Reviving Retro Games: Using Raspberry Pi for Emulation

While a Raspberry Pi can serve many purposes, one role that it fills surprisingly well is that of a retro gaming console. The idea is to load up the Raspberry Pi with as many emulators and ROMs as possible, and then you have a portable, HDMI capable gaming machine in the palm of your hand. Plug it into any monitor or TV, and use your keyboard and mouse, or even USB or Bluetooth controller to play some retro titles.

If you are looking to get your Raspberry Pi decked out as a retro gaming console as simply as possible, there are a few operating system images that come preloaded with everything you will need to get started. One such operating system is RetroPie. With RetroPie installed, it turns your Raspberry Pi into a gaming machine. It comes with various emulators and all the necessary configurations already applied to streamline your experience.

In this tutorial, we will go over the steps of installing RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi. Rather than installing the operating system image itself, we can simply install the package onto our existing Raspberry Pi installation. Then, we will show how to get started using the newly installed OS to run old games.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How to install and use RetroPie for Raspberry Pi
Reviving Retro Games: Using Raspberry Pi for Emulation
Reviving Retro Games: Using Raspberry Pi for Emulation
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Raspberry Pi
Software RetroPie OS
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

Installing RetroPie OS

Let’s first go over the instructions for installing RetroPie onto the Raspberry Pi. This assumes that your Raspberry Pi is already up and running with either Raspberry Pi OS, Debian, or Ubuntu. Afterwards, we will see how to start using the system for retro game emulation.

  1. Installation of RetroPie is actually quite simple. It is nothing more than a Bash script which downloads, installs, and configures all of the necessary things for you to get the most out of your Raspberry Pi gaming rig. RetroPie is hosted over on GitHub in case you want to check out any official documentation. We will get started by opening a terminal on our Raspberry Pi and executing the following commands to update our system and install git:
    $ sudo apt update
    $ sudo apt full-upgrade
    $ sudo apt install git
  2. Next, we will download the latest version of the RetroPie script:
    $ git clone --depth=1
  3. Then, we just need to execute the script (with root permissions) that was downloaded:
    $ cd RetroPie-Setup
    $ sudo ./

  4. Some packages will be updated or installed by the script, and then you will be presented with the first installation prompt. Since we are installing for the first time, hit Enter on ‘Install’:
    Installing RetroPie
    Installing RetroPie
  5. Click on ‘Yes’ to proceed with the installation of the ‘Core’ and ‘Main’ package sections.
    Proceeding with RetroPie installation
    Proceeding with RetroPie installation

    At this point, a lot of packages and additional software for emulation and other tweaks will be downloaded and installed. All we need to do is sit back and wait.

  6. After installation is complete, you can open the Retro Pie application. This will launch emulation station, which is the software that RetroPie uses in order to present you with an immersive gaming experience. You will need to start by configuring your game controller, if you have one. If you do not have one, you can simply configure the keyboard as your gaming pad.
    Prompt to configure gaming pad
    Prompt to configure gaming pad
    Going through game pad configuration prompts for Retro Pie
    Going through game pad configuration prompts for Retro Pie
  7. Once configuration is complete, you can use Retro Pie to launch the emulator you need and get right to gaming – that is, once you have some ROMs downloaded (see next section).
    RetroPie application screen
    RetroPie application screen

Downloading ROMs

Although RetroPie will outfit your Raspberry Pi with all the necessary emulators you will need to play games from classic systems – such as DOS, Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, etc. – you will still need the games themselves, which come in the form of ROMs (read only memory). ROMs can be downloaded online, so it is best to just use Google to find the one you are looking for (e.g., searching for “Mario Kart Nintendo 64 ROM”).

The legality of ROMs is a gray area and you probably need to own the game you download in order to stay clear of violating any laws – but we are not lawyers and you can do your own research on the topic or assume the risk when downloading.

Closing Thoughts

In this tutorial, we saw how to install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi system. This package essentially turns your Raspberry Pi into a retro gaming machine by outfitting it with all the emulators and other software needed to play old games. All that is left to do now is acquire the games (ROMs) for any Nintendo, DOS, and other old systems that you wish to emulate using your Raspberry Pi. Be sure to look into USB controllers if you really want to immerse yourself in the experience.

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