Scott Hanselman

The Fun of Finishing - Exploring old games with Xbox Backwards Compatibility

December 21, '18 Comments [16] Posted in Gaming
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Star Wars: KOTORI'm on vacation for the holidays and I'm finally getting some time to play video games. I've got an Xbox One X that is my primary machine, and I also have a Nintendo Switch that is a constant source of joy. I recently also picked up a very used original PS4 just to play Spider-man but expanded to a few other games as well.

One of the reasons I end up using my Xbox more than any of my other consoles is its support for Backwards Compatibility. Backwards Compat is so extraordinary that I did an entire episode of my podcast on the topic with one of the creators.

The general idea is that an Xbox should be able to play Xbox games. Let's take that even further - Today's Xbox should be able to play today's Xbox games AND yesterday's...all the way back to the beginning. One more step further, shall well? Today's Xbox should be able to play all Xbox games from every console generation and they'll look better than you imagined them!

The Xbox One X can take 720p games and upscale them to 4k, use higher quality textures, and some games like Final Fantasy XIII have even been fully remastered but you still use the original disc! I would challenge you to play the original Red Dead Redemption on an Xbox One X and not think it was a current generation game. I recently popped in a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction and it automatically loaded a 5-year-old save game from the cloud and I was on my way. I played Star Wars: KOTOR - an original Xbox game - and it looks amazing.

Red Dead Redemption

A little vacation combined with a lot of backwards compatibility has me actually FINISHING games again. I've picked up a ton of games this week and finally had that joy of finishing them. Each game I started up that had a save game found me picking up 60% to 80% into the game. Maybe I got stuck, perhaps I didn't have enough time. Who knows? But I finished. Most of these finishings were just 3 to 5 hours of pushing from my current (old, original) save games.

  • Crysis 2 - An Xbox 360 game that now works on an Xbox One X. I was halfway through and finished it up in a few days.
  • Crysis 3 - Of course I had to go to the local retro game trader and pick up a copy for $5 and bang through it. Crysis is a great trilogy.
  • Dishonored - I found a copy in my garage while cleaning. Turns out I had a save game in the Xbox cloud since 2013. I started right from where I left off. It's so funny to see a December 2018 save game next to a 2013 save game.
  • Alan Wake - Kind of a Twin Peaks type story, or a Stephen King with a flashlight and a gun. Gorgeous game, and very innovative for the time.
  • Mirror's Edge - Deceptively simple graphics that look perfect on 4k. This isn't just upsampling, to be clear. It's magic.
  • Metro 2033 - Deep story and a lot of world building. Oddly I finished Metro: Last Light a few months back but never did the original.
  • Sunset Overdrive - It's so much better than Jet Set Radio Future. This game has a ton of personality and they recorded ALL the lines twice with a male and female voice. I spoke to the voiceover artist for the female character on Twitter and I really think her performance is extraordinary. I had so much fun with this game that now the 11 year old is starting it up. An under-respected classic.
  • Gears of War Ultimate - This is actually the complete Gears series. I was over halfway through all of these but never finished. Gears are those games where you play for a while and end up pausing and googling "how many chapters in gears of war." They are long games. I ended up finishing on the easiest difficulty. I want a story and I want some fun but I'm not interested in punishment.
  • Shadow Complex - Also surprisingly long, I apparently (per my save game) gave up with just an hour to go. I guess I didn't realize how close I was to the end?

I'm having a blast (while the spouse and kids sleep, in some cases) finishing up these games. I realize I'm not actually accomplishing anything but the psychic weight of the unfinished is being lifted in some cases. I don't play a lot of multiplayer games as I enjoy a story. I read a ton of books and watch a lot of movies, so I look for a tale when I'm playing video games. They are interactive books and movies for me with a complete story arc. I love it when the credits role. A great single player game with a built-up universe is as satisfying (or more so) as finishing a good book.

