Emulation, Me, and the Raspberry Pi 3

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Featured

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B Featured

Emulation is one of those things that became an obsession from the minute I learned of it. This all began one day in high school when a friend asked to borrow a PS1 game of mine. When it came time to return it, he told me about playing it on his PC. My immediate reaction was something along the lines of “What do you mean?” Instead of explaining himself fully, he cryptically only gave the name of the emulator. Thus began an obsession.

It didn’t take much Google searching to discover what he had used to play the PS1 title on his laptop. Of course, that was just the start. I then learned of emulators existing for all manner of classic consoles. After downloading as much as I could take, I then began the process of getting my entire cartridge-based game collection in ROM form. As for the PS1 and PS2 games, I ended up getting multiple additional hard drives to hold my ripped disc images.

Ever since first discovering emulators, I have always been keen to modify systems to enable the use of emulators on them. Sometimes it’s extremely easy – you needed to only burn a disc with ROMs to access them on a Dreamcast. Others, like PSP and  Xbox 360, required hardware modification (at the time). I was absolutely that person who ordered “hacking tools” from websites that made me nervous in order to unlock the full potential of my devices. It was with the Wii that I first discovered soft mods and breathed a sigh of relief at the modern era of modding.

The Homebrew Channel Screenshot

At this point, I own multiple hard/soft modded consoles and handhelds as well as untouched systems. Basically all of them feature some amount of emulators loaded on along with a game or two I wanted to play at the time. With that said, most of these consoles very rarely see use anymore for emulation or otherwise. Though my current era consoles still get play time, I’ve mostly otherwise moved over to PC gaming. In many ways, my urge to mod has always been more about the journey rather than the end product.

Enter the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. I’ve wanted a Raspberry Pi (or really, any similar microcomputer) since they first started making their way out. Yet the urge has never grabbed hold enough to result in me purchasing one. That was until a coworker mentioned offhand about his desire to own one. “Me too!” was my enthusiastic response, as I suddenly recalled Pi projects I’d seen posted online before. Apparently this was all the push I needed to become seriously interested in owning one again.

After about a week of researching via YouTube, Reddit communities, and more, I finally purchased the device (and other required bits). One day later, the Raspberry Pi 3 was in my hands. With a full weekend of tinkering ahead, I immediately installed Recalbox. Of the emulator frontends on the system, this was regularly mentioned as the easiest to get running. My intention is to get another MicroSD and run the much more popular RetroPie off that once accustomed to EmulationStation (which both OSes use as a base).

EmulationStation Screenshot

The next step was choosing a controller. For pure ease of use, I just plugged in a wired Xbox 360 gamepad. For whatever reason, it appears neither RetroPie or Recalbox work readily with Xbox One or PS4 controllers. They’re also not quite plug and play with prior wireless controllers. Eventually I’ll try to figure out getting my 8bitdo controller hooked up, but not yet! In any case, the Xbox 360 gamepad was readily detected and didn’t require any button mapping to run with the menu and emulators.

After ensuring everything ran fine, I finally added in my ROMs and disc images that I had been toting along with me all these years. I’ve tested NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and PS1 so far and each emulator appears to run wonderfully. My only disappointment is knowing that N64 emulation doesn’t run great, but I knew that ahead of time via people’s comments. So far my latest emulator push had proved successful in that I actually played and beat a game with it. That game was none other than Contra.

Sure, it was a bit more difficult than normal due to the squishy Xbox 360 d-pad, but I actually made it work well enough via analog stick control. After running through that game, I’m now pumped to play so many other unplayed classics in my collection. Technically, I could’ve played them at any time – the original hardware is all still accessible to me. There’s just something much more convenient about simply turning on the TV and firing off a game to suit my mood via the Raspberry Pi 3. Once I settle on the ideal Bluetooth controller for my setup it’ll be perfect. I encourage anyone with an interest in retro games (and tinkering) to look into the Raspberry Pi lineup.

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