Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Further Adventures of my Raspberry Pi

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the new Raspberry Pi I bought on a whim and a prayer. Well last Friday I took the day off from work so I could sit down put it together and play with the thing for a while. I mean I didn't take the day off just to play with the Pi, I took the day off because I'd been at work for 11 straight days and I needed a break. It just so happens that I had nothing to do that day other than pick up cookies at the store and play with tiny computers.

Here's what happened, more or less.

Sorry about the poor quality of all these pictures. My camera phone has a scratch on the lens and my basement has horrible lighting. This is the Pi nestled into the case I bought for it. There weren't any screws or anything, it took all of 2 minutes to get it lined up and stick the heatsink on the processor. You're looking at the side with the Power Jack, HDMI out and 1/8th inch jack for RCA outs. The side you can't see on the top left has 4 USB outs and a standard 10/100 network connector.

Three hours of dinking around later here's what it looks like with RetroPie installed. Two big issues tripped me up getting it started. The pre-installed OS the pie came with doesn't include RetroPie the emulation software I wanted to run. The Pi runs it's OS from a microsd card, and my desktop doesn't have anyway to read/write to one even with the micro to standard sd card adapter I have. That meant a bit of swapping files around on a USB stick with my laptop, not a huge deal just time consuming. Then I realized I didn't have a USB keyboard lying around the house, every keyboard I have is a mechanical keyboard with an old PS2 adapter. But wait! My parents gave me their old computer, it's in the garage somewhere... So after an hour of going through the garage and my crawlspace I finally found a wireless USB keyboard my parents gave me. Worked like a champ. So after all that the Pi booted to RetroPie, time to get cookies.

Back home and full of chocolate creme stuffed Tuxedos, I get to work installing my snes knock off controllers and downloading some ROMs (games). Both were a giant pain in the ass. The Raspberry Pi by default boots to a command prompt and guess who doesn't know anything about linux commands? This guy. The RetroPie software I installed changes that and boots the Pi directly to the Emulation Station but to configure the controllers you have to get back to the command prompt and do a bunch of typing. Could I do it now in like 5 minutes? Sure, but when first confronted with it I was super confused. Also loading ROMs on the Pi wasn't the easiest thing in the world. Finding and downloading them was easy but for whatever reason even when I plugged the Pie into my router Windows7 wouldn't recognize it on the network. I tried the things people suggested and gave up after about 20 minutes of tinkering around. I figured I would just copy everything via USB drive again. Oh man was that a nightmare. As it turns out Rasbian (the GUI OS you can load from the command prompt) wouldn't recognize my thumb drive unless it started with the drive already plugged in. Man windows plug and play has spoiled me. Once I figured that out it was easy enough to transfer all my newly downloaded ROMs onto the Pi.

The first game I booted up was Toe Jam and Earl.

I eventually got Windows7 to recognize the Pi on the network. It involved ssh settings and IP addresses. Again, something I could do in 5 minutes now but it took at least an hour to figure out the hard way. Moving files over to the Pi is now a snap. The picture you see above is my son playing Final Fight. So far we've tried about a dozen retro games and his favorites are the side scrolling brawlers like Final Fight, TMNT, Captain America and the Avengers, etc. We've tried some Mario games but he's 5 and gets frustrated with the timing aspects of those games pretty quickly. Sonic was a big hit.

All in all the RetroPie project was a big success. The one thing I was never able to figure out is a way to map some higher-function controls to the USB controllers I have. This means that to exit a game or turn of the Pi you have to use a keyboard. The wireless one my parents gave me is a pretty good option but it's a desktop keyboard, it's huge. I'm thinking at picking up a smaller one, maybe with a built in touchpad, on amazon.

Finding ROMs hasn't been that difficult. I found practically every NES, SNES and Genesis game I could ever want. I haven't had much luck finding Commodore64 or TurboGrafx-16 games yet and the few AppleII games I found didn't load right. Still, when you consider how expensive Retro Gaming has gotten over the last couple years even if I just stick with those 3 systems the RetroPie easily pays for itself.


James W Hooper said...

I use a Pi to run my animated lights. It's surprising all of the things you can do with them.



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