RetroPie offers a slice of summer fun

Whether you’re reconnecting with the arcade shoot ’em ups of a misspent youth, or you’re a newcomer to the retro gaming revival, RetroPie makes for a great summer holiday tech project.

Milk bars and fish ‘n’ chip shops rang loud with the sounds of arcade games back in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, chewing through pocket money back in the days when arcade cabinets ruled the gaming scene.

You can play classic Street Fighter on RetroPi.

You can play classic Street Fighter on RetroPi.

Meanwhile, there was a boom in home consoles keeping gamers awake until the early hours, from the Atari 2600 and Sega Mega Drive to the Super Nintendo and original Sony PlayStation.

As today’s new generation of gamers develop a taste for the classics, the gaming giants are cashing in on the retro revival with shrunk-down versions of these old consoles. RetroPie offers another way to revisit the classics, aimed at gamers who also like to tinker with hardware.

RetroPie is a gaming chameleon which can emulate an arcade machine as well as dozens of different games consoles; from the Nintendo Entertainment System right through to the PlayStation 2. If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, it can also mimic an Apple II, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, DOS box and many more.

You can install the RetroPie software on a modern Windows or Linux PC, but if you’re ready to level up you can also run it on a tiny $50 Raspberry Pi 3 bare bones computer (it’s not yet officially supported on the new Raspberry Pi 4). This stripped-down computer is the perfect starting block for a wide range of great summer tech projects, from a remote control robot rover to a classic arcade machine.

Next you need the game files, called ROMs, but the catch is most games are protected by copyright and not freely available. is a good starting point in your search.

Your DIY games machine can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. You might start by simply hooking up a USB console-style controller and plugging the Raspberry Pi into your television’s HDMI port, or you might go all-in and build a six-foot arcade cabinet with a screen, speakers, arcade-style joysticks and even a slot for pumping in coins.

The best gaming machine for your home will likely fall somewhere in between, especially if those you live with aren’t keen on the idea of a hefty upright cabinet lurking in the corner.

One option is to buy a smaller three-quarter size retro upright cabinet such as an arcade1up, tear out its guts and give it a RetroPie overhaul. Unlike a full-sized cabinet, they’re compact enough to move around the house.

Alternatively, converting a coffee table into a cocktail arcade machine might be more affordable and offer a sensible compromise, as it can live inconspicuously in the lounge room rather than hidden away in the spare room.

Building an arcade table is easier than you think (with confidence and the right equipment).

Building an arcade table is easier than you think (with confidence and the right equipment).

Ikea’s $40 Lack coffee table makes a good foundation, thanks to the shelf below the table top, although you’ll need to brush up on your woodwork skills.

Use a jigsaw to carefully cut a hole in the table top so you can drop in an LCD monitor, balancing it on a strut that rests on the shelf below. The Raspberry Pi can also live on the shelf, along with speakers.

Next, hook up two USB console or arcade-style controllers or, for bonus points, build your own controller boxes from scratch. The controllers can also tuck away out of sight on the coffee table’s shelf when not in use.

For the finishing touch get a sheet of tinted glass custom cut, to sit on top so you can still rest a drink on the coffee table. Throw a cloth on top when friends drop around for Christmas drinks and they’ll never realise you’ve turned your lounge room into a video arcade until it’s time to get your game on.