Raspberry Pi Retro Game Station - Basic Raspberry Pi Projects - Hacking Raspberry Pi (2014)

Hacking Raspberry Pi (2014)

Part III. Basic Raspberry Pi Projects

Chapter 13. Raspberry Pi Retro Game Station

Let me be completely up-front with you: I am a total and unabashed video game nerd. More specifically, I am a retro video game nerd. As much as I enjoy my Xbox, nothing gets my blood pumping quite like firing up my favorite Atari, Coleco, and Mattel Electronics video games from the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As you know from reading this book, the Raspberry Pi itself serves as a physical totem to 1980s microcomputing nostalgia. Therefore, it seems completely natural for us to consider the question of how we can convert the Pi into a retro video game station.

In this chapter I use RetroPie as the software basis for this project. I also show you how to configure the Pi to support joystick controllers.

The RetroPie Project (http://is.gd/kFVq2I) initially started as a plan to turn the Raspberry Pi into a universal retro gaming console that used Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controllers for input. Although RetroPie supports the emulation of several classic video game consoles, I focus on the Atari 2600 VCS and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) emulation in this chapter. For the uninitiated, the original console hardware is shown in Figure 13.1.

FIGURE 13.1 At left, the venerable Atari 2600 Video Computer System (VCS), introduced in 1977. At right, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), introduced in 1985.

A Word About Console Video Game Emulation

In general terms, emulation refers to a computer running one processor architecture to pretend that it is actually a computer running another processor architecture. For instance, the Raspberry Pi port of the RetroArch (http://is.gd/EEb4HQ) multi-system emulator enables the Raspberry Pi, with its ARM processor platform, to play video games from a number of classic video game systems, including

Image Atari 2600

Image Game Boy Advance

Image Intellivision

Image MAME

Image NeoGeo

Image NES

Image SNES

Console video game emulation is really quite amazing when you understand that each and every retro video game console had its own proprietary hardware.

The RetroPie Project (http://is.gd/kFVq2I) began as a way to answer the question, “Can we get the Raspberry Pi to play Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) games using the original controllers?”

However, to me the coolest thing about RetroPie is its SD card image, which consists of the following software layers:

Image Raspbian: This, of course, is the underlying operating system.

Image RetroArch: This is the console video game emulator. As it happens, the RetroPie image contains a number of other emulators (see http://is.gd/qZrTcQ for a comprehensive list), but I focus on RetroArch in this chapter.

Image Emulation Station (http://is.gd/a2OmUY): This is the graphical front end for the RetroPie emulator suite; its big advantages are customizability and the ability to control all the menus using only your gamepad (no keyboard or mouse required).

Let’s get right into the installation process, shall we?

Installing RetroPie

Here is the high-level overview of the RetroPie installation process:

Image Create the RetroPie SD card.

Image Boot the Pi and perform initial configuration.

Image Populate the ROMs directory. (I teach you more about ROMs later in this chapter, in the section “Transferring ROMs to RetroPie.”)

Image Customize controls.

Image (Optionally) Add media scrapers and other add-ons.

With regard to your Raspberry Pi system requirements, there is nothing too surprising at play:

Image Raspberry Pi Model B or Model A (you’ll get more performance out of Model B, naturally).

Image SD card with at least a 4GB capacity. Some video game ROM files are pretty large, so either invest in a large SD card or plan to store your ROMs on a USB stick plugged into your powered USB hub.

Image HDMI connection.

Image Keyboard and mouse (for initial configuration; after that, you can control Emulation Station using your joystick or gamepad).

Image Gamepad or joystick (more on this later in this chapter, in the section “Setting Up Your Controls”).

Image Wired or wireless network connection (technically optional but a great convenience nonetheless).

Task: Setting Up RetroPie

In this procedure, you’ll download, install, and configure RetroPie on your Raspbery Pi.

1. On your host computer, visit the petRockBlog website and download the RetroPie Project SD card image from http://is.gd/BSyKRP.

