Easy Beginner’s Guide to installing Retropie on Raspberry Pi 3

I got the idea of setting up my own games console when my sister-in-law brought round her SNES mini; as a lover of classic games but not having space (or patience to set up) lots of old consoles, I had almost bought one of these when everyone was going crazy for them.

It was obviously a blessing in disguise when I wasn’t able to afford one at the time because what the £79 bit of kit had to offer was sorely disappointing – definitely not worth the wait.

Sure there were a few games that were fun (Street Fighter! Mario Kart!) but most of them I wouldn’t bother playing more than once.

Aside from the adorable mini SNES-style case and the original-looking controllers, there wasn’t much else.

Why Retropie?

I got to thinking about using emulators again on my PC. They’re fun, but don’t offer the full console experience of plugging in, vegging out on the sofa and immediately being able to choose from a wide variety of games. That’s when I found out about Retropie.

Retropie is a free platform that turns your Raspberry Pi into a catalogue of classic gaming systems, all in one place.

It takes a little while to set everything up but it’s nearly half the cost of a novelty Nintendo mini console to buy a kit including all the basics.

Plus, you aren’t restricted to just one system or a handful of mediocre games. Awesome!

I was sold, so even though I’d never owned a Raspberry Pi before (even though I wanted one years ago when they first came out) I was determined to spend my Christmas money on one.

Where to start?

Installing Retropie on Raspberry Pi 3 Using Windows

Even with a really handy YouTube video on setting up my Raspberry Pi 3 with Retropie, there is a lot I had to figure out for myself. I’m pretty tech savvy but I’m far from being experienced with this sort of thing, so there were several pieces of software I’d never used, some things didn’t quite go to plan and it took longer than I’d initially imagined. All part of the fun!

I’ve collated everything I learned here in this handy guide, including links to other invaluable documentation that you might want to bookmark!

Please note: this guide is for the Raspberry Pi 3 only. Other older models of the Raspberry Pi will work but may require different steps.

This guide also shows you how to transfer ROMs onto your Pi remotely, without needing an additional USB stick. A few extra steps but worth it for ease!

You will need:

canakit raspberry pi 3 kit for setting up retropie

USB keyboard and controller for retropie

I started out buying an official kit from Raspberry Pi on Amazon, but when it arrived and I spent over an hour setting it up, I found out it was faulty! Naturally, I got salty and ended up ordering a complete starter kit instead which I was super impressed with. It’s the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 Complete Starter Kit – UK Edition (32 GB, Black) and unlike the Raspberry Pi kit, it’s boxed with a full-colour setup guide, an HDMI cable, a larger SD card and a USB card reader. Well worth the few extra quid!

Windows software needed to install Retropie on your Raspberry Pi 3

These are for setting up Retropie:

  • A copy of Retropie to transfer to your Raspberry Pi – this is the platform you will use to play games on

  • Win32 Disk Imager – this transfers the Retropie software onto your SD card

  • SD Memory Card Formatter – formats your SD card ready to receive the Retropie software

  • 7zip – unzips zipped files

And these are for remotely connecting to you Pi to transfer ROM files:

  • WinSCP – visually shows you the folders on your Retropie when you’re connected via SSH

  • ROM files (a list of the ROM formats each emulator supports can be found here)

Don’t get overwhelmed! I’m about to break down into steps exactly what you need to do.

BUT FIRST – A WARNING

I briefly mentioned that in my quest for Retro gaming awesomeness, I bought a kit which didn’t work. And it was directly from Raspberry Pi.

I think the actual Pi was faulty because it wouldn’t power on whatsoever. When it powers on you should see a red LED, but mine did nothing. I had spent ages setting it up and was gutted.

Before doing any of the following steps, be sure to test your Pi! You can do this by plugging in the power cable and the red light should appear.

Once you know it’s working for sure, proceed!

