Play retro games on the desktop with Retropie.

Retro gaming has never been so popular, taking users back to memorable games they spent hours playing on their first home computers and consoles. The popularity of the Raspberry Pi has contributed by enabling users to have a complete low-cost retro gaming machine capable of emulating over 60 different machines thanks to the libretro project and theRaspberry Pi OS Retropie, but we can however also install it on a ‘normal’ Debian based system like Ubuntu and Mint with some advantages and some disadvantages.

The advantages

  • Less lagging, and configuration needed due to increased hardware capabilities available on a desktop compared to the (capable) but lower powered Raspberry Pi
  • Easy to install, just select the modules that you want and install and when finished drop the ROMs in the required folder restart and they appear.
  • Easy GUI with emulation station, Game scraping and controller configuration.

The disadvantages

  • Emulation station uses a custom version of Simple media Direct Layer (SDL), compiled from source not compatible with the system version (Upgrading it through apt can break emulation station) although fixable.
  • Some Consoles like the PlayStation 2 Emulator can’t install in Retropie due to needing x86 binaries not compatible with the custom SDL version. Although a flatpak version can be installed separately, it just won’t be accessible through emulation station.
  • Some machines like Amiga and Dosbox for example, require extra configuration

DISCLAIMER: Note there are some legal issues with copyright/piracy in obtaining roms. Nintendo has recently filed lawsuits against two rom sites for the infringing of intellectual property. Some roms though have become abandonware/freeware or have no legal owner still trading. It’s up to the user to check the legal implications on both your country and with the software owner.

So let’s install with some pre-requisites

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install -y git dialog unzip xmlstarlet

Next, let’s download the setup script,

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

And run it

cd RetroPie-Setup
sudo ./retropie_setup.sh

You will then be presented with the installer screen:

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Select the basic install and let it run, it will take some time as some of the modules have to be compiled from source and not installed as a pre-built binary.

When finished you can install extra emulators, drivers and ports of some games like Quake, Doom etc. through the Manage Packages option.

WARNING: DO NOT SELECT UNINSTALL RETROPIE – THIS WILL REMOVE MANY IMPORTANT SYSTEM FILES AND RENDER YOUR SYSTEM UNUSABLE!

When done click on the exit button, install any roms in  /home/user/RetroPie/roms/ and then open emulation station by finding the rpie icon in your application menu. Once opened it will ask you to configure a controller, the keyboard is good for first use just to get around the menu and some systems, but a gamepad is better for playing console games.

Retropie has an excellent wiki for any issues or help needed in configuring emulators although most work “out of the box”

Although there are other options for retro gaming on the Linux desktop such as the Retroarch frontend or installing emulators separately. Emulationstation is just a fantastic piece of software that makes it all easily configurable and looks amazing.

Do you have a favourite emulator to remind you of epic systems you once used or retro game you have lost hours playing? Let us know in the comments below.

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