Hacks, Hardware & Emulation, Oh My

I’ve been interested for some time in finding a way into emulation of old games, but to be honest I’m pretty clueless and a bit intimidated by the prospect. I picked up the SNES classic at some point and love playing old games with an old style controller on a television with an hdmi port but like many am pretty disappointed in the limitations of the library. I’ve had friends talk about building a raspberry pi and snagging one of those 8bitdo wireless controllers to go with it - and that’s all well and good - but how? As someone with very limited experience in building computers, coding, etc, is it possible to find a relatively easy entry point into getting something that can:

(1) Play games from a variety of systems and generations
(2) play games on a modern television
(3) be used with a modern recreation controller
(4) not require a 4-year degree in computer science to make and use

Thanks for any help! I would be interested in hearing about any ideas from a variety of budgets. I'm in a budget range of being perfectly comfortable dropping low three figures, but not interested in spending the kind of dough it would take to just build a custom gaming pc. Thanks everyone!!


Yeah just google around for some an emulator of the system you want, that'll be the easy part. And then you'll need to find a ROM source. If you're just doing Genisis or SNES or something it should be pretty simple and not require any kind of special hardware. Basic no frills stuff should be able to run on any modern computer, and shouldn't cost you anything to get going.

Though obviously there are more involved projects you can get into, like building a dedicated device. I think there has been a thread about something like that here before.

I wish I could be of more help/more specific, but I havnt fooled around much with emulation over the last decade so a lot of my knowledge is out of date.

This thread by @copySave was the one I was thinking about. This project might be up your alley.


Honestly the easiest way to do it if you‘re looking for a dedicated thing and not just software for your PC is to get a premade raspberry pi sd card image and burn it to an SD card. I don’t want to link anything because most of these are going to include roms, but you can look up “raspberry pi sd card image gaming” or similar and get a lot of decent results. You can probably get something decent going for around 60 bucks.

There's also inexpensive handheld options that are pretty good these days. These generally come in MIPS linux (similar to the Dingoo or GCW Zero) and ARM linux (similar to the raspberry pi) flavors for the most part. Android options are out there but they suck. A really solid resource for those is [Retro Game Corps](https://retrogamecorps.com/). He's mostly focused on the RG350, RG351, and RP2, but those are the ones that most people find to be the best anyway. These run around a hundred.

If you've got a PC or laptop sitting around you could always just do retroarch too. Lot of good tutorials out there for that.

I got into emulation way back in the early 2000s, back when that meant downloading an emulator and some ROMs (maybe a patching program if the soft-patching feature wasn‘t working properly) and having at it, and while I can’t be of much help beyond that (front-ends and emulation-specific systems are all the rage nowadays, and I have absolutely no experience with them), I‘d still recommend that. There are also some resources out there specifically to help people get into emulation or configure their emulator of choice, but obviously I can’t link to those, so I'll these additional points relatively broad:

  • - The more recent or the more esoteric the system you‘re trying to emulate (PC EMULATION ESPECIALLY), the higher the chance things will get complicated fast. That’s not always going to be the case - the Dreamcast and PSP emulators I‘m using work well out of the box - but you’re definitely gonna need to download and fiddle around with BIOSes and plug-ins in ways you generally don't have to with the (S)NES. This can result in games looking, sounding, and even running different from how they might on console. By contrast, the older or more popular the system, the wider your range of options becomes (except for the Genesis, strangely enough; Kega Fusion is still the standard), but this also carries some important risks, as older emulators can be less secure and maybe not as accurate and robust as newer, more regularly updated emulators.
  • - If you want to play the games on your TV, then a Raspberry Pi is probably your best shot, followed closely by a modded Wii. Those are both very technical subjects, though, so I'd recommend Googling around if you do decide to go down this route. Want to play on your computer? Usually, that's as easy as plugging in a controller and setting up the controls in the settings, which isn't that hard a task considering you've probably already gone through the configuration process to reach this point. Sometimes the controls even come pre-configured!
  • - Some emulators you have to install as programs on your computer, as opposed to unzipping the files wherever you want. There's not much you can do about it, but it's not really _that_ big an issue.
  • @Syzygy#10581 I do have a wii just sitting in a bucket somewhere. Doesn’t everyone?

    @Syzygy#10581 I was thinking specifically of the Priiloader/BootMii aspects, which a lot homebrew assumes and which holds a lot of potential to go wrong because of the low level it's operating at.