Preparing your SD card

Your Retropie software will be placed on the SD card, which then slots into your Raspberry Pi and acts as its storage. Later, ROMs will also be stored here.

SD card formatter

  • Rename your SD card – I called mine ‘Retropie’, but really you can call it anything you like.
  • Select the correct drive letter under ‘select card’.

  • Hit ‘format’ to format your card. You will see a warning message that it’ll erase the data on the card, and that’s okay.

  • It takes a few moments, but then once the process is complete, your SD card is ready to be loaded with Retropie!

Writing your Retropie disk image to your SD card

Now it’s time to copy Retropie over to your newly formatted SD card!

  • Just right click on the zipped folder and use the 7zip submenu and select ‘extract here’:

7zip sub menu

  • You’ll then get an unzipped version of the .img file.

  • Next, we need to load up that image onto the SD card. To do this, use Win32 Disk Imager. When you open it up, it looks like this:

Win32 disk imager

  • Under ‘image file’, click the folder icon to browse your file explorer and find the Retropie image you’ve unzipped.

  • Next, make sure you choose the right drive letter again like you did with SD Memory Card Formatter. Mine is D:

  • Hit ‘write’. It can take a couple of minutes to complete.

Now your SD card is primed and ready!

Assembling your Raspberry Pi

We’re almost at the fun bit! Next, you need to connect everything to your Pi to get it ready to plug into your TV or monitor.

If you are using a case for your Pi, assemble it first before these next steps! Your individual case will have its own instructions 🙂

  1. Remove the SD card from the USB card reader, then slide it into the slot on the underside of your Pi.

  2. Plug in your HDMI cable into the HDMI slot on your Pi and the other end into your TV or monitor.

  3. Connect your controller and keyboard into the USB slots.

  4. Plug your power cable into the micro USB slot and into your power point. There is no switch on the Pi so it’ll power on instantly.

Providing you’ve followed the steps correctly so far, you’ll see something like this:

TV showing Retropie boot up screen

WOOHOO!

But wait –

You’re not done just yet because you need to set up your controller configuration first.

Retropie controller configuration

This bit is just to get your controller of choice usable and you can always go back at a later time and tweak it if you’re not happy.

  1. When your Retropie first boots up, it’ll prompt you to press any key:

Homer Simpson any key

and you’ll be met with key options:

Rettropie controller configuration screen

2. It’s as simple as the directions on the screen; to define the keys you want to use for the controls displayed on the left-hand side, just hit the key you want to use. It will automatically take you to the next one down, and so on until you reach the end of the list. If you want to skip a key, hold in any key for one second and it should move to the next on the list.

Connect your Retropie to Wifi

This bit’s easy because with the Raspberry Pi 3, you don’t need an ethernet cable. It has wireless capabilities onboard already, so it’s just a case of scanning for your router and connecting, just like you would with a smartphone or tablet.

(Oh, and this is where your USB keyboard comes in real handy).

  • Choose ‘wifi’ from the menu – mine was right at the bottom:

Retropie wifi

  • A new blue screen will load – choose ‘connect to wifi network’

  • Select your router from the list.

  • Type in your router’s password.

  • After a few moments, you should be connected. You’ll know you’re connected because it’ll now show your wifi details at the top:

Retropie wifi options

Hooray! This now means that you’re all set for transferring ROMs remotely, which we’ll get to next.

Setting up SSH

Enabling SSH on your Raspberry Pi 3

You can use a USB memory stick to transfer the ROMs, but it’s an awful lot of unplugging and re-plugging back in, guessing when the files are copied over and so on, so I decided to take a bit of time and set up SSH, or Secure Shell, so that I could simply remotely connect to my Pi and transfer files as needed.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU ONLY USE ROMs OF GAMES YOU ACTUALLY OWN. IF YOU DON’T OWN THE ORIGINAL COPY OF THE GAME, YOU’RE STEALING. DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Phew, glad we got that out of the way.

