How does it work

So just how do you get all the old games running on a Raspberry Pi. It is done through the use of programs called emulators. What these programs do is basically “run” an exact copy of the old computer, system or console and allow you to load up the games that individual system used to run. There are lots of emulators around that emulate systems from pretty much the beginning of the computer revolution right up to the early 2000’s.

It’s not only computers and consoles that can be emulated either. many of the older arcade cabinets can be emulated as well. This is what really drove the early emulation scene with a program called MAME (Multi Arcade machine Emulator). This allowed people for the first time to play a lot of the old arcade games that they grew up with on their local PC.

It wasn’t long before people realised that modern PC’s could be used to emulate a lot more and emulators for other systems started coming thick and fast. This has lead us to today where nearly every game console and system has been emulated.

Emulating is one thing, but you need something to run on the emulator to make it work. This is where the games come in. Nearly all of the systems games have been digitally converted into a file format – either as a ROM or an image file. For instance all the old arcade games are available as ROM’s, downloadable from the internet (paid for of course) and are typically very small in size. Computer Systems such as the Commodore 64 or the Atari ST would have their games available as Tape or Disk images – basically a 100% file copy of the original tape or disk that was available for that system. These ROMS or images are then loaded into the emulator and will load up as the game – just as they did back in the day.

What is cool about the modern emulators is that they offer may tweaks and options to cater your gaming experience to your own liking. You can apply display filters over the top of the game screen to make the game look more like it did on the old CRT screens. Or you can slow down or speed up the game to cater for your needs. There really are many options available to individualise the experience.

Now how do we get this working on the Raspberry Pi. Simple – we need to install some software.

EmulationStation is a piece of software that provides a front end (GUI interface) that ties all these emulators together. It basically provides the ecosystem where you can upload your games files into the emulators and then browse through these to select what you want to play. EmulationStation does a great job of providing you with an easy to navigate set of menus, allowing you to browse through emulators and games, and even download artwork and meta data for the systems and games to make them look nice and tell you information about them.

Installing Emulatiostation on it’s own can be a bit of a daunting task – but thankfully there’s an easier option. Since the Raspberry Pi runs it’s operating system (OS) off an SD card you can download a complete OS all in one package which includes Emulationstation already set up. There are two main choices for this, RetroPie and RecalBox.

Both of these are complete systems which load up Emulationstation but offer up a different set of options and emulators.

Be sure to check out our rundown on each of these on our website by clicking on the following links – RetroPie and RecalBox

What do you need to buy to get all this excitement happening. Well – the key components include the following :

  • Raspberry Pi (any version is fine but the newer the Pi the better the experience will be)
  • SD card – used to store the OS plus the game ROMS and artwork.
  • HDMI cable – to attach your Raspberry Pi to a television or monitor.
  • USB or Bluetooth gamepad – used for playing the games – can be either wireless or wired
  • Ethernet cable or USB Wifi adapter to connect to your home network. While this isn’t necessary during normal use you will need internet access at some stage to do updates and download artwork and meta information.
  • Power source for your Raspberry Pi. Power can come from either a USB 5v power supply or via a USB cable plugged into your TV, monitor or some other USB power source.

That’s it. There are a few other items you may want to get to make life a bit easier as well. These include:

  • USB wireless keyboard – remember the Raspberry Pi typically runs some form of Linux as it’s OS so you will more than likely find it necessary to type stuff into a terminal session at some stage
  • Case – to keep your Raspberry Pi safe and protected