Getting Retropie up and running on the Raspberry Pi is quite straightforward, but sometimes figuring out the joystick modes and file system problems put people off.
In this article we give you pro tips for handling joysticks and coin slots, quitting games gracefully, transferring ROMs, and upgrading when new versions come out without losing all your games.
Two notes before we start: this is not information about all the emulators, just the most common ones, and when in doubt use a USB joypad modelled on the original console system. (More about this below.)
The first problem you might face is how to get games into Retropie. You can’t just insert the SD card into the back of your Mac or PC and copy files across. Linux is a completely different file system, so it won’t mount.
Fortunately, in the Retropie menu is an item called File Manager.
The default view is deep in the system, so you need to use the joystick or keyboard to navigate your way back up the file system by clicking on the “/..”
You need to do this about four times to get back to the base directory. Once there, locate and enter the “/media” directory.
Inside that directory you can locate your memory stick (usually /USB0).
Go to the directory for the stick where your ROMs are.
To copy, you have two windows to copy from one to the other. To switch windows, you have to press the “Tab” key. Navigate on the new window using “/..” back up to the top directory as before, but this time go into the “/home” directory.
Inside “/home” is the “/retropie” directory, and inside that are directories for various system files (like the “/bios” images folder for the various emulators) and also the “/ROMs” directory.
Inside the ROMs directory there are folders for all the emulators the system supports.
Open each directory and copy the files from one side of the screen to the other, copying files for each emulator into each folder, in this case SNES.
Copy by selecting the file you want to copy and pressing F5 and pressing Enter to execute the copy.
Note: Mac users will notice the invisible Mac system files beginning with “._” for each file on the stick. Don’t copy these – only the actual files.
Once you are done copying, you can exit the File Manager with F10. You may need to restart the Pi after copying to see all the new ROMs you’ve added.
You will have to use a joystick with Retropie, whigh kind of goes without saying. But the joystick operates in different ways depending on what emulator you are using. Let’s use an SNES-like USB controller as our model.
On all modes, the D-pad controls up and down and left and right, but the buttons work differently on each mode. Here’s a selection of different configurations we’ve noticed.
- The Retropie interface defaults to using the “A” button to select and the “B” button to exit. The same is true of RetroArch.
- Retroarch is the underlying system for most of the emulators. Enter the menu system within games by holding “Select” and pressing the “X” button.
- The File Manager uses the “X” button to select. None of the other buttons work.
- Super Nintendo uses all the buttons on the gamepad plus “Start” and “Select.” Some games mostly seem to use the “Y” and “B” buttons, with Y tending to be the fire button and B the jump.
- Commodore 64 uses the “A” button (or the Start button) to access the settings for VICE. Once in the menu system, use the “X” button to select and the “A” button to exit. This is a special case because although the joystick is set up for the emulator, you have to explicitly set the joystick in “VICE -> Machine Settings -> Joystick Settings.” Be aware: there was a convention in the C64 world where the default joystick was Joystick 2. Strange but true.
- Sega Master System only uses the “A” and “B” button for fire and jump and the “Select” and “Start” buttons as per the original console.
- Of course, the MegaDrive and NeoGeo use all four buttons as there were four on the original joypad.
Obviously, if the default joystick configurations annoy you because you know what they should be in the original game system, you can reconfigure them, but this is a very laborious process which we may go into in a future article.
The best idea is to buy an inexpensive controller which is shaped and structured on the original game system but fitted with USB. This is a good example for SNES, and this one for Mega Drive. If you have a fast enough Pi to run N64 games, this would be a good one to go with. And for Playstation PSX, you can get an actual PSX controller and use this special PSX to USB adapter to use it on the Pi.
The very best joystick for Retropie? An arcade stick. While these are often very expensive, you can always make one yourself from genuine arcade parts; this kit even comes with the encoder to USB. Then all you need is a cool box for it to go in.
Incidentally, some games, like those on MAME and NeoGeo which were intended for arcade machines, may need an emulation of the coin slot actuator. The best and easiest way to do this is to have a small keyboard fitted to the Retropie system and use the 5 key to put in a coin and the 1 key to Start for player 1. Use either a small USB keyboard or a tiny bluetooth one if space is an issue. You will need a tiny Bluetooth USB adaptor, too.
If you upgrade your system as new revisions come out, it’s important to back up all your games. Prior to upgrade, use File Manager to copy the entire ROMs and BIOS directories from the Retropie directory to a memory stick. Then wipe and install the new RetroPie on your CD card and use File Manager to copy the folders back to the RetroPie directory.
Playing on a VGA Monitor
Bonus Tip – if you need to play RetroPie on a VGA monitor, which you will if you are building your Pi into an arcade cabinet, you need one simple bit of kit to accomplish this. An HDMI to VGA adapter costs only a few dollars and can be found on Amazon, such as this one or this one.
And finally, you may find that some emulators are hard to quit and not just because the games are good. At first, you might think the only way to quit out of the game is to restart the Pi, but there are methods to quit gracefully.
To quit RetroArch games, just press the “Start” and “Select” buttons at the same time. That covers most of the games right there. The C64 quit is hidden: press the “A” button on the joystick and scroll to the bottom of the VICE menu to quit. MAME and NeoGeo games quit on the ESC key.
This is not a comprehensive list, but it includes the most important tips. If you’d like us to do more on Retropie, let us know in the comments.
Retro gaming on the Pi is very easy and enjoyable. Just remember to get the fastest Pi you can afford to get the most out of all the different game types. Oh, and if you can’t figure out how to use a certain game, use this great resource to download the original game instructions.
As we said before, if you have any questions about RetroPie, please share them in the comments below.