Your Pi won’t be automatically set up to enable SSH, but it’s easy to do. You need to enable it now, or WinSCP won’t work because your Pi will refuse to connect.

  • Enter the Retropie menu (like you did to enable the wifi earlier) but this time, click on ‘raspi-config’:

Retropie raspi-config

  • You’ll get an eyewateringly blue screen again, but with different options. You want to choose the option to change peripheral connections called ‘interfacing options’:

Retropie interfacing options

  • Now, choose the ‘SSH’ option – selecting it will prompt you to enable SSH (click yes when the option appears):

Retropie SSH

  • Your Pi can now connect to your PC with SSH!

Connecting to your Raspberry Pi with WinSCP

Now that your Raspberry Pi is primed and ready to receive, you need to hop onto your PC and install WinSCP if you haven’t already. This is the software on your PC that allows you to remotely connect to your Raspberry Pi and visually see the folders listed for the various emulators, so that you can simply drag and drop your extracted ROM files right in, without the need for an additional memory stick. Sweet!

  • To start, you need to find out your Raspberry Pi’s IP address (you’ll need this for WinSCP). Head to the Retropie menu again, and go to ‘show IP’:

Retropie Show IP

  • Your IP address will show up right at the top of the box. Mine is 192.168.0.29 – note yours down. Easy!

Retropie screen showing IP address

  • Now it’s time to head to your PC again and open up WinSCP to set it up for the first time:

WinSCP

  • Time to type in your IP address under ‘host name’, leave the port as ’22’ and your username and password. These will be:

  • Username: pi

  • Password: raspberry

  • It’ll take a few seconds to log in, but when it does you’ll now be able to see the folders present on your Raspberry Pi:

WinSCP folders

  • You’ll want to add your ROMs to their appropriate folders, so click on ‘retropie’ and then ‘roms’:

WinSCP Retropie ROMs folders

This next bit’s a bit baffling because let’s say you want to add an N64 ROM for example and you copy the ROM you’ve extracted and go to find the ‘N64’ folder – but it’s not there.

What?!

The Retropie platform supports many gaming systems, a full list of which you can find here.

What they don’t make obvious is that not all of these gaming systems are available from the Retropie image you copied to your SD card at the beginning.

That’s an easy fix though! Your Pi will have the capability to install these ‘optional’ emulators within the Retropie menu.

Installing Optional Retropie Emulators

Retropie setup

  • Navigate to ‘Manage packages’:

Retropie manage packages

  • Emulators that aren’t already included are classed as ‘optional packages’ so head here:

Retropie manage optional packages

  • Now you’ll be faced with a list of options! If you want to install all of the available emulators including ports of some games, you can choose the ‘install/update all optional packages from binary’. This will try to install the latest versions of the emulators. If it is not able to find the files, it’ll automatically try to install them from source, so you don’t have to worry about selecting any other options.

  • It may take several minutes for all of the emulators to install properly, but once it has, give it a reboot (‘restart system’ in the Emulation Station menu) when you’re back at the start screen.

  • When your Pi has restarted, reconnect to WinSCP > retropie > roms and you’ll see there are many more folders to drop ROM files into!

Copying ROMs over can take AAAAGES. Please bear this in mind and be patient – games on newer consoles are likely to be far bigger size-wise than a really old game. For example, a PS1 ROM can be roughly 350MB whereas an Atari 2600 ROM might only be 4KB.

When you have copied over your ROMs, just make sure you restart your Retropie before playing and then you’ll see a wonderful selection of gaming systems to choose from in the start screen, accompanied by a list of how many games are available.

Retropie Emulator menu

I have left the most important part of this whole guide until last.

Go have fun!

I hope you enjoyed this guide! If you have any questions or something didn’t work, there are some great resources I used to help me along the way which may help you!

Retropie 3.6 Tutorial by TechTipsa | Youtube

Retropie | Github


Did you find this guide helpful? What’s the first thing you played? Tell me in the comments below!

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