Raspberry Pi revolutionized arcade game emulation, here's how to get started

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2016/07/24/raspberry-pi-revolutionized-ar.html

1 Like

The original Pi was pretty dicey when it came to emulation performance with it choking even on NES games, but I’m finding that the Pi 3 with RetroPie is pretty great.


I keep saying I want to make a MAME cabinet.


IPS for emulation? But what about the scanlines and fuzziness? Gotta say, for some of those retro graphics, they look a lot better with a bit of both, there!

ETA: ofc there are hardware solutions for adding scanlines and fuzz to any IPS or other modern screen! Possibly also software solutions, but that, I haven’t heard about…


There are basically two approaches to the Display Problem with 80s emulation.

  1. Accept that displays back then were all just fucking garbage and stop worrying about perfectly emulating garbage. A cheapo IPS display is fine.

  2. Do the whole standard raster CRT thing, because if you’re going to bother you may as well do it right.

The implicit (3) - “Get a really nice 10-bit 4k monitor that can really nail those fuzzy scanlines and CRT abberations and distortions” – really means you gotta stuff your cabinet with a serious video card. Which means a slice of Pi is not your meal, brother.


Sure, the screens were garbage, no doubt about it. Now we’re headed into subjective territory, but it does seem like graphics were adapted to the displays in a lot of cases - and I have to say, in many cases, I think it looks better with a bit of fuzz and a hint of scanlines. In the example below we’re looking mainly at what fuzz/color bleed does, but I think it speaks volumes:

Another example, in this case looking scanlines:

When I saw emulated games with and without “fuzz” and scanlines, something just clicked in my head - these limitations of the display tech are integral to the look of the graphics to me. Without it, something looks subtly off.

And ofc YMMV. No accounting for taste.


Here’s an even more extreme example. I have to say it makes me think there may be a middle road to the amount of “fuzz” needed… (and never mind the stupid dig at indie devs in the picture)


A regular Pi 3 can do a bang up job on simulating CRT though. Not like Donkey Kong requires much grunt!

Video is ostensibly about the bezel overlays (which look amazing by the way, you can use that 1080p monitor for great hi res side art on vertical games) but it also shows pretty good CRT emulation in tandem with that.

Also IPS is not “cheapo”, TN is “cheapo”. As a wise man once said, “every pixel on a TN display is a bad pixel”. You will get in arguments about 120hz refresh rate, though, which unless you are An Exxtreme Gamer, I don’t think this matters at all.

Here’s a good video for Streets of Rage showing off the various CRT simulation shaders. They look solid.

Actual Nintendo with hq3x and hq4x modded into it. The relevant emulators can use this too.


Waitaminute I just saw this, and wow. I gotta work on my public image.

or do I


Start with ditching that communist garbage…

I say again, sacrilege. To do this properly, you need a 4:3 monitor. Used 20" ips Dells are available for less tnan $100 on ebay. You can go as high as 21" if you’re willing to shell out close to a grand. Bigger than that, sadly, has never existed as far as I can tell, but guess what? Most of the original cabinets back in the day were smaller than 20", so you’re ahead of the game already.

I’m certain that it’s true of arcade games where the hardware was standard, but I always felt the “what retro games actually looked like” thing was a dubious argument, for consoles, when it comes to developer intent in the 80s. Wouldn’t they have been working on decent sets that don’t do that?

The resolution illusion and dimming of scanlines, sure. And essential institutional knowledge such as non-square pixels. But stuff specific to composite-signals-on-a-cheap-NTSC-set, like blooming and aberrations and fringing and so on?

That sort of conscious targeting of low-quality consumer devices is a ‘mastering’ practice and is done for pop music, though. Was it done for game development in the 80s?


Built this about a year ago with a Model B. (Can’t seem to find any pics with the side art on) The inside wiring is a bit of a mess and I made some errors in the file I sent out to be laser cut. I’m happy enough with it but wouldn’t mind building a scaled down Ms. Pac-Man cocktail cabinet.


Well, one thing is for certain: nobody worked with IPS screens the like of which we have now. I think what they worked with was closer to fuzzlink above, rather than sharplink, and sometimes, like the sonic example, the graphics clearly make more sense with fuzz.

But certainly there would not be any exact and unified set of hardware for home consoles. Still, I would imagine the difference between the devs nicest setup and the consumers worst setup pales in comparison to the difference between either, and a current-day top-notch IPS.

I mean, dang. Sharplink looks so blocky. Fuzzlink… it’s like whoa, this is what it looked like. More or less :wink:




I’m not disagreeing with what you said in general, but it did depend on what cables were being used.

A SNES using an RF cable would look very different to one using RGB SCART.


Hey, you could run for President!


I’m useless with my hands unless it involves a kitchen, but I want to make one of these

1 Like

Do it! The Pi 3 is a fun, fun little box. Flash the RetroPie image to your SD card, insert it, power up… and it is truly just that damn easy!


While I am here on a boingboing, a mostly tech blog, I’m not that much of a tech person myself. While I understand most of what you said, I don’t understand all. Though I did suggest doing it a joint project with my husband, who is fairly good at that sort of thing.