DIY retro emulator with an RPi and classic Xbox pad
Let’s make a fully self-contained emulation machine out of old bits of kit, a spare Xbox controller and a Raspberry Pi Zero!
“If you can’t find one, you can use newer USB game pads that are designed to look like controllers for classic systems like the SNES and Mega Drive.”
The Raspberry Pi Zero is tiny, ridiculously tiny. It’s also small enough to be hidden in a variety of household objects to enhance their capabilities. Whatever you can find to fit it in, you can turn into some kind of smart machine.
Take old game controllers. If you’re anything like us you’ve probably got a couple of boxes full of old computer equipment you just can’t bear to throw away — an Atari Jaguar that hasn’t been touched since the ‘90s, a Sega Dreamcast which you’re sure you’ll plug in again one day, an old Xbox that lies languishing since you picked up something bigger and better. Turns out it actually was useful to keep them around — it’s time to bring these old systems back to life.
We’re going to show you how to gut an old videogames controller, replace its innards with a Raspberry Pi Zero, then load it up with a treasure trove of retro games. From start to finish, this project should take you under an hour to complete — and then you’ll be able to load up the ROMs you legally own on your new console and enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa.
GATHER YOUR EQUIPMENT
While the Zero doesn’t take up much space, videogame controllers are often stuffed full of delicate electronics. The trick here is to find a games controller which has enough space inside for the Zero. We’re going to be using the original Xbox controller, nicknamed The Duke. If you don’t have one to hand, they can be picked up for about $10 from most second-hand electronics shops, and they’re easily found online too.
If you can’t find one, you can use newer USB game pads that are designed to look like controllers for classic systems like the SNES and Mega Drive. Make sure you choose a controller that has enough buttons for the games you want to play — some classic fighting games, for example, really can’t be played on a two-button NES controller.
Working with electrical items and sharp objects can be dangerous. You risk damaging yourself or, worse, breaking your toys. Please ensure everything is unplugged from electrical supplies before attempting this project. As with any electronics projects, you should also take care to fully ground yourself before playing around with sensitive components — the static electricity from your body can ruin them. Anti-static wrist straps or a few taps on a radiator should do the trick.
You can mod your controller with just a few simple tools