What are you playing this holiday season? What have you rediscovered due to Backwards Compatibility?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Enjoy some DOS Games this Christmas with DOSBox

December 19, '18 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
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I blogged about DOSBox five years ago! Apparently I get nostalgic around this time of year when I've got some downtime. Here's what I had to say:

I was over at my parents' house for the Christmas Holiday and my mom pulled out a bunch of old discs and software from 20+ years ago. One gaame was "Star Trek: Judgment Rites" from 1995. I had the CD-ROM Collector's edition with all the audio from the original actors, not just the floppy version with subtitles. It's a MASSIVE 23 megabytes of content!

DOSBox has ben providing joy in its reliable service for over 16 years and you should go check it out RIGHT NOW, if only to remind yourself of how good we have it now. DOSBox is an x86 and DOS Emulator - not a virtual machine. It emulates classic hardware like Sound Blaster cards and older graphics standards like VGA/VESA.

If a game runs too fast, you can slow it down by pressing Ctrl-F11. You can speed up games by pressing Ctrl-F12. DOSBox’s CPU speed is displayed in its title bar. Type "intro special" for a full hotkey list.

Note that DOSBox will start up TINY if you have a 4k monitor. There's a few things to you can do about it. First, ALT-ENTER will toggle DOSBox into full screen mode, although when you return to Windows your windows may find themselves resized.

For Windowed mode, I used these settings. You can't scale the window when output=surface, so experiment with settings like these:

windowresolution=1280 x 1024
output=ddraw

These are only the most basic initial changes you'll want to make. There's an enthusiastic community of DOSBox users that are dedicated to making it as perfect as possible. I enjoy this reddit thread debating "pixel perfect" settings. There's also a number of forks and custom builds of DOSBox out there that impose specific settings so be sure to explore and pick the one that makes you happy. It's also important to understand that aspect ratios and the size and squareness of a pixel will all change how your game looks.

I tend to agree with them that I don't want a blurry scaler. I want the dots/pixels as they are, simply made larger (2x, 3x, 4x, etc) with crisp edges at a reasonable aspect ratio. An interesting change you can make to your .conf file is the "forced" keyword after your scaler choice.

Here is scaler=normal3x (no forced)

Blurry DOSBox

and there's scaler-normal3x forced

The instructions say that forced means "the scaler will be used even if the result might not be desired." In this case, it forces the use of the scaler in text mode. Your mileage may vary, but the point is there's options and it's great fun. You may want scanlines or you may want crisp pixels.

I've found it all depends on what your memory of DOS is and what you're trying to do is to change the settings to best visualize that memory. My (broken) memory is of CRISP pixels.

Crisp DOSBox

Amazing difference!
The first thing you should do is add lines like these to the bottom of your dosbox.conf. You'll want your virtual C: drive mounted every time DOSBox starts up!

[autoexec]
# Lines in this section will be run at startup.
MOUNT C: C:\Users\scott\Dropbox\DosBox

If you want to play classic games but don't want the hassle (or questionable legality) of other ways, I'd encourage you to spend some serious time at https://www.gog.com. They've packaged up a ton of classic games so they "just work."

Bard's Tale 3
Space Quest 3

Enjoy! And THANK YOU to the folks that work on DOSBox for their hard work. It shows and we appreciate it.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Retrogaming on original consoles in HDMI on a budget

April 13, '18 Comments [2] Posted in Gaming
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Just a few of my consoles. There's a LOT off screen.My sons (10 and 12) and I have been enjoying Retrogaming as a hobby of late. Sure there's a lot of talk of 4k 60fps this and that, but there's amazing stories in classing video games. From The Legend of Zelda (all of them) to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are enjoying playing games across every platform. Over the years we've assembled quite the collection of consoles, most purchased at thrift stores.

Initially I started out as a purist, wanting to play each game on the original console unmodified. I'm not a fan of emulators for a number of reasons. I don't particularly like the idea of illegal ROM come up and I'd like to support the original game creators. Additionally, if I can support a small business by purchasing original game cartridges or CDs, I prefer to do that as well. However, the kids and I have come up with somewhat of a balance in our console selection.

