Let’s Build a Gaming Console
A couple awesome things happened recently. The switch came out today and well I can’t get it… Maybe this summer. Thankfully a lesser known thing just happened. The raspberry Pi Zero W just came out(that’s a mouth full) and I ordered 3 of them. Don’t judge me they are only like 10$ a piece. Besides the last time, one of these launched I couldn’t get one for months. So now I own 3. I don’t need the Nintendo Switch I’ll build my own Console With Beer and Roms. When you think about it I have the better deal really. No, I’m not just saying that cause I can’t get a Switch(yes I am). For at least a little while the only game worth playing is Zelda so waiting isn’t that hard. Whereas a retro console can play tons of games and depending on how we build it just as portable. I will be making a portable this time but you can go any direction you like.
When you’re through reading this you’ll ba able to make any retro console you like. Seriously though can we just step back for a second and compare the launch of the Switch with the Wii. Both launched with Zelda. Both had basically nothing else but mini games and both have received a tornado of mixed reviews at launch. Yet I regret buying the Wii launch night and regret not buying the Switch…. This article is going to be very link heavy and some will be affiliates but everything I link I own and use. I will never just push things to make a buck. If you don’t want to use the links feel free to google search all the names in the sources section at the end. Ok, let’s get to work then.
Owning a Pi is a lot like Pokemon Gotta catch them all. At least it is for me( I feel you judging me). I love these little computers, sure there are other single board computers but this has the best community by far. For the sake of this article though we will focus on 2 boards The Raspberry Pi 2/3 and the Raspberry Pi Zero. Look before you read any further if you want the new Zero W scroll down and click the link below it might not be there soon get it while you can. If your project supports it just get the Raspberry Pi 3. It’s the best bang for your buck. Bluetooth, wifi, 4 USB ports, full-size HDMI, and support for standard video more on that later.
If you need a smaller form factor go with the Raspberry Pi Zero/W. If you get the w model it will have wifi and Bluetooth but I have not yet had a chance to test them so your mileage may vary. If you don’t get one and want those you still have options but things are going to become more difficult as we try to put more in a smaller space. If you are new to the Raspberry Pi whether you buy one or the other I suggest getting a kit. It will save you some headache later trying to track down cables to do your start up and test run of RetroPie
grumpy old man voice In my day Installing Retropie was a lot more difficult. You had to modify the code to fit the project. You young whipper snappers with your Ip web based Retropie manager and your controller config setting.
Sorry I just had to. It really is super easy these days to make a retro console using Retropie and the Raspberry Pi. For those of you that just want to be off and gaming, this is how simple it is. Buy a pi kit that has a micro sd card. Install RetroPie on that card. Boot and sync a Ps4 controller to it and your off. Just load some ROMs and play. For the Rest of us that want to build something like a Pistation or a GamePi, we will need some more stuff. I’m not going to touch on the install too much because the tutorials are everywhere.
Raspberry Pi Cases
This is where the fun starts and we decided just how crazy our build is going to be. I’m going to be focusing on a handheld because I’m salty about the Switch but you are going to have to make some decisions. First off what is your skill level? Do you know which end is hot on a soldering iron? It’s not my fault if you burn the crap out of your hands. It’s really not hard if you own a 3d printer I’m pretty sure you know how to use one. Here are a few different cases with varying levels of difficulty.
3d Printed Cases
If you missed out on the Mini NES as well this is the case for you. It’s also just about the easiest case for this build.
Print, install a Pi3, Plug in cables and go. The nice thing about this if you’re salty about the Mini this can play all the games it has and more. You can also use a wireless controller.
A 3d printable Pi Cade. I personally think acrylic would be easier. Given the state of my current 3d printers but with this, you can get the full arcade feel on your desk.
A better one. I did not make this one. Click the image for links to the parts listed for this build. Mine has working Playstation controller ports though so I’m proud of that.
The kit linked in the image on the right is great. Like I mentioned it is lacking working PS1 ports like mine but it will get you to the same end result. What’s nice about this kit is that with a little modding it can be fit into other consoles I have a link below that will help you do that mod should you choose. When you get to that point if you want to mod something like an old NES or sega the part is the same just with a different connector so look for the one you want for the console mod you are building.
Adafruit has really outdone themselves with the pigrrl concept If you want a 3d printable Pi case this is great they have a full tutorial as well on their website. I’m not quite as happy with their build though mostly because of my OCD I know those of you looking at this image see what I’m seeing. That being said I plan to build a larger version. You guessed it Switch like. Maybe even a detachable controller. But that is a build for the future.
The Parts List
From here on out I will be listing Parts I have used in the Past and Parts I will be using to build my next Retro console. Feel Free to use my list or build your own. A lot of parts can also be salvaged as well depending on your choice of builds. Old Xbox 360 controllers, for instance, give you 2 analog sticks and other parts as well. So depending on how much you want to build and how much you want to buy will come down to what you think is best.
Raspberry Pi Kits
This is for anyone that wants to do the above Pistation but wants to keep the old controller ports. You pop the case in the middle of the connector open and solder wires from both control ports to it. Just follow the pinout from the new board to the old pins. If this gives anyone trouble message me and I will give a better description.
I could write a full article on just this Pi hat. Thankfully adafruit has already done that for me but I’ll sum things up. It used to be that if you wanted to make an arcade setup or portable retropie console you would need to buy an old NES controller to cut up and buy a teensy control board to interpret the signals for the Picade. Or buy a USB controller and hack that up. This makes things so much easier. They don’t have a depopulated board so to get it to fit in a smaller form factor you will be desoldering components from this board. This is only needed if you want to make an all in one machine instead of a console with separate controllers.
What will you build?
It’s up to you now. Some builds will require batteries Adafruit has a great selection and chargers to boot. I could list every single switch and joystick but I won’t because from here you will be making choices based on your tastes. Thingiverse has tons of models for you both large and small or you can go and make your own. If this is a topic you’d like to see more of let me know. I am making a portable system and have made quite a few of these already. It’s getting easier now to the point that most of it is plug and play. It only gets difficult when you try cramming all of that in a tight space. Ribbon cable is your friend. Anyone that wants to make one of these can message me for help at any stage. If a lot of you have an issue at one spot or another I’ll make a more detailed post on that subject.