via SSH.  For the uninitiated SSH as per wikipedia is:

Secure Shell (SSH) is a cryptographic network protocol for secure data communication, remote command-line login, remote command execution, and other secure network services between two networked computers.

What does that mean, well it means that you connect to another computer (your Pi in this case) securely and access a command line to execute things remotely.  SSH is real handy when you run a computer or device in a headless state.

A headless system is a computer that operates without a monitor, graphical user interface (GUI) or peripheral devices, such as keyboard and mouse.

If you decide to go the SSH route I’m assuming you already know how to do so.

To note: Once the Pi starts it will probably start PiPlay.  Once it’s finished booting press ‘ESC’ to get to a command prompt.

Step 4: Raspi-Config

First we need to run the Raspberry Pi configuration and change some settings.  To do so run the following command:

sudo raspi-config

05 raspi-config
Click to enlarge



From the main config screen the following need to be run.

1) Expand file system.

This will increase the OS to use your full SD card VS what the image was originally created from.

2) Change password (optional)

If you’re planning to keep the pi on a network this is highly recommended.

4) Internationalization Options (optional)

You should set your keyboard layout and your local here.  (By default a UK Keyboard layout is setup)

7) Overclock (optional)

This should be changed back and forth further but remember how to get here (different roms will run differently depending on what you set this to.)

8) Advanced option.. See below

Click to Enlarge

A2) Hostname (optional)

Use this section to rename your Raspberry Pi

A3) Memory split (optional)

Depending on your pi this will differ, I’d give at least 1/2 of the ram to the GPU to start.

A8) Audio (optional)

If you’re planning to use speakers or headphones connected to the audio jack you can force audio to that now.

A9) Update (optional)

This will make sure the ‘raspi-config’ utility is the latest version, this is always a good thing to do.

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

Run the following command to reboot and have the changes go into effect.

sudo reboot

Step 5: Installing Watchdog (Optional)

This section is entirely optional and probably overkill for an arcade. Watchdog is used to keep an eye on your Pi and make sure it runs in optimal condition.  If it starts to run slowly watchdog will restart it.  Since this is entirely optional I’ve seperated it out into it’s own post.  Go here and follow the steps if you want to install watchdog.

Step 6:


This post is still getting written please check back soon to read it in it’s entirety.

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