I feel most nostalgic when I think about the video games I played as a kid, and as someone approaching 40, I'm sure most people of my generation feel the same way. This is why Nintendo has hit it big with the classic consoles it's released in the past two years, and it's also why retro games can carry such a relatively large price tag. I have a few of my old consoles, namely my NES and SNES, and they actually work well. I was planning on getting the SNES Classic, but that looks like it may be more difficult than I thought it would be.
As I've mentioned in a recent post, I decided to set up a RetroPie, which is an OS you can load into a Raspberry Pi computer and easily get old videogames running via emulation. Now that I have it up and running, I couldn't be more happy with it. It's the easiest way to play the games that I spent hours with in my youth. Unfortunately, most of my cartridges have disappeared over the years, with only a few remaining (luckily they're three of my top five games). Having spent a bit of time playing with the RetroPie, the best part of this has been the opportunity to play these games again with my kids; showing them where stuff like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came from.
The Raspberry Pi I ordered came as part of a package from CanaKit through Amazon, which provided the motherboard, heat sinks, case, and appropriate power adapter. I also ordered a 32GB SanDisk Micro SD card which allows for plenty of storage. There are some great utilities that easily allow one to get the RetroPie OS on to the SD card. Apple Pi Baker made flashing the SD card with RetroPie really easy. Once this was done, RetroPie was ready to go into my Raspberry Pi.
I hooked it up to my TV and I set up all the necessities, including wifi, since that's how I would be transferring over the roms I had waiting on my Mac. This process allowed me to try something I never really needed to do before: access a server on my network. To get the roms into the RetroPie, I had to get to its file system by using the Go menu in the Finder and connecting to it as a server. I just needed to input smb://retropie and then access the server as a guest. With that done, I just needed to find the correct folder for the type of rom and the roms were transferred. By heading over to the RetroPie and then restarting the Emulationstation front end, the roms were now available for use. All the details on how to do this were easily found online
There were a few issues that I needed to address once I had everything set up. Since I transferred my roms from a Mac, ._ files were created in the menu. They don't actually cause issues (since they're normally hidden), but they do look ugly in the RetroPie interface. I had to go into the file system on the Raspberry Pi and it was easy to delete them quickly by finding them in the /roms folder and in the corresponding folder (ex. nes). Holding shift and selecting them one by one allowed me to delete them in one shot by pressing F8. If you just have a few, you can also delete them without going into the file system, by using Emulation Station interface.
Once I removed all of all the ugly useless files, I had to start using the scraper to find the box art for the games. The scraper utility accessess the internet and looks for information that matches the file, attaching information to the game so that you can see it. The included scraper works fine in most cases, and I only have a few left that don't have proper box art. I'm working on fixing this, but it's not a major issue.
By far, the most complicated thing I have had to figure out was how to get Castlevania: Rondo of Blood working on the PC Engine CD emulator. To emulate the PC Engine CD-ROM (or TurboGrafix-16 if you prefer), you need to add a special file to the BIOS folder of the RetroPie. That was the easy part. I still could not get the game to run so I had to dig a little deeper. I discovered just how deep when I found this article explaining exactly what I needed to do. There was a line of text that needed to be fixed (it didn't match the file name), but once I did that, I was actually able to finally what many consider to be the best of the traditional Castlevania games. It wasn't super hard to do, but I would classify it as advanced.
Morality and Closing Thoughts
Some people may be bothered that using roms to emulate games is at best a grey area, and at worst piracy. The problem is, a lot of these games are essentially impossible to obtain or in most cases, overpriced. Not everyone has access to these systems either. Sure, Nintendo is releasing the SNES Classic, but as I said, they're not making it easy to get with what already seem to be supply issues. It will be even more difficult in Quebec, since two of the games on the North American system are not in French, vene though the games are available in French elsewhere. Putting together the RetroPie was a great learning experience, making it worth entering a little bit of a grey zone of piracy. Most of these games have been out of print for years, and no one is really making any money off of most of them at this point anyway.
I've always liked thinking about retro games, and I listen to a lot of retro game-related podcasts. One of my favourite YouTube channels is GameSack, and they've pointed me to some of the best games I missed when they were actually available. Being able to play games on the consoles I grew up on now would be great, but I don't have access to most of them. Playing the same games on a RetroPie isn't perfect, but it does scratch that retro itch.