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!

APC Australia - - Contents -

“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.


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

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