Necessity is the Mother of Invention

May 2, 2017 The TNS Group

It’s been a while Interwebs… a while since we’ve been able to break bread, get together, just talk (heard in my head a la Linda Richman from Coffee Talk on SNL).  I was reminded that I needed to write my blog, and was thinking of topics to emote and espouse on, but I fell short.  You see, I have been bitten by the bug –  the retro-gaming bug.  While it may not be bleeding edge and 4D (I hear you can now get messy like a Gallagher show watching the new King Kong), it is near and dear to my heart.  Allow me to digress…

Call of Duty you say? Halo? Tom Clancy? Pfft…. As for the new Zelda, I’d be happier if it remained the 8-bit prototype and the controller still only had two buttons.  I guess it’s that little kid part of me that yearns for the days of yesteryear where the side-scroller was king, blood was heavily pixelated, and Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-B-A-Start was a code worth remembering,

So you could imagine how excited I was about the NES Classic that came out last Christmas right? Wrong.

The NES Classic was met with a ton of fanfare.  It was also met with consumers gobbling up available units, price gouging, and lots of tiny tears when Santa didn’t leave a NES Classic under the tree (or whoever leaves presents for your Yule-time enjoyment).  A friend of mine reported that his dad got him a Classic, to which he found said parent having hijacked his console, playing Zelda every morning for a month, effectively killing his holiday fun times.  I took to the Internet to hopefully quell my fears that I would never get a Classic and boy, what a discovery.

I wanted to play Super Dodge Ball for the NES, but what I found allowed me to play ALL THE THINGS through console emulation (I’ll get to that in a few).  A small disclaimer should be added that you must be in physical possession of the game cartridges in order to legally emulate said games.  It’s a good thing that I still have that retro Japanese import for Super Mario 3.  Drum roll please… introducing Retropie!  It’s an Operating System (OS) that has the best of all worlds for console emulation.  RetroArch and Emulation Station are companion applications that layer on the OS for customization and configuration possibilities that are seemingly endless… Splash Screens and Snap Wheels and Box Art, oh my!

So, what does emulation do (I told you I’d get to it)?  It’s a lot like virtualization in the server world.  One piece of hardware (or two or more if you have a clustered environment) can run many virtualized servers by utilizing a pool of processing power, otherwise known as ‘compute,’ and storage to allow multiple machines to run on one box.  The same can be said for game console emulation.  One piece of hardware (in my case a Raspberry Pi 3) can run a ton of consoles, emulating them virtually, from Intellivision to PlayStation. 

You can also run emulators on a PC or a Mac.  Retropie is written for the Raspberry Pi, and the Pi is just downright adorable to boot.  Do you know the best part?  It costs around $80 all in for a Pi, memory card, and power supply (minus the cartridges you must legally own, mind you).  The Retropie/Retro-gaming community is strong whether it be Facebook, Reddit, or Retropie itself, 3D printed cases to give you that classic console look you’ve been dreaming of.  There are also a ton of manufacturers that provide retro controllers such as this one from 8bitdo.  The even more adventurous retro-gamers have started constructing ‘bar-top’ arcades or even gutting broken arcade cabinets to make their own sweet systems.

In summation, although Retropie has been around for a few years, it wasn’t until the NES Classic was being price gouged out of the market that people started seeking an alternative.  The good news is that Raspberry Pi + Retropie = NES Classic killer.  Sometimes it’s not about ‘unplugging’, but rather plugging into something fun like retro-gaming.  Let us know what games you like by leaving a comment.

By Matt Schenkman, Client Services, The TNS Group

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