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!



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Gaming Reboots & Sequels: Five Of The Worst

Old games never die, they just rage quit and respawn. Gaming reboots and sequels are more common than ever, with publishers reluctant to invest big money in risky new IP.

Last week Epic announced they’ll be blowing the dust off the Unreal Tournament franchise, and at least some of the development is going to be in the hands of fans themselves.

It’s not often that gamers get this level of input though, and the news that an old favourite is getting a sequel/reboot can leave you with a sense of dread. Below are five titles that left fans of the originals reaching for their BFGs.

Doom 3


It’s difficult to imagine the pressure involved in making a sequel to Doom. While Wolfenstein 3D might be the true granddaddy of them all, Doom was the game that really brought the FPS to the masses. When Doom 3 was announced expectation was high. It was still being developed by Id after all, and have you seen those screen shots?! It’s going to be great isn’t it?

Doom 3

Could you hold my flashlight please?

Well, yes and no. Doom 3 wasn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but the gameplay and atmosphere were a trip to Phobos away from the original. Shrouded in a perpetual darkness, Doom 3 had ambitions of being a true horror movie experience.

Unfortunately this resulted in a linear approach to level design, and an over reliance on cheap shock tactics. Monster cupboards abounded, and the new flashlight mechanic frustrated a large amount of players.

All that being said, taken as a standalone game I think it holds its own. It’s just not Doom.




A whopping 19 years passed between the Bullfrog classic I enjoyed in my youth and the EA reboot in 2012. After nearly 20 years, my rose tinted specs were so thick that even a faithful remake would have struggled, but what EA served up was a slap in the face.



No longer an isometric RTS, the powers that be decided that the best thing to do with this unique IP was to turn it into….another FPS. Apart from a cyberpunk theme, little survives from the original series. Destructible environments, gone. Open approach to missions, gone. Research and strategy elements….well, take a guess.

The only consolation about this blatant attempt to cash in on a great games legacy is that it didn’t work. Selling just 150,000 copies world wide, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing Syndicate being violated again anytime soon.


X-COM Interceptor, Enforcer and The Bureau


The excellent Firaxis 2012 reboot aside, XCOM is possibly the most abused franchise in history. The original 1994 turn based strategy defined a genre that it is arguably still the master of, yet developers seem intent on trying to move that success into more mainstream games.

The rot set in as far back as 1998 with the release of X-COM: Interceptor. In a doomed attempt to replicate the success of the Wing Commander and X-Wing franchises, Interceptor was a space flight sim with X-COMish research slapped on for good luck.

XCOM Enforcer

Enforcer – you can see its strategy roots…

The game flopped but did have small following, which is more than you can say for the real turd in the punch bowl – X-COM: Enforcer. A mindless third-person shooter, Enforcer couldn’t have been further from the series roots.

2013’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified rounded off the multi-decade long abuse with a tedious and confused third person tactical shooter. Let’s just leave the XCOM stuff to Firaxis from now on shall we?


Duke Nukem Forever


Unlike the rest of the games here, Duke Nukem Forever failed as a follow up because it didn’t change from its 1996 predecessor. In ’96, Duke was funny. It was never clever mind you, but it was at least funny. It was also innovative, with destructible maps and interactive environments.

Fast forward to 2011, and DNF resolutely ignored 15 years of gaming advancements – apparently hoping you would too. This isn’t entirely surprising given the games epic and convoluted development cycle, having first being announced in 1997!

Duke NUkem Forever

Stay classy Duke!

You’d think with a decade and a half of development you’d be in for something special. What we got was a barely strung together mess, with outdated gameplay, visuals and humour. What happened Duke? You used to be cool.


Aliens Vs Predator (2010)


The whole concept of AvP is confused and fraught with danger from the start. An unlikely meld of two popular iconic series, both games developers and movie directors have struggled to square the circle.

Somehow in 1999, Rebellion managed to do it in the form of an innovative first person shooter. Allowing the player to experience the action as any of the main protagonists (Human Marine, Alien or Predator), it absolutely nailed the atmosphere of the movies. It was followed in 2001 by a flawed but still passible sequel.