Be aware that the SD image is large; it weighs in at approximately 1.4GB. The file comes down as a ZIP file, so you’ll need to extract the image file before you can flash it to SD.

2. Use your favorite SD card flashing utility (you did read and study Chapter 4, “Installing and Configuring an Operating System,” correct?) to flash the RetroPie image to your SD card.

3. If you have a joystick or gamepad, now is the time to plug it into your Raspberry Pi.

4. Mount the newly flashed SD card into your powered-off Raspberry Pi and boot it up. After seeing the RetroPie splash screen, you are taken automatically into Emulation Station and its text-based wizard to help you configure your joystick or keyboard. I show you what this screen looks like in Figure 13.2.

FIGURE 13.2 Emulation Station starts you off with some keyboard or joystick control mapping.

Note: No Joystick?

If you don’t have a joystick, the Emulation Station controller setup wizard will say “No joysticks detected!” In this case, press F4 to quit the controller setup wizard.

5. For each input action you need to perform when using a game, RetroPie asks you to press a key on your keyboard or a button on your joystick (see Figure 13.2).

6. You see a “Basic config done!” message when you complete the wizard. You can then press any button or keyboard key to jump into Emulation Station proper.

Don’t worry if you feel you made one or more mistakes during the initial controller setup wizard. For instance, your joystick might not have had enough buttons to answer all the setup questions. I show you how to clean up any residual control anomalies a bit later on in this chapter. Breathe easy!

Transferring ROMs to RetroPie

ROMs are the life blood of the retro gaming community. If you ever owned an NES or Atari 2600 or any number of other 80s and 90s game consoles, you know that most of these games came packaged in a small(ish) plastic cartridge.

A ROM image, also called a ROM file, is a bit-for-bit copy of the data from a Read Only Memory (ROM, get it?) chip from these cartridges. According to copyright law, to legally download a ROM, you must already possess the original game cartridge for any ROM file that you have in your possession for play with an emulator. Fortunately, there’s good news if your mom threw out your old video game collection when you left home: There are any number of outlets, both online and brick and mortar, that deal in used and vintage game cartridges.

Note: How Do I Create a ROM?

Okay, let’s assume you took down that boxful of ancient Atari 2600 cartridges from a dusty box in your garage attic. What now? How can you take those legally owned games and convert them to ROM files that are playable in RetroPie?

I’m glad you asked! The general workflow is that you need to find a way to read the ROM from your source cartridge (obviously, right?) and then copy that tiny amount of data either to a blank cartridge or directly to your connected computer. This process always involves dedicated hardware, and sometimes requires you to download schematics and assemble PCBs yourself. Personally, I feel ethically safe by downloading the ROMs from a known source like AtariAge.com so long as I also own the corresponding game cartridges.

For now, I assume that you have one or more game ROMs that you’d like to load on your RetroPie device. How do you do that?

Well first of all, remember that RetroPie uses Raspbian under the hood as the host operating system, so your first order of business is to run sudo raspi-config and perform the initial setup of the device. If you need a refresher, just take a look back at the raspi-config sections in Chapter 4.

Next, you should update the system software and reboot:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo reboot

Note: Enhancing Performance

You might also want to consider adjusting the Pi’s memory split to favor graphics over processor performance, as well as enabling overclocking. I cover both of these subjects in exhaustive detail in Chapter 18, “Raspberry Pi Overclocking.”

As you know, Raspbian enables Secure Shell (SSH) connections by default. Thus, you can use a Secure Copy (SCP) utility to transfer ROM files to the Pi.

Task: Transferring ROMs to Your Raspberry Pi

1. On your Raspberry Pi, if you are in Emulation Station, press F4 to exit to a Terminal prompt. Next, type ifconfig eth0 to obtain the Pi’s IP address.

2. On a remote computer that hosts your ROM files, use FileZilla, Cyberduck (http://is.gd/JDzRgw), or another SFTP client tool to connect to your Pi. Be sure to specify SFTP, and not FTP, as the connection method.

The default username and password are the ones you would expect: username, pi; password, raspberry.