    Even if I did somehow accidentally brick the Wii, it was just taking up space anyway. This sounds like a more fun way to recycle a Wii than… literally recycling one.

    @Syzygy#10585 Oh yeah, I spent like the last 10 years hacking every Wii I could get my hands on. I just found one in a bag outside the vintage shop last week, took it home, hacked it, and its set up as my Final Burn Alpha machine on my CRTs. But yes, just follow the instructions. There's also not much that you can do wrong, so if you get stuck just take a breather and start the process again. The hardest part is connecting your Wii to the internet as the wifi signal is weak and the protocol is ancient.

    @Video_Game_King#10587 I feel like nowadays I just run the auto Priiloader installer package and then maybe go in there once on a fresh boot to just click over the region free stuff. Having to hit reset when you power on has made sure none of the people I have gifted Wii's to have mucked about in those settings.

    I did the Raspberry Pi thing a few years ago. I never get it out anymore just because i found it's generally a hassle to add games to and configure. if you feel your time for playing games is in any way limited it can feel like a big waste to spend some of that time just setting stuff up. Not sure what your background is but even interacting with it meant learning something about…I think Linux? which was a new skillset for me. Could be different now.

    This was a good thread from a while back where a ways down some people were describing their emulation setups. Some were really tempting


    I would definitely look into the MiSTer project. It seems to fit quite nicely into your budget, there are plenty of pre-made kits around the minimize the technical knowledge required, it works with a huge variety of controllers and plays a long list of systems to a very high standard.

    I like the topic, as I would also like to get into emulation and see some of the older games in a new lens these days. I am currently quite partial to some handheld gems (I miss my old GBA SP every day) and came across this project. Though it is not an emulator, it does allow for the utilisation of old cartridges which I thought was a cool idea. It appears to be out of stock for now, but it could be something worth looking into.

    Other than that, I would love to hear of any other handheld emulating projects (an 'all-in-one' type of project perhaps) that you have all seen.

    The lowest investment for the most return that does all the stuff you mentioned sounds like Retroarch to me!

    Retroarch does cover quite a bit, but it does take a bit of time to setup, and even then I find it kinda clunky.

    If you want one piece of software that emulates several systems, I'd recommend [byuu](https://byuu.org/higan/)'s ares emulator:

    It's no longer being supported, but it can emulate most of the 8-16 bit systems you would want to with limited need to configure anything.


    @siebold_magnolia#10622 Other than that, I would love to hear of any other handheld emulating projects (an ‘all-in-one’ type of project perhaps) that you have all seen.

    I am constantly yelling about the RG350M and for good reason, it's by far the nicest handheld I have ever used (first party ones included), it's about a hundred bucks, and it runs basically everything up to 4th gen and then also Playstation. It's got a fully metal case design that comes in a couple of different colors, extremely nice buttons and d-pad, two clickable analog sticks, and a 4:3 480p IPS display.

    Doesn't do N64 but there's a port of Mario 64 (I also ported over some analog camera stuff from the PC version). Lot of native ports actually. VVVVVV, Cave Story, Quake, Doom, OpenXcom (I did that one), etc.

    @donrumata#10669 and best of all, it comes in pink!

    I remember having a 25mhz mac in 95 and wishing I could play the snes emulator, but alas it was too weak. gameboy played fine but I was too foolish to appreciate the library I had at my fingers.

    I remember playing kof96 in 1996 on my home pc, a 333mhz celeron.


    This does look pretty sweet, one of those ideal solutions to what I was thinking, even without N64 support, I was not even expecting to get Playstation out of something like this. Checking out some of the videos in the recommended from @Syzygy 's post a few posts back. Looking at some comparisons of the RG350M vs RG351P - any opinions here on the differences?

    Wow these RG handhelds look really nice! A quick noobish question. I'm seeing them for sale on Amazon and places and they say they come preloaded with games. Are they preloaded with all the stuff you might want to play, or does it require going on and installing your own emulators and such? And if you choose to do so, is it relatively easy or does it take a bit of technical know-how?

    @tapevulture#10609 I adore the pi, but agree that adding games is a weirdly big hassle. I have one loaded up with a huge number of brawlers/beatemups/co-op titles, so it still sees a lot of use at parties and the like (or did before the pandemic, at least), but I never use it for personal play anymore.

    I may have said this up above, but for casual stuff, retroarch on a smartphone is great. Terrible for action games, but lovely for rpgs. It is fascinating how unintuitive it is to set up - it does a ton and does it rather smoothly once you sort it out, but you sure have to struggle through the start.