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DIY microconsole


EricBall

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Ingredients:
Bought: Raspberry Pi Zero W, Pro: cheap at C$13.50 (+tax & shipping, case C$6), tiny (65mmx30mm), low power (powered via USB on TV), WiFi & Bluetooth (for controllers). Con: can only handle 8 bit & 16 bit gen consoles, miniature connectors require special cables (C$6)
On-Hand: 4GB micro-SD card, HDMI cable (dollar store), micro USB cable (for power), PS3 controller
For initial set up: PC (downloads etc), USB keyboard (to set WiFi passphrase), mini USB cable (for PS3 controller pairing),

I decided to use Lakka. The other popular option is RetroPie. However, both use RetroArch / libretro for the actual emulation (which is also used by a lot of other current non-PC emulator suites). Lakka is done by the same people as RetroArch and seems to have a minimalist ethos; which I tend to prefer. RetroPie can do more than just RetroArch, but I've read that makes configuraton more complex.

Getting the system up and running was a little rocky because the battery on the PS3 controller was dead - which made me think it wasn't connecting via Bluetooth. Before I realized that I charged up my son's 8bitdo NES30 Pro controller and got it connected - although that required SSH-ing into the box.

Then it was a simple matter of loading up some Vectrex ROMs (which are usable legally), clicking "Scan" and then playing some rasterized vector games.

The scanning process uses the No-Intro ROM database and automatically determines which console each ROM is for then puts them into a single list by platform. While uber-simple it does cause some issues, IMHO. The No-Intro database limits itself to perfect images of the commercial releases. So while this does exclude the huge number of hacked ROM images which other ROM sets include, it also excludes homebrews. It may also cause frustration if the easiest to find ROMs for a game aren't in the database. It also lacks any kind of organization - a must when several consoles have over a thousand titles.

I started by hauling out my external backup drive and started to search for the ROMs I snarfed from USENET 25 years ago. I then took the original yencoded messages, dumped them in almost 100 separate directories (to avoid possible name collison) and extracted the files. After clean-up, I had some 6000 archives with over 9000 files. Fortunately, I was able to use clrmamepro to load up the No-Intro database and use the Rebuild function to scan through those archives for any matching ROMs and re-archive them to files usable in Lakka. (Unfortunately this requires about an hour per platform.)

Of course that still leaves me with several thousand ROMs (although I'm missing some notables as my collection is mostly pre-1993). My solution is to use Wikipedia's lists of best selling video games to pull out the most popular titles and do some additional pruning by language and to remove duplicates.

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Other quirks:

  1. 1. Some settings require a clean shutdown to save and/or take effect.
  2. 2. Lakka uses circle for OK and cross for cancel - there's a option in Settings to reverse this.
  3. 3. The default core for SNES is snes9x-2002, which might be better for performance, but is bad for compatibility (graphics glitches with Super Mario RPG, controls don't work with Donkey Kong Country), changing to snes9x-2010 resolves them.
  4. 4. I'm still trying to get bluemsx working. A kind soul provided the files which bluemsx reuqires so I now have MSX & MSX2 working. I need to do some testing then update the Lakka wiki with a better how-to.
  5. Colecovision ROMs aren't being recognized.
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I've been really considering going this route for a portable system that works with a PS3 controller and can run 8 and 16 bit systems. When using bluetooth are you limited to only one controller? My main reason for making a portable system is to be able to use it for 2 player games when I visit friends. I've read up on Pi systems quite a bit, but I've gotten mixed reviews. Some people think it's underpowered and that a laptop or small PC is better. I'd be interested in knowing what your thoughts are.

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Two controllers work fine. My son and I played some 2 player Joust and Super Mario Kart (slow).

 

As for it being underpowered, it really depends upon your expectations. Will it play a lot of games from the 8 & 16 bit generations - YES. Will it play every game perfectly - NO.

 

Also, while Lakka tries to be easy to use, there are areas where it's not there yet. So expect to have to do some forum/doc/Google research and stuff from the command line.

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