Build Your Own Raspberry Pi Arcade Machine – Part 2

Arcade Joystick

Build your own arcadeThey say “sorry” is the hardest word, so I’ll get it out of the way straight away. It’s taken far longer than I intended to write Part 2 of this series, and many of you must have feared it had come to an abrupt end. That’s not the case though, so let’s insert an extra coin and hit continue!

In the first article I outlined the hardware we’d be needing for the project, and today we’ll be doing the initial setup and configuration on our Pi.

We’ll be using the latest version of the outstanding RetroPie project for our base install. RetroPie is available in a handy image that includes not only the Operating System for our Pi, but also a variety of emulators. Head over to petRockBlog to download the latest RetroPie SD Card Image.

Installing RetroPie

After your download has completed, we need to write the RetroPie image to your SD card. The steps for doing this vary depending on if you are using Windows or Mac, so follow the appropriate section below:

Windows Vista/7/8

  1. First, download the very useful Fedora ARM Installer utility – it’ll make writing the image to our SD card nice and easy.
  2. Extract the RetroPie .img file you downloaded earlier and place it on your desktop.
  3. Insert your SD Card. It’s a good idea at this point to disconnect any removable media you might have connected (USB sticks, portable drives etc.). This will help us easily identify the SD card when we write the image.
  4. Run the Fedora ARM Installer we just downloaded, and under the “Source” option click browse.
  5. Navigate to your desktop and select the RetroPie image.
  6. For the Destination option, drop down the list and select the SD card we will be writing to. You should be able to identify it fairly easily by its size.
  7. This is super important. DOUBLE CHECK YOU HAVE SELECTED THE CORRECT DESTINATION. The data on whatever drive you’ve selected is about to disappear faster than pound coins into Dragons Lair. It goes without saying that this could really spoil your day if it’s the wrong one.
  8. Re-read point 7, promise not to sue if you accidently wipe your PC, and then click Install. After a couple of minutes the install will complete and you’ll have a shiny new RetroPie install to play with.


I covered how to write a SD Card image using Mac Terminal in this earlier article, so head over there and follow the instructions.

Initial Config

OK, so now we’ve got a nice fresh install on the SD card it’s time to put it in the Pi and fire it up! On first boot you’ll be asked to set some controls for the Emulation Station front end. Emulation Station is a fantastic interface that allows us to navigate through all our emulated systems and select our games.

Once you’ve selected the controls (cursor keys are a good idea here), you’ll be presented with the menu proper. Because it’s a fresh install there is not a lot here yet, but take a minute to have a flick through the default emulated systems. Pretty cool huh? That’s enough of that though, we’ve got more work to do! Press Esc and select exit to go to the command prompt.

It’s a good idea to set some options for our new installation. These will help us manage our system and help to get the best performance out of the Pi.

Set the root account password

The root user account is very important, and has permissions over everything on the system. While it’s not necessary to set the password, setting one will allow you to log on directly as the root user. Logging in as root is not best practice, and there is probably a mob of pitch fork wielding Linux admins heading my way just for suggesting it. With projects like this though I do find it useful to have it as an option in case things go wrong. To change the password enter “sudo passwd” at the command line, enter your password when prompted and don’t forget what you set it to!

Run raspi-config.

Raspi-Config is a great utility that allows you to set some low level configuration on your Pi. To run it type sudo raspi-config at the command prompt. Once in the menu, do the following:

Expand Filesystem: This allows your new RetroPie install to use all the space on your SD card.

Overclock: The Pi is an impressive piece of kit, but emulation is demanding. We need to squeeze all the juice we can out of the Pi, so we’re going to set the processor to punch well above its starting weight. On the overclock menu select the highest option, “Turbo” to give us the power we will need. If anything goes wrong after setting this option and the Pi will not boot, you can hold shift during the boot sequence to temporarily disable the overclock.

Memory Split: This option tells the Pi how much memory the GPU can use. We need to give it some extra, so allocate it 256MB.

That’s all for this instalment, but you should now have a fully functioning RetroPie install, just waiting to be crammed full of gaming goodness. In Part three we’ll begin our attack on the meat of this project – adding some hardware controls and getting our first game up and running. See you next time!



Mike Hudson

Mike Hudson is a Lead Cyber Security Analyst living and working in Kingston Upon Hull. With extensive experience in Microsoft and Apple technologies, ranging from desktop OS’s to Server OS’s and hardware. By day working as part of an infrastructure team, and by night ridding the world of IT issues through blog posts..

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