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How to install Retropie on a Raspberry Pi to play emulators

Install RetroPie as an operating system

Although RetroPie isn’t exactly an operating system, it’s a stripped-down version of Raspberry Pi OS (formerly known as Rasbian) that includes everything you need to play old games. If we want to use the Raspberry Pi only as retro consolethe first thing we need to do is to visit the official Retropie website and download the version that adapts to the model where we want to use it.

RetroPie is available for

  • Raspberry Pi 1/Zero
  • Raspberry Pi 2/3/Zero 2 W
  • Raspberry Pi 4/400

Next, we need to extract the file in .gz format to access the image that allows us to enjoy RetroPie as an operating system and that includes everything necessary to enjoy the roms of our favorite games.

To decompress this file, from Windows we can use Winrar. Once we have decompressed the file, we are going to use the Rufus application, an application that allows us convert an image to a bootable disk. We can download Rufus from its website or use any application that allows us to unzip an image to a memory card or USB.

In this case we are going to use Rufus, for one of the most famous applications of this type and which offers the best results. First, we open the application with administrator permissions. We insert the microSD card into the device so that the application automatically recognizes it and selects it as the installation destination. It should be at least 8 GB. We have to take into account that the card will be formatted to create a boot partition for RetroPie, so we’re going to lose all the content stored in it.

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In Boot Choice we select Disk or ISO image and then click Choose to select the .img image that includes the version of RetroPie we downloaded and unzipped.

Finally click on Start and wait for the process to complete. Once it’s done, we take the SD card out of the equipment and insert it into the Raspberry Pi. From this moment on, every time we use that memory card, the Raspberry can be used only as retro console. Considering the current price of memory cards, we can use different memory cards in order not to limit the operation of the Raspberry Pi to a retro console and expand its use as a multimedia center, a device to make backup copies make, control the home automation and more.

If we don’t want to limit the use of the Raspberry Pi, we can install RetroPie only as an application on the Raspberry Pi OS. In this way, we will be able to expand the use of this small and versatile device for other purposes.

Use RetroPie as an app on a Raspberry

As I mentioned above, although RetroPie is not an operating system as such, it is an image that contains both the operating system (a very light version of Raspberry Pi OS) and all the necessary applications to enjoy it through emulators, which is included by the way, from old games, both from game consoles like a computer. In addition, it includes support for controllers, which will allow us to enjoy these games just as we did years ago in arcades and on consoles.

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To install RetroPie as a standalone application on a Raspberry Pi, the first thing we need to do is check if the Raspberry Pi OS has any pending updates, and if so, let it install automatically with the command

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

Next, we install the necessary packages to install RetroPie using the command

sudo apt install git lsb-release

In the next step, we are going to download the latest available version of the Retropie script using this command

cd git clone --depth=1 https://github.com/RetroPie/Retropie-Setup.git

To run the latest version of the RetroPie script, we’ll type the following on separate command lines.

cd RetroPie-Setup chmod +x retropie_setup.sh sudo ./retropie_setup.sh

Next, a wizard will open where it will ask us what we want to do and where we are going to choose Basic Installation. The basic installation installs the core and core packages that are the same as found in the RetroPie image that we can use to use the Raspberry Pi exclusively as a game console.

Raspberry RetroPie

Once the installation is complete, we select the Perform reboot option to restart the Raspberry. Once it’s restarted, it’s time to copy the roms what we want to play with. The main directory where they are stored is ~/RetroPie/roms. If it’s not in that location, it will be in /home/pi/RetroPie/roms.

In the roms directory we in turn find other directories with the name of the systems being emulated: snes, megadrive, nes and others. In each of these folders we need to copy the roms corresponding to each console.

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If we want to run roms from a drive connected via USB or transfer roms from a USB drive, we must first install usbrom service from the command line.

Once we’ve copied the roms into the directory corresponding to each, we run RetroPie with the command emulation station from terminals.

Are emulators legal?

Video game emulators are applications that, as their name suggests, mimic the operation of machines without using the original code, since otherwise they would be committing a crime against intellectual property, so there is no legal problem when it comes to imitating the operation of an old-fashioned arcade machine or a console on a computer. Another thing is the ROMs.

Downloading the ROMs is not legal, but depending on the developer of the game, in many cases the blood does not reach the river, especially when it comes to video games that are so old that there is no way to get them legally. Many of the studios behind the video games also closed their doors years ago without selling the intellectual property of their games to any company.

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