Take a look at Figure 13.3 to see how I set up my connection in FileZilla. To create a new stored connection, open FileZilla and click File, Site Manager, New Site.

FIGURE 13.3 FileZilla enables you to store connection information permanently for convenience.

3. Navigate to the path /home/pi/RetroPie/roms. You see that RetroPie creates folders to store ROMs for all its supported console video game platforms.

4. You can now drag and drop your ROM files into the appropriate subfolders. Note that you need to upload the actual binary ROM files to the Pi. For instance, NES ROMs typically have the .nes file extension, but Atari 2600 ROMs usually employ the .bin file extension. You can see my system in Figure 13.4.

FIGURE 13.4 Here you can see where ROMs should be stored on your RetroPie machine.

5. You can start Emulation Station from the Terminal prompt of your Pi by issuing the following simple command:


Remember that Linux is case-sensitive; thus EmulationStation or EMULATIONSTATION generate errors, but not Emulation Station.

By default, Emulation Station/RetroPie includes the following games:

Image Cave Story

Image Doom

Image Duke Nukem 3D (demo)

You can also start the LinApple Apple II emulator (http://is.gd/Ea0UUT) and the rpix86 DOS 5.0 emulator (http://is.gd/1vGqRY) and run old Apple II games.

You can use your mapped LEFT and RIGHT controls to switch among the installed games and use your mapped ACCEPT button to start one. More on gameplay later, though—one step at a time!

If you run into any expected results in the ROM detection process, your first step should be to open up the ~/.emulationstation/es_systems.cfg configuration file for editing.

The two parameters you want to watch for are

Image PATH: This is the default location where Emulation Station expects to find game ROMs for each platform. If this is set incorrectly, you won’t be able to see your games.

Image EXTENSION: You need to ensure that your game ROMs all have one of the supported file extensions for detection to complete properly. For instance, the most common Atari 2600 ROM file extensions are .bin, .img, and .z26. NES file extensions are typically, reasonably enough, .nes.

Note: Showing File Extensions in Windows

In Windows 7 or Windows 8, file extensions are hidden by default. To show them, open the Folder Options Control Panel and navigate to the View tab. Under Advanced Settings:, enable the option Hide extensions for known file types and click OK to confirm the change.

In OS X, choose Finder > Preferences, and then navigate to the Advanced pane. Next, enable the option Show all filename extensions.

If you make any changes to the file, don’t forget to save your changes and reboot your Pi before attempting another scrape.

Before I get to playing games (I know you are as excited to do that as I am), let’s revisit how to tweak up the keyboard and, more importantly, the joystick controls.

Setting Up Your Controls

Emulation Station is optimized for joystick/gamepad-based control. However, for the sake of completeness I want to show you how to edit the keyboard mappings.

From Emulation Station, press F4 to exit to a Terminal prompt. The RetroPie controls (all of them, keyboard and joystick) are stored in a configuration file named retroarch.cfg. Use the following command to edit the file:

sudo nano ~/RetroPie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg

Of course, you can also use your SFTP utility to download a copy of the file to your remote computer, edit the file using your favorite text editor, and reupload the file to the Pi, overwriting the old version.

In any event, look for the line that starts with # Keyboard input. You can edit the key mapping values directly here; look at Figure 13.5 to see my setup.

FIGURE 13.5 The retroarch.cfg file is where all RetroPie control defaults are stored.

Note: Extra, Extra, Read All About It!

You should study the full contents of the retroarch.cfg file because you can actually make some pretty cool changes to RetroPie. For instance, visit the #Saves state section to customize key or joystick mappings to save and load game state. Very useful!

Now let’s turn our attention to joystick mappings.

Task: Configure RetroPie Joystick Control Mappings

You can use the retroarch-joyconfig utility to customize joystick mappings. Let’s do that now.