For example, we enjoy the Hyperkin Retron 5 in that it lets us play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy over 5 category ports. with one additional adapter, it adds Game Gear, Master System, and Master System Cards. It uses emulators at its heart, but it requires the use of the original game cartridges. However, the Hyperkin supports all the original controllers - many of which we've found at our local thrift store - which strikes a nice balance between the old and the new. Best of all, it uses HDMI as its output plug which makes it super easy to hook up to our TV.

The prevalence of HDMI as THE standard for getting stuff onto our Living Room TV has caused me to dig into finding HDMI solutions for as many of my systems as possible. Certainly you CAN use a Composite Video Adapter to HDMI to go from the classic Yellow/White/Red connectors to HDMI but prepare for disappointment. By the time it gets to your 4k flat panel it's gonna be muddy and gross. These aren't upscalers. They can't clean an analog signal. More on that in a moment because there are LAYERS to these solutions.

Some are simple, and I recommend these (cheap products, but they work great) adapters:

  • Wii to HDMI Adapter - The Wii is a very under-respected console and has a TON of great games. In the US you can find a Wii at a thrift store for $20 and there's tens of millions of them out there. This simple little adapter will get you very clean 480i or 480p HDMI with audio. Combine that with the Wii's easily soft-modded operating system and you've got the potential for a multi-system emulator as well.
  • PS2 to HDMI Adapter - This little (cheap) adapter will get you HTMI output as well, although it's converted off the component Y Cb/Pb Cr/Pr signal coming out. It also needs USB Power so you may end up leaching that off the PS2 itself. One note - even though every PS2 can also play PS1 games, those games output 240p and this adapter won't pick it up, so be prepared to downgrade depend on the game. But, if you use a Progressive Scan 16:9 Widescreen game like God of War you'll be very pleased with the result.
  • Nintendo N64 - THIS is the most difficult console so far to get HDMI output from. There ARE solutions but they are few and far between and often out of stock. There's an RGB mod that will get you clean Red/Green/Blue outputs but not HDMI. You'll need to get the mod and then either do the soldering yourself or find a shop to do it for you. The holy grail is the UltraHDMI Mod but I have yet to find one and I'm not sure I want to pay $150 for it if I do.
    • The cheapest and easiest thing you can and should do with an N64 is get a Composite & C-Video converter box. This box will also do basic up-scaling as well, but remember, this isn't going to create pixels that aren't already there.
  • Dreamcast - There is an adapter from Akura that will get you all the way to HDMI but it's $85 and it's just for Dreamcast. I chose instead to use a Dreamcast to VGA cable, as the Dreamcast can do VGA natively, then a powered VGA to HDMI box. It doesn't upscale, but rather passes the original video resolution to your panel for upscaling. In my experience this is a solid budget compromise.

If you're ever in or around Portland/Beaverton, Oregon, I highly recommend you stop by Retro Game Trader. Their selection and quality is truly unmatched. One of THE great retro game stores on the west coast of the US.

The games and systems at Retro Game Trader are amazing Retro Game Trader has shelves upon shelves of classic games

For legal retrogames on a budget, I also enjoy the new "mini consoles" you've likely heard a lot about, all of which support HDMI output natively!

  • Super NES Classic (USA or Europe have different styles) - 21 classic games, works with HDMI, includes controllers
  • NES Classic - Harder to find but they are out there. 30 classic games, plus controllers. Tiny!
  • Atari Flashback 8 - 120 games, 2 controllers AND 2 paddles!
  • C64 Mini - Includes Joystick and 64 games AND supports a USB Keyboard so you can program in C64 Basic

8bitdo-sfc30-pro-controller-gamepad-538219.4In the vein of retrogaming, but not directly related, I wanted to give a shootout to EVERYTHING that the 8BitDo company does. I have three of their controllers and they are amazing. They get constant firmware updates, and particularly the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro Controller is amazing as it works on Windows, Mac, Android, and Nintendo Switch. It pairs perfectly with the Switch, I use it on the road with my laptop as an "Xbox" style controller and it always Just Works. Amazing product.

