#Test of Recalbox on Raspberry Pi, create its Retro Gaming console with media center Kodi

The Raspberry Pi 3 (or the Raspberry Pi Zero) is an ideal platform for Retro Gaming. This is probably the project that has contributed the most to the success of the Raspberry Pi. This article is the first of a small series that will be devoted to retrogaming. In this first article, I propose to install the distribution developed and maintained by the French team of Recalbox. This is probably the most complete and easy-to-use distribution. A lot of integration work was done by the team. In the next tutorials, we will test other Mini PCs, the Raspberry Pi Zero and the Orange Pi. We will also test the English distribution Retropie. We will also test hardware to turn your Raspberry Pi into a real 80s arcade: D

Recalbox, what is it?

If you discover the project, Recalbox is a Linux distribution dedicated to retro-gaming. The project is supported by a French team. It is an asset if you do not master the language of Sheskspare. There are many videos and tutorials in addition to the very complete Wiki available here. The Recalbox team wanted to create the most complete distribution possible. In addition to integrating most console emulators, the distribution integrates the Kodi media center. Connected to your TV, your Raspberry Pi will serve both to play that look at your photos, videos stored on a NAS and why not watch your Netflix series (we’ll see soon how!)

The distribution supports all Raspberry Pi models including the latest Raspberry Pi Zero (great for making a portable console: D). Models C1, C2 and XU4 of Odroid Mini PCs are supported. Finally, there is a distribution for PC x86 (32-bit and 64-bit). The list of consoles is impressive. The complete list is updated here on the WiKi.

Advance Mame, Amiga 1200, Amiga 600, Amstrad cpc, Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari ST, CaveStory, Commodore 64, Dreamcast, FDS (Family Disk System), Final Burn Alpha, Game & Watch, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Lutro, Lynx, Mame, Master System, Megadrive, Moonlight, MSX 1-2-2+, MSX1, MSX2+, Neo Geo, Neo Geo Pocket B&W, Neo Geo Pocket Color, NES, Nintendo 64, Odyssey 2, Dos, PC Engine, PC Engine CD, Playstation, Playstation portable, PR Boom, Scumm VM, Sega 32 X, Sega CD, Sega SG 1000, Super Nintendo, Supergrafx, Vectrex, Virtual Boy, Wii, Wonderswan B&W, Wonderswan Color, ZX Spectrum, ZX81

Depending on the power of the (Mini) PC, you can emulate the consoles of last generation. For the Raspberry Pi 3 on which I propose to install Recalbox, some consoles are not supported by lack of power (or emulator unavailability at the moment): Amiga 600 and 1200, Dreamcast, GameCube, Wii and some slow for some games on the Nintendo 64.

What’s new in version 17.12.02 of Recalbox (according to 4.1)

Recalbox changed the version numbering. Since the transition to version 4.1 which introduces (among other things) the Bluetooth support of the Raspberry Pi 3 (and PiZero W that I still have to test), the versions are numbered according to the compilation day. Here we will install version 17.12.02 (of December 2, 2017). Version 17.xx.xx brings a lot of novelties of which here is a quick overview (the complete detail is here):

  • Starting from an external hard disk for x86 PCs (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • Update of retroach v1.6.9, ScummVM, DosBox r4063
  • New controller support: Nintendo Wii U and Switch Pro, 8bitdo FC30 Arcade (BT and USB), Wireless Thrustmaster T Mini
  • On RPI, Kodi starts in the default resolution
  • Integrates the Hyperion project into RPI to create immersive LED lighting. A demo video made by the team of Recalbox and all the explanations for the editing are here.

From the Recalbox homepage, follow the link to the archives

Choose the image that corresponds to your platform

Install Recalbox on an SD card

Then use the Etcher software (shown here) to install the distribution on an SD card (8GB will suffice). Etcher is available for Windows, macOS and Linux. With Etcher, you have nothing more to do, just indicate the compressed xz format image and insert the SD card into the drive. It is automatically detected. Start the copy. At the end of the copy, Etcher automatically ejects the card. Everything is ready !

Necessary material

Recalbox does not need specific hardware to work. By storing the ROMs on an external hard drive (recommended in case of SD card crash), an 8GB SD card will be sufficient. As usual, a fast SD card (Class 10 or UHS3) is more than recommended for smooth and fast operation. Now that Recalbox supports WiFi and Bluetooth from the Raspberry Pi 3, it’s no longer necessary to buy a USB dongle. To stay in the spirit of Retro Gaming, you can install the Raspberry Pi in a reproduction of the box of the Super NES!

First start, keyboard shortcuts

Recalbox is ready to go as soon as it is launched. There is absolutely nothing to do. Simply insert the SD card into the player, connect the Raspberry Pi to a TV or monitor using an HDMI cable and turn on its power. We arrive directly on the home screen.

Recalbox has been designed for exclusive use with a controller. Although the USB keyboard is supported, there are only a few active keys! It’s a little confusing and I have to get a little bit of something to find my marks (before installing a Bluetooth controller). So here are the keys of the keyboard

  • Enter: open / close the main menu
  • Right / left arrows to scroll through the consoles
  • Up / down arrows to move through the menus
  • Q to validate, enter a menu, launch a game (beware, if the keyboard is qwerty, the Q is on the key A)
  • S, backspace
  • Space to restart or shut down the console

Note, the numeric keypad is not supported. No need to try to activate it!