At this point everyone should have called it a day, patted themselves on the back and gone for a pint to celebrate, but unfortunately in 2010 they decided to have another crack.


No problems Mr Smith, just a quick polish and we’ll see you in 6 months

From the awkward and unbalanced multiplayer to the contrived and heavily scripted single player, AvP 2010 failed to impress on almost every level. The Predator campaign was especially disappointing, being scripted to the point that the player could only leap to predefined points on the map.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about AvP is how well it did. Despite having a Metacritic score in the mid 60’s across all platforms, it still grossed £14 million in the UK alone and became the bestselling Aliens game of all time. Still, at least it’s better than Colonial Marines

Disagree with the above? Maybe I’ve just slated one of your favourites, or perhaps I’ve missed a crime against gaming. Either way, let us know in the comments below.

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Write an image to SD card using Mac OS X

Writing a Raspberry Pi image to SD cardThis is a frequent question on a lot of Raspberry Pi forums where people need to create bootable SD cards, but applies to anything you might want to write an image file for. Using Mac OS X it’s possible to write an image directly from the command line with no additional software, using a command called dd. A quick word of warning before we start, it’s important to check and double check before writing an image – especially if you’re not familiar with the commands. Accidently selecting the wrong disk could destroy your data and can really spoil your day!


1.  Insert your SD card (or other media you are wanting to write to) and check it’s visible in finder.

2.  Open up Terminal (it’s in the utilities) and wait for the prompt to appear. The first command we are going to run is to identify the device we want to write to:

Diskutil list

This will display a list of disks on your system. You should be able to identify your target device by size and manufacturer, but if you are unsure at all eject your device and run the command again to see which one has disappeared. Better safe than sorry! Make a note of the number of the disk you are interested in.

3.   Next we need to unmount your target disk before writing to it. Use the following command:

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX (where X is the number you noted earlier).

This should return a message saying that the unmount operation was successful.

4.  The last command we run is the dd command to actually write the image. If you’re happy to proceed then enter the following:

sudo dd bs=1m if=XXX.img of=/dev/diskX (where XXX.img is the path to the image file you want to write and diskX is the number you previously noted).

You may be prompted for your password at this point, as the command is being run with elevated security privileges. You won’t get any immediate feedback in Terminal when you enter this command, so if nothing happens don’t worry. Once the write process has finished Terminal will return to the prompt and you can close it down.

That’s it! Assuming all went well you’ve now got a freshly imaged device ready to go.



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Build Your Own Raspberry Pi Arcade Machine – Part 1

Build your own arcadeWalk into any arcade/amusements today and it’s likely you’ll be met with a sad sight. A painfully rigged grabber machine plays the same 10 seconds of some god awful pop song while inviting you to win knockoff Angry Birds plushies. A 2p pusher with a glued down plastic watch for a prize continues to pointlessly shove it’s shelves back and forth, and a Virtua Racer machine with a knackered seat and half broken screen tries to tempt you out of 50p. All the while an elderly lady who may or may not have passed away props up an aging fruit machine whose reels stick between symbols. Not even Wreck-It Ralph would want to live here. It didn’t used to be this way though, and I’m going to bring the glory days of the arcade back to my living room with the help of the Raspberry Pi.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be building a Raspberry Pi powered arcade emulator integrated into an arcade style controller. It’ll also be capable of emulating some retro home gaming systems (SNES, MegaDrive etc.), so by the time it’s finished we should be able to party like it’s 1989. This first version is a test bed and template for a desktop sized arcade cabinet I have planned, but I’m waiting for the awesome looking HDMIPi display I backed on KickStarter to be released before I go that far.

If like me you haven’t held a soldering iron since that “unexplained” fire at school, don’t worry, this is firmly in the beginner difficulty category. We’ll need some hardware, and for all the arcade controls I’ll be buying from the fantastic ModMyPi, a UK based company who among other things are resellers of Adafruit products. Adafruit have an excellent tutorial on their site that covers the construction of a similar setup that I used for the base of my project, but I’ll be tweaking this build by adding more buttons and pairing it with the excellent RetroPie project.  My initial shopping list is:


1x Model B Raspberry Pi

1x 8GB SD Card

1x Arcade Joystick

6x 30mm Arcade Buttons (various colours)

2x 16mm Illuminated ring switch (for Start and Insert Coin buttons. These have integrated resistors so should be nice and easy!)

