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Today, I’ll show you how to make your first steps with RetroPie on Raspberry Pi
RetroPie is promoted as a free and easy retro gaming console
But it’s not so easy to start for a beginner on Raspberry Pi and/or Linux
If you are in this case, this article is for you

How to get started on Retropie?

  • Learn what is RetroPie
  • Find the required hardware to play games on Raspberry Pi
  • Install RetroPie
  • Download new games
  • Optimize your setup 

Even if I recommend reading all of this if you are a beginner, you can use the table of contents below to go directly to the point you’re interested in

If you are looking for the fastest way to get games on your Raspberry Pi, you can check this SD card loaded with Retropie and over 100k games. It’s available on Amazon, and really cheap for the time it would take to build that kind of library

RetroPie introduction

The RetroPie project

The main goal of the RetroPie project was to bring retro gaming abilities to the Raspberry Pi
Building RetroPie was a work on two dimensions: software and hardware

On the software side, the project was divided into four parts:

  • Operating system: they made the choice to use Raspbian at the end
  • Emulators: they had to bring all emulators of our favorite consoles inside
  • Setup script: they wanted the installation to be easy, and the setup script should do everything possible
  • Front-end: they needed a cool graphical interface to use Retropie as a classic game station

But it was not enough. The hardware part was also an important work
They wanted to add the ability to transform the Raspberry Pi into an arcade box
They created a GPIO adapter to plug joystick and button on the Raspberry Pi

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RetroPie today

Today the RetroPie project has a dedicated website available here
They keep updated pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi
But it’s also possible to install RetroPie on other operating systems (over Raspbian or in Ubuntu/Debian systems)

The last image includes most emulators, just about everything you can dream:

  • Nintendo: NES, SNES, GameCube, GameBoy, N64, …
  • Playstation: PS1, PS2, PSP …
  • Others consoles: NEO GEO, Dreamcast, Saturn, …
  • Old computers: Atari, Commodore, …
  • And a lot of others emulators !

Retro Gaming vocabulary

Just before getting started, let’s assure that you understand two words I’ll use a lot in the next paragraphs

What is an emulator?

An emulator is a software that allow you to run games for another computer on your current computer
A N64 emulator in Retropie allows you to run N64 games on a Raspberry Pi

What is a ROM?

A ROM stands for Read-Only Memory. In gaming, this is an image from the original game
For example, on N64, you played a game like GoldenEye by inserting the cartridge in the console
On Raspberry Pi, you can’t use this cartridge. You need to have a file with the cartridge content

What is a BIOS?

A BIOS is the only software part you have on a computer before installing an operating system
On a PC, you may use it to set options like Boot devices order, date/time, hardware preferences
On a game station it tells how the computer should work, so the emulator may need it for launching games

Hardware prerequisites

To make the most of your new retro-gaming console, you’ll need hardware improvements

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Raspberry Pi

Yes, you already know you need a Raspberry Pi to install RetroPie …
But I want to be sure you have the Raspberry Pi 3B + or more
On other models, games can be slow as the hardware is not powerful enough to run all games

You can try with another one for a test, but in the longer term you should buy a Raspberry Pi 4 (check the best I kit I found in my resources page)

SD Card

Even if any SD card could do the job, I recommend starting directly on a fast and large SD card

Fast because as you’ll see, the Raspberry Pi is a cheap console, but not the fastest for this kind of things
A fast SD card ensures that this part does not slow your games down

And a large one to store all the games you want
Yes, you can start on a small one, and change later, but you must reinstall everything, backup your save games, etc …

So first thing, find a fast and large SD card to start.
The best idea for Retropie beginners is to look for a preloaded SD card with Retropie and thousands of games already installed (my favorite is this one on Amazon), it’s the best price/quality and quantity ratio and it works on any Raspberry Pi (even Pi 4)
You’ll save much time by not having to download and install each game one by one.
If you prefer starting with an empty one, check my recommended product page for the best you can buy at the moment

Raspberry Pi case

The second point is the Raspberry Pi case, or at least the cooling
Gaming on Raspberry Pi, mainly with recent games, can increase your hardware temperature
And it’s not good for the Raspberry Pi life span

So ensure you have a well-ventilated case, heat sinks and maybe a fan
I wrote a post about how to install heat sinks if you need more information

And for the case or fan, you can find original cases with a good cooling system (this one is perfect for retro gamers ).
You’ll get the classic look, even for your case. Don’t forget to add the options you need for a complete kit (fan, heat sinks, power supply or SD card)

Game controllers

And finally, what is a good retro gaming console without retro controllers?
Even if you could play with your keyboard, it’s not the same, the time machine requires the use of an old-fashioned controller

