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Retro-gaming... nah.

23 Nov 2023

For the past few days I've been playing with retro-gaming.

What is retro-gaming?

Well it's all about rediscovering those computer games from decades ago and enjoying their simplicity and charm.

Well that's the theory but my experience wasn't so much fun.

It seems, at last for me, that nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

I've contemplated creating a retro-gaming setup for quite some time and figured it would be great fun to enjoy some of those old classics again.

I recall clocking Duke Nukem with my four year old daughter sat on my knee way back, probably in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Duke Nukem, Captain Comic and a bunch of other similar titles were all the rage and that's before we were blown away by the amazing Castle Wolfenstein and it's 3D awesomeness.

The prospect of downloading a universal emulator such as RetroPie for the Raspberry Pi then wasting a few hours reliving my younger years was very enticing so I set about doing just that.

The RetroPie sofware was simple enough to set up. Download the SD card image, write it to a 16GB card, whack it in the Pi and apply power.

The tricky bit was when, part way through the automatic configuration, the software told me there was no game controller connected (true) and asked me to assign a bunch of functions to the keyboard. Oh no... what a nightmare, how would remember which button did what?

After several attempts at coming up with a half-sensible way to map the D-Pad, analog sticks, switches and buttons of a contemporary game controller to a standard PC keyboard I gave up and decided I should just buy a controller instead.

Fortunately for me, The Warehouse is having a pretty good sale on game controllers so I walked the 5Km round-trip to pick up the cheapest unit I could. I shelled out $15 for a wired PS3 controller clone and plugged it in.

"1 Game Controller Detected"

Woohoo... pretty soon I'd be blasting away in an old-school retro-game!

Um... err.. well.. no.

It seems that the cheap PowerPlay PS3 controller was being identified by RetroPie as an XBox360 controller and the wrong driver was being loaded so none of the buttons, switches or sticks produced any results at all.

After half a day spent watching YouTube videos and trawling forums across the Web I discovered that this is a known issue and there doesn't seem to be any easy way around it.

Another 5Km round trip walk and I returned home with a geniune XBox One controller (at a very healthy discount thanks to the current sale). Even better, this was wireless and seemed to be the bee's knees, according to the online comments.

Several hours later...

I gave up on getting the wireless connectivity to work. It would pair -- just for a moment and then the Raspberry Pi would tell me that the connection was interrupted by other BlueTooth activity. WTF?

Again, a bit of forum-trawling and I found that this was yet another common issue.

Get out the USB cable then.

Initially, even this hardwired connection failed to produce any results until, after many attempts, I discovered that you have to plug in the controller at *exactly* the right point in the RetroPie boot sequence. Too soon or too late and nothing would work but finally I did it just right and managed to configure the controller settings.

This "simple" task was turning out to be a damned sight harder than I'd envisioned and I'd already walked 10Km to get to the point where I was finally ready to find and play some games.

There are a couple of old favourites included in the RetroPie distro. These are the original Duke Nukem 3D and Doom.

More frustration was about to descend though.

For some reason, Duke Nukem 3D was unusable with the XBox controller. Moving the right joystick up and down caused the character to turn left and right. Even slightly touching the left joystick caused the character to have an apoplectic fit and gyrate wildly.

Come on... I spent $60 on a controller for this?

Doom was even worse... the controller simply did nothing and I was forced to use the keyboard. On reflection that's probably not a bad thing -- because we had no controllers "back in the day" anyway. However, I could never have gotten to this point without having a controller to finish the configuration in the first place so "hmmmm".

I guess that if I want to continue down this path I'll now have to seek out, download and instal a bunch of ripped ROMs and catridges. Even when I do, I'm wondering if the controller will be of any use and, to be honest, I'm really not that impressed with the results of the RetroPie setup. The games aren't even full-screen, they're just a smaller area with large black borders.

And, after 5 minutes playing Doom I came to the conclusion that perhaps these games are already in the best place they could ever be... the past.

Ah well.. what's next?

Carpe Diem folks!

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