How to Set Up RetroArch, The Open-Source Cross-Platform Retro Game Emulator

Today we’re going to discuss how to set up RetroArch which is quickly becoming one of the most popular emulators on the scene. With any luck, our guide will get you started with one of the best emulation solutions on the scene!

RetroArch is often called an emulator, but it isn’t one. Not exactly, anyways. RetroArch functions as a hub of sort that you can use to access multiple emulators from a unified interface. Emulators within RetroArch are accessed through “Cores” which basically function as mini-emulators tailored for use within RetroArch’s interface.

The benefits of the Core system are numerous, but the biggest one is that you don’t need to configure your controls per-emulator or change applications to access a different emulator: RetroArch puts all your games and content into one place!

However, learning to set up RetroArch can be a little bit complicated. This process has gotten easier as the platform has evolved, but we’ll walk you through everything you need to know and do in order to make this happen.

RetroArch is open-source and cross-platform, so fortunately it’s available on pretty much anything. For the sake of simplicity, this guide will follow a setup process on Windows 10, the most highly-used desktop operating system at the time of writing. If you want to set up RetroArch on another operating system, you may need to do some extra configuration with your controller and adjust installation accordingly, but for the most part you shouldn’t have too much trouble following along.

Here’s what you’ll need for this Windows 10-tailored guide:

  • Windows 10 32-bit or 64-bit – self-explanatory.
  • Internet access – to download and update cores, alongside RetroArch itself.
  • An XInput-compatible gamepad – to easily use and control RetroArch. You can make keyboard bindings if you like, but we highly recommend against it. Use this article to pick a gamepad if you don’t have one, and be sure to install an XInput wrapper for your particular pad if you aren’t getting an Xbox controller.

If you have all of these things, it’s time to learn how to set up RetroArch.

First, visit RetroArch’s website. This tutorial follows Windows 64-bit, so that’s what I’ll be clicking, but if you have a properly-configured gamepad on one of those other platforms, you should be able to follow along just fine.

Click the Download that’s applicable to you. In my case, and for this guide, that will be “Installer (64-bit).”

retroarch-set-up-download

RetroArch’s installer should be around 180MB. Depending on your connection, this may take a little while to install. Once it finishes, click the executable to begin the installation process.

There’s not too many decisions you need to make for this install. If, for some reason, you aren’t on Windows 8.1 or 10, you may want to check “DirectX 9.0c Runtime” to make sure you have the version of DirectX you need to use for RetroArch. You can also configure RetroArch to use Vulkan or OpenGL.

retroarch-set-up-runtime

Since I have a DX12/Vulkan GPU, I don’t need to grab the DX9 runtime. After all that you’ll need to wait for RetroArch to finish installing, which may take a few minutes on an HDD but will be over much quicker on an SSD.

Once it’s installed and launched, you should get a screen that looks like the following image.

retroarch-set-up-first-launch

Make sure your controller is connected to your PC and turned on. If it is, RetroArch should be able to pick up on it, and you can go ahead and start navigating the menu with your gamepad.

If you can’t, the first thing you want to do is use your arrow keys to head over to the Gear Icon menu and head down to Input.

retroarch-set-up-input-step-1

Within this Menu, head down to Menu Toggle Gamepad Combo and set it to whatever you like by using your Left/Right arrow keys. I recommend L3 + R3 (pressing down analog sticks) or Start + Select.

retroarch-set-up-input-step-2

Now, head down to “Input User 1 Binds” and select it. This is where we’re going to configure your gamepad to work with RetroArch.

Under Device Type, hit your right arrow so that you get RetroPad w/ Analog. Then, go down to “User 1 Device Index” and select the controller you’re actually using. If it isn’t showing up, make sure it’s turned on, plugged in or you’ve done necessary configuration for your gamepad.

Now, select “User 1 Bind All”, and you’ll be able to walk through and bind everything to your controller properly.

retroarch-set-up-input-step-3

A pop-up will come up on your screen and walk you through each button to press. If your controller doesn’t have A/B/Y/X buttons (or they aren’t laid out like the SNES’, which is what RetroArch is following here), just press the face button that RetroArch tells you to. For instance, “B Button (Down)” in RetroArch corresponds to the A button on an xBox controller.

retroarch-input-final-step

Now your controller is configured! Let’s install an emulation core.

Head back to the leftmost menu and scroll down to “Online Updater.”

retroarch-install-core-1

Now, select “Core Updater.”

retroarch-install-core-2

Scroll down to your Core of choice and select it to install it. For cores, you’ll see the system it emulates in plain text, with the emulator it’s using in parentheses besides it. In this case, we’ll be using PlayStation with a Beetle PSX HW emulation core.

retroarch-installl-core-3

Once you select the core, it will automatically download to your installation of RetroArch. Head back to the previous screen and select “Update Core Info Files.”

retroarch-install-core-4

Congratulations – your core is installed. How do you get your games inside RetroArch?

Head to “Load Content.”

retroarch-load-content

Within this Menu, select “Collections.”

retroarch-collections

Then, select “Scan Directory” and find the directory where your games are stored.

retroarch-scan-directory_

In my case, I already have a dedicated folder for my legally-ripped PS1 games on my HDD. You will have to acquire games on your own – this is not a piracy tutorial.

retroarch-add-games1

Once you’ve scanned the directory, your games should now be present. Use Load Core to load your emulator, and then Load Content to load your game!

While diving deep into per-emulator and per-game configurations is a bit out of our scope here, we hope that this article gave you a solid starting foundation for working with the RetroArch emulator. The basics of installing it, its cores and configuring its controls are all you need to know to jump straight into playing games, and we hope you enjoy this entry into the world of RetroArch.

Comment below if you need any assistance!

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