I have been thinking about collecting old gaming consoles and games but to my amazement they cost a arm and a leg these days. Then you have to factor in the cost of additional hardware since most old consoles use Composite and look better on a CRT then a flat screen. Granted I am a gamer but not that hardcore.
If you love playing the classics and don’t mind the full nostalgia of what the game is played on then Emulation is your friend.
In the past I have tried building a dedicated retro console PC but end up getting fed up with getting everything working correctly. Most of the time it’s due to getting a joystick or game pad mapped correctly for different emulators.
Yesterday since I didn’t have anything else better to do I looked into getting a dedicated system to play some old school Mario on the big screen in the living room. I came across a Linux distribution called Lakka. It looked promising and even feels like a modern console. The distro is compatible with the usual single board computers and even has a generic build for x86 PCs. Since I had a old PC that the kids use to use and a old nVidia GeForce GT 220 I went for it. The whole install takes about a few hundred megabytes of space and after adding the eye candy of box art thumbnails it takes up about 500MB total. When I was installing it I enabled SSH and good thing I did. For the life of me I couldn’t get a command line to edit some configuration to make the WiFi connect to my LAN. so a SSH session was needed. Now if this was a Raspberry Pi it would of worked out of the box. Anyway, after getting it working on the network via WiFi I was able to upload games to it via a Samba share. For the system to see the games you just run the “Scan directory” option and it will find it. However there are drawbacks, but are easy to overcome.
Not all games will show up on the list after scanning. Reason being it does a CRC check and uses a database to verify. However you can still manually load the ROM. Also if you want to use your XBox 360 controller then you’ll need the Wireless adapter or a corded controller. The charge/play cable for a wireless Control will not work. A PS3 controller will work but the host needs Bluetooth. I myself have a 3rd party XBox360 corded controller. I’m planning to wire up a ring of light board that I pulled from a broken 360, it has a Bluetooth radio for the controller and it’s all USB except the voltage is 3.3v instead of 5v. One or two diodes can take care of the voltage drop. Another slight buzz kill is with CD based consoles you have to rip the CD into a image format Bin+Cue then upload it to the host.
My build is a bit of a overkill but I can play anything from a Atari 2600 to a Sony Playstation. I don’t know how well a single board system can handle but I bet a N64 would be as far as you can go. Probably not even that since I remember trying to emulate a N64 with a AMD K6+2 @ 500MHz and a Voodoo 5 5500 and got terrible results. So if you give it a shot then let me know.