I love the classic Nintendo controller from my recommended products page

How to install Retropie

At this point, you know what RetroPie is, the common vocabulary and you have all the needed hardware to play in good conditions
Let’s move to the installation process

Download Retropie

The first thing to do is to download the RetroPie image from the official website: here
There are two versions, take the one corresponding to your Raspberry Pi model

I don’t recommend downloading images on other websites
Even if you can find images with a lot of games or add-ons inside, don’t trust them
You can’t guess if they are safe or not

Flash your SD card

Once you finish downloading the image, follow this procedure to create the SD card:

  • Insert the SD card in your computer.
    If you don’t have an SD card slot on your computer, you can use a cheap adapter to plug it on a USB port (check the price on Amazon)
  • Download and install Etcher if needed (it’s a free tool to flash SD card)
  • Start Etcher
    • On the left choose the image file
    • In the middle select your SD card
  • Then click “Flash!” to start the SD card creation
  • After a few minutes, you SD card is ready

First boot

Insert the SD card and start the Raspberry Pi
There is almost nothing to do, just wait for the boot sequence to finish

The only thing you need to do is to configure the first controller

  • When RetroPie asks you to plug your controller, do it
  • Press one key for a few seconds until RetroPie detect it
  • Then follow the wizard to configure all the controller keys
  • If you have a basic controller, without all keys, let one key pressed for a few seconds until the wizard move to the next one
  • When you configure all keys, press “OK” and the main menu appears

You can now use the main menu to follow the basic configuration procedure in the next  paragraph

Basic configuration

In the main menu, select “Configuration” and enter (press A)

You should now get a full configuration menu like this:

I’ll give you all the things to configure in this menu before going further
Obviously, you can browse all the submenu to set everything as you want
But I give you only the important things to configure

Audio

This menu is only to set the audio output for Retropie
Set the default sound output as you want

On a TV, HDMI should be enough.
On a basic computer screen you may select jack 3.5 and plug speaker or headphones

Raspi-config

If you’re used to Raspbian, this is the same menu
Note: On my installation, I needed to switch back to the keyboard to use this menu. I’m not able to make a selection with my game controller

Set what you need in this menu:

  • Localization options
    • If needed, start by configuration locale, time zone, keyboard layout and Wifi country
    • Setting the Wifi country is mandatory before the connection
  • Network options
    • Useful if you have a specific network configuration to make (Wifi or static IP)
    • For RJ45 with DHCP you have nothing to do
  • Update
    • Then select this one to update the system to the last version

RetroPie setup

This menu will help you manage RetroPie components
Try at least to update the system:

  • Updating Retropie
    • Choose “Update” in the first menu
    • Answer “Yes” to all the following questions
      This will update everything on your system
    • Then choose “Perform Reboot” to apply all changes
  • Come back to this menu after the reboot
  • Install Retropie manager
    • In the Retropie Setup menu, select “Manage Packages”
    • Then “Manage experimental packages”
    • Find “Retropie Manager” and install it from source
  • Start Retropie manager
    • In the Retropie Setup Menu, choose “Configuration / tools”
    • Select “Retropie Manager”
    • Then select “Enable RetroPie-Manager on boot” and “Start Retropie-Manager now”

Show your IP

You must know your Raspberry PI IP address later in this guide
So enter this menu and note your current IP address

Get new games

Download games

I already wrote an article about downloading ROMs for Retropie
So if you need help about this, I recommend you to read this post and come back after

Short answer:
You can download ROMs from websites like MAMEDev or ROM Hustler

But I think that the best idea to save time is to look for a preloaded SD card with Retropie and thousands of games already installed (my favorite is this one on Amazon), it’s the best price/quality and quantity ratio and it works on any Raspberry Pi (even Pi 4)
You’ll save much time by not having to download and install each game one by one.

If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi 4 you can try this one, it’s similar but for Raspberry Pi 3 / 3B+.

Install games

Once you have downloaded one game on your computer, you need to send it to RetroPie

RetroPie Manager

RetroPie Manager is a web interface to manage your RetroPie system
You can access it with your web browser at http://:8080
If you didn’t note your IP address, you can find it under the “Show your IP” menu in the RetroPie configuration screen

In this interface you can find a lot of information about your system
The monitoring screen will show you the current status of the Raspberry Pi (memory, file system and CPU)
But our goal is to upload a new game on the RetroPie console

Installing a new game

  • Prepare the game files
    • Most of the time, you download a compressed file
    • You need to extract it to another folder with your favorite software (for example WinRAR or 7zip on Windows)
  • Upload the files
    • Click on “Roms” on the top menu
    • Select the system corresponding to the game
    • Drag and drop the extract files into the intended frame
    • Wait a few seconds, games are now visible in the list below

Playing your new game

Now it’s time to play!

  • You may need to reload…

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