1. From the Terminal prompt on your RetroPie computer, navigate to the appropriate directory location.

cd ~/RetroPie/emulators/RetroArch/tools

2. If you run retroarch-joyconfig with no parameters, the results of your configuration are dumped to the screen but are not saved in the retroarch.cfg file. That isn’t cool. Thus, you need to redirect the output of the retroarch-joyconfig program directly to the retroarch.cfg file like so:

./retroarch-joyconfig >> ~/RetroPie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg

3. You are prompted to assign bindings for each command; do so by pressing the appropriate button on your joystick. A screen capture (not the greatest) of my monitor is shown in Figure 13.6.

FIGURE 13.6 Establishing your joystick key bindings

You can always edit the retroarch.cfg file afterward to remove or comment out lines that aren’t relevant to your joystick. To comment out (and therefore nullify without deleting) an entry, simply prepend the line with an octothorpe (#) character.

There’s one more edit you should consider making to retroarch.cfg because you should definitely add a joystick mapping that allows you to exit your active emulator and return to Emulation Station. After all, you shouldn’t have to reboot the Pi to revisit your game menus.

Note: Don’t Forget StartX

If you don’t like using nano or another text-based text editor, you can always type startx and use the GUI tools in LXDE to accomplish your RetroPie configuration. Just remember to dump X and return to the Terminal shell when you’re finished. (As a reminder for doing so, you can click the red Power button in the lower right corner of LXPanel.)

Go to the end of the retroarch.cfg file and add the following two lines:

input_enable_hotkey_btn = "X"

Substitute X and Y for two joystick buttons that you’ll press simultaneously to exit the emulator and return to Emulation Station. (And don’t forget what you selected!)

Playing Your Games

If you haven’t already done so, reboot your Raspberry Pi or type emulationstation from the Terminal prompt to start Emulation Station. Here’s the deal:

Image Use the LEFT and RIGHT controls to scroll through the emulator menus: You only see an entry for emulators that actually contain ROMs. Thus, on my system I have game lists for Atari 2600 and NES because I uploaded ROMs for those platforms.

Image Use the UP and DOWN controls to scroll through the game menus, and use the ACCEPT and SELECT controls to launch and start games: If you mapped the PAGE UP, PAGE DOWN, or START WITH LETTER mappings, it makes it easier to locate games in huge ROM lists.

Image Use ESC or whatever custom joystick mapping you specified to exit the emulator and return to Emulation Station: This is a particularly important option because you should be able to return to Emulation Station without having to reboot the Raspberry Pi.

Figure 13.7 shows you a typical game screen.

FIGURE 13.7 This is Super Mario Brothers, one of the most popular video games of all time.

I’ve found that the performance of the retro video games is (at least) as good as it is on original hardware. Does that surprise you? Think of it this way: Even the Model A Raspberry Pi board is orders of magnitude more powerful than, say, the Atari 2600 or the NES (SNES, for that matter).

One thing—you might be put off by the slightly warped display of old 8-bit games on your widescreen monitor. By default, the games fill the entire screen. To tweak up the emulator resolution, open retroarch.cfg for editing, and check out the #### Video section.

Notice that most of the configuration entries are commented out (that is to say, deactivated). To activate an option, simply remove the octothorpe (#) preceding the appropriate line.

Installing Useful Add-Ons

In Chapter 12, “Raspberry Pi Media Center,” you learned how useful media scrapers are to fill in the blanks on media content. Did you know that you can use media scrapers with your retro video game ROMs as well?

Yes, indeed. Not only can you play your favorite old-school games, but you can see the original box art, learn trivia about the game’s history, and much more.

To truly dig into all possible retro video game goodness, let me show you how to install the ES-scraper utility to scrape your ROM directories and download box art and game descriptions.

Task: Install ES-Scraper

1. From Terminal on your Raspberry Pi, navigate to the appropriate directory:

cd (to ensure you're in your home directory)
cd RetroPie/supplementary

2. Create a local copy of the ES-scraper online repository and run the RetroPie setup Linux shell script:

git clone http://github.com/elpender/ES-scraper
cd RetroPie-Setup
sudo ./retropie_setup.sh

3. When you’re in the RetroPie Setup utility, use the Tab, number, and Enter keys to navigate the text menus.

In the Choose installation either based on binaries or on sources dialog, select Setup (only if you already have run one of these installations).