1x Pack of 40 Female to Female Jumper wires

1x Pack of 3mm Female Spade connectors

1x Wireless Keyboard (wireless for convenience, but you can use any USB keyboard)

1x Soldering iron and some solder


The above linked products are just suggestions, and there are a wide variety of alternatives available. In many cases the best option is the hardware you already have, so feel free to substitute any equivalents you might have lying around. This list should see us through the project, but as this is a work in progress I’ll be sure to add anything else I come across that might be handy (or remove anything that didn’t quite work!).

In the next post I’ll cover the initial Pi setup and configuration of RetroPie, then we can move onto burning our fing- I mean, careful soldering! In the meantime I’ll leave you with an amazing arcade fact to get you motivated. In 1981, just 3 years after release, the original Space Invaders had made more than $1bn in the US. That’s well over $2bn in today’s money and each play cost just 25c…that’s a lot of quarters!




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How to choose strong passwords – and remember them!

Choose a strong passwordIt seems like everything wants a password these days. You’ve got a password for work, a password for online shopping, a password for your bank account…the list goes on and on. The number of services requiring a password makes it tempting to use the same one everywhere – but that’s a really bad idea. Using the same password across every site means that if just one of them is hacked, then the hacker has the details for everything you use.

So what’s the answer? One approach is to use a password management tool to randomly generate and store all your passwords. There are many software solutions available that will do this for you, two of the best being LastPass and Keepass. Programs like these are great, but have their drawbacks. For a start many charge for at least some of their features, and they all require you to trust your passwords to one single source. While they take all kinds of measures to secure your data, it still introduces an element of risk. The other downside is that the tools encourage you to forget your passwords. There is a school of thinking that says this is a good thing, because good passwords are too difficult to remember. But what happens when you need a password and don’t have access to your password store? Even worse, what happens if you forget the password required to access your passwords? For these reasons I still find it useful to create passwords that I can carry around in my head – but that doesn’t mean you have to resort to weak keys.

One method is to come up with a memorable base password that you can then build on and make unique for each service. Avoiding words found in the dictionary and names will help make your password harder to crack, so consider using a short phrase or perhaps the first initials of favourite song lyric or quotation. For example, if you were an Oasis fan (and who isn’t?) you could take a line from Wonderwall:

I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do

We can turn that into memorable but random looking password by using each first letter, giving you idbtaftwid. That’s a pretty good start – a ten character none dictionary password that you won’t forget!

It’s good practice to use complex passwords that use a mixed case, numbers and symbols, and in fact many sites will require it. To bring our password up to scratch lets change it slightly, but in a way that still makes sense to us. If we capitalise the I’s like we would if we were writing the original lyric, and then add the year of release to the beginning we get:


Now, I know what you’re thinking, it looks like a nightmare. It’s long and looks like gibberish. The beauty of it is though that although it looks like gibberish, it means something to you. You don’t have to remember the password as it appears – as long as you can remember that lyric you’ll be able to remember your password.

Finally, we can take our password and make it unique for every site we use it on. Let’s say we want to use it as a base for our Amazon password. Take the last three characters from the name of the service and add it into your password. Insert it at any point you want, but make it consistent across all the versions you create. For this password, I think after our year of release might be the easiest place to remember and least obvious to anyone looking at it. This gives us:


A password to be proud of! Using our new method we can quickly create a whole raft of passwords:

95ttoIdbtaftwId – Lotto

95ookIdbtaftwId – Facebook

95terIdbtaftwId – Twitter

If you use this method yourself, mix it up to make it truly individual to yourself. Try placing that meaningful number mid-way through the rest of the characters, and adding special characters like ? ! * @. As long as you’re consistent and make it meaningful, you won’t forget it.

So there we have it – with a little bit of thought you can create a password scheme that is easy for you to remember but produces terrifying looking passwords! Do you have a different system that works well for you? If so why not tell us about it in the comments below.


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