Keyboard mapping to play

There is no mapping (official) to play with a keyboard. Recalbox was thought to be used with a joystick. If you just want to test the distribution without investing in hardware (or waiting for it ;-)) here are some keys that work on the pre-installed games (and a priori for all others)

  • Return to start (Run) or pause the game
  • Arrows (up, down, right, left)
  • W or X to fire
  • ESC to leave the game

Set up a USB or Bluetooth controller

The first thing to do is to install a joystick. The USB controllers are automatically detected. To test the distribution, I bought a Bluetooth 8BitDo controller on Amazon. All compatible controllers are listed here.

WiFi configuration and security

To easily add game ROMs or update the distribution, it is best to temporarily connect the console to the WiFi network. You will also need to connect the console to WiFi to watch videos on Youtube or from a NAS from the Kodi media center.

With a joystick

Press Start and scroll down to the Network Settings option. Select to enter the menu. Go down on the WiFi SSID line then Select (B). Use the arrows on the controller to move around the virtual keyboard. To switch to upper case, use the Y button or hold B by selecting the letter on the keyboard. The keyboard must be lowercase to access the numbers. In the event of an error, the Left button deletes the last character. Confirm with OK and then B. Do the same for the network password.

Finally go back to the Enable WiFi option and then B to activate WiFi. The console connects immediately to WiFi. Close and open the menu again to obtain its IP address on the local network.

With a keyboard

Press the Enter key and scroll down to the Network Settings option with the arrows. Q to enter the submenu. Go down on the WiFi SSID line and then Q. Use the arrows to move on the virtual keyboard. To switch to uppercase, press the SHIFT key and activate capitalization with Q. The key turns green. The keyboard must be lowercase to access the numbers. If you make a mistake, move the cursor to the DELETE button and confirm with Q to delete the last character. Confirm with OK and then Q. Do the same for the network password. Return to the previous menu with the S key.

Finally go back to the option Enable WiFi and Q to activate WiFi. The console connects immediately to WiFi. Close and open the menu again to obtain its IP address on the local network.

Once the WiFi connection is established, the Recalbox console is visible on your local network. You can easily connect to install new ROMs, change the settings from the web interface, install new games, make screenshots … We’ll see how.

Security note. Recalbox is not an example in this area. The development team does not hide it and even recommends disconnecting the console from the network as soon as you no longer need the internet connection.

Access the administration interface from an internet browser

Recalbox has an administration interface from a web browser. It’s a lot easier and faster than using the controller. To access it, open an internet browser and enter the IP address of the console or http://recalbox/ . On macOS or Linux, you can access it using the URL http://recalbox.local  or the IP address.

The options are grouped by function:

  • Monitoring, allows to know the load of each core of the CPU as well as the space available on the mounted discs
  • Audio, allows to choose the audio output (HDMI or Jack), to activate or deactivate the musical background and to indicate the volume of the sound (0 to 100%)
  • Bios, allows you to list the Bios installed on the console and add new ones
  • Controllers, to configure the controllers DB9, Gamecon, GIO and PS3.
  • Systems
    • Choose the ratio of the screen: automatic, 16/9, 16/10, 4/3
    • Smoothing games and Pixel Perfect to improve the visual rendering of old games
    • Rewind allows you to go back when you’ve lost a character
    • Automatic backup to resume your game where you left off.
    • Retroachievements to save your games on the RetroAchievements.org website
  • Configuration
    • The language of the system
    • The keyboard layout
    • The time zone
    • The network name of the console
    • 3 WiFi configurations. Convenient to take your consoles with friends
    • Enable / disable Kodi. It is possible to launch Kodi at startup if the console is primarily used as a media center
    • Enable check for startup updates
  • ROMs, allows to manage ROMs (add, delete) for consoles
  • Screenshots, allows you to take a screenshot at any time
  • Logs, to consult the logs of execution in case of problem
  • recalbox.conf, to modify (or not) the Recalbox configuration file. All available parameters are detailed here
  • help
    • If there is a problem, a script can generate a diagnostic report which will then be submitted to the forum to ask for help
    • (Re) start EmulationStation after installing new ROMs from the network drive for example
    • Stop or restart the console

Install new ROMs

You have two options to install your ROMs. The easiest way is to do it from the web interface. Go to the ROMs option, choose the console on which you want to add games.

Then click the Upload ROMs button and then simply drag the file into the download area. To add the game to the list, you must restart EmulationStation using the Restart ES button. That’s all !

The other method is to drop the ROMs into the shared folder of the Recalbox visible on the local network. No need to login, the shared folder is writable. It’s a little less convenient to find the console (the first time). It will then go to the web interface and reboot EmulationStation from the Troubleshoot tab. I have not found the option yet from the console menu.

That’s it for this first presentation tutorial. We will come back in more detail about the configuration of Kodi and the configuration of an arcade kit very soon. In the meantime, have fun!

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