4. In the Choose task dialog, select Run ‘ES-scraper’ as shown in Figure 13.8.

FIGURE 13.8 You can force a game ROM metadata scrape from within the RetroPie Setup script.

5. Select (Re-)scrape of the ROMs directory to perform an immediate ROM discovery and metadata download.

The time required for ES-Scraper to complete its metadata scrape and resource download depends on the number and type of game ROMs you have available on your Raspberry Pi.

When the process is complete, you can cancel out of the RetroPie Setup script, reboot your Pi, and enjoy the new artwork! An example of downloaded game descriptions and box art is shown in Figure 13.9.

FIGURE 13.9 The downloaded box art and game description data makes browsing your ROM collection that much more enjoyable.

In Search of the Perfect Joystick

In my experience, RetroPie does an excellent job of detecting your USB joystick or gamepad. I have used many, many game controllers over the years, and for my money nothing beats my old Logitech Rumblepad 2, which employs the classic Playstation/PS2 form factor.

Note: In Case You Wondered...

If you’ve wondered throughout this chapter, “What’s the difference between a gamepad and a joystick?” let me clear up any residual confusion. A gamepad, also called a joypad, is a game controller that is typically operated with two hands. Gamepads usually have an 8-way digital pad (d-pad) as well as one or two analog sticks. By contrast, a joystick consists of a single 8-way or analog control handle, with or without additional action buttons or triggers.

On the other hand, many retro video game purists want to enjoy their favorite emulated games by using either a reproduction or original controller from the original consoles. Quality varies widely for the USB reproductions; most of us prefer adapters that transform the proprietary controller plugs into USB. In Figure 13.10 you can see a mashup of some of my favorite video game controllers.

FIGURE 13.10 Some of my favorite video game controllers: (1) Logitech Rumblepad 2; (2) Atari 2600; (3) SNES; (4) Sega Genesis.

RetroZone (http://is.gd/Cs2GKf) sells USB adapters for the following console video game controllers:

Image Atari 2600

Image NES

Image Nintendo 64

Image Sega Genesis

Image SNES

Please note that you still need to purchase the original controller in addition to buying an adapter. They don’t all rate so well among hardcore classic gamers, but some companies produce reproductions of old controllers with native USB connectivity:

Image Tomee NES USB Controller (http://is.gd/DkrM9c)

Image Tomee SNES USB Controller (http://is.gd/kEZg3P)

Image Retrolink NES USB Controller (http://is.gd/1kuzKi)

Image Retrolink SNES USB Controller (http://is.gd/PJUB0h)

Image Retrolink Nintendo 64 USB Controller (http://is.gd/68XUFP)

Image Retrolink “Classic Controller” (modeled on Sega Genesis controller) (http://is.gd/3HzHns)

The people behind the Retropie Project have developed a GPIO adapter for the original Super Nintendo Entertainment Center (SNES) controllers. You can get all of the details and assembly instructions at their website at http://is.gd/clRqqZ.

As you can see (at least in part) in Figure 13.11, the unit consists of an adapter PCB, two SNES connectors, a couple ribbon cables, and a ribbon crimp connector.

FIGURE 13.11 The PetRockBlog RetroPie GPIO Adapter

The GPIO adapter includes an extra tactile pushbutton that can be useful, for instance, to map to the EXIT EMULATOR command, which of course allows you to cleanly close the emulator.

From the looks of their documentation, the mapping between the SNES controller pinout and the Raspberry Pi pinout is pretty straightforward. Check out Figure 13.12 to judge for yourself. Basically you are soldering each SNES connector lead to a ribbon cable, which in turn connects to particular pins on the Raspberry Pi GPIO header.

FIGURE 13.12 RetroPie GPIO Adapter pinout schematic

If you can catch them while they have units in stock, the PetRockBlog also sells fully assembled units for $18.40 USD. All you have to do with the purchased units is to solder the SNES controller connectors to the included ribbon cable.