If you want the inverse - the ability to use your favorite controllers with your Windows, Mac, or Raspberry Pi, check out their Wireless Adapter. You'll be able to pair all your controllers and use them on your PC - Xbox One S/X Bluetooth controller, PS4, PS3, Wii Mote, Wii U Pro wirelessly on Nintendo Switch with DS4 Motion and Rumble features! NOTE: I am NOT affiliated with 8BitDo at all, I just love their products.

We are having a ton of fun doing this. You'll always be on the lookout for old and classic games at swap meets, garage sales, and friends' houses. There's RetroGaming conventions and Arcades (like Ground Kontrol in Portland) and an ever-growing group of new friends and enthusiasts.

This post uses Amazon Referral Links and I'll use the few dollars I get from YOU uses them to buy retro games for the kids! Also, go subscribe to the Hanselminutes Podcast today! We're on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and even Twitter! Check out the episode where Matt Phillips from Tanglewood Games uses a 1995 PC to great a NEW Sega Megadrive/Genesis game in 2018!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The perfect Nintendo Switch travel set up and recommended accessories

November 2, '17 Comments [11] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I've had a Nintendo Switch since launch day and let me tell you, it's joyful. Joyous. It's a little joy device. I love 4k Xboxen and raw power as much as the next Jane or Joe Gamer, but the Switch just keeps pumping out happy games. Indie games, Metroidvania games like Axiom Verge, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (worth the cost of the system) and now, super Mario Odyssey. Even Doom and Wolfenstein 2 are coming to the Switch soon!

I've travelled already with my Switch all over. Here's what I've come up with for my travels - and my at-home Switch Experience. I owe and use these items personally - and I vouch for their awesomeness and utility.

BlueTooth Adapter

51hXseaPR-L._SL1000_

This TaoTronics BlueTooth adapter fixes the most obvious problem with the Switch - no blueooth headset support. If there is ever a Switch 1.5 release, you can bet they'll add Bluetooth. This device is great for a few reasons. It's small, it has its own rechargeable battery, it charges with micro USB, and it supports both transmit and receive. That's an added bonus in that it lets you turn any speakers with a 1/8" headphone jack into a BT speaker. Again, tiny and fits in my Switch case. I pair my Airpods with this device by putting the Airpods into pairing mode by putting the case button, then holding down the pairing button on this adapter, which promiscuously pairs. Works great.

Switch Travellers Case

91rXJJEHSyL._SL1500_

I have a Zelda version of this case. It's very roomy and I can fit a 3rd party stand, a dozen cartridges, BT adapter, headphones, screen wipes, and more inside. There's a number of options and styles past the link, including character cases.

Switch Joy-Con Gel Covers

61V4rW65TlL._SL1000_

These gel-covers - or ones like them - are essential. The Switch Joy-Cons are great for children's hands, but for normal/larger-sized people they are lacking something. It's not the cover, it's the extra depth these gel covers give you. I can't use the Switch without them.

HORI Compact Playstand

61Ly9jIq-cL._AC_

This is an airplane must. I want to use my Pro Controller one a plane - or at least detached Joy-Cons - so ideally I want to have the Switch stand on its own. The Switch does have its own kickstand, but honestly, it's flimsy. Works when the world isn't moving, but the angle is wrong and it tips over easily on a plane. This playstand folds flat, fits in the case above, and is very adjustable. It also works great to hold your phone or small tablet for watching movies, so it ends up playing double duty. Plus, it's $12.

Switch Grip Kit

gripkit

This one is optional UNLESS you have little kids and Mario Kart. When you're using Switch Joy-Cons as individual controllers, again, they are small. These turn them into tiny Xbox-style controllers. They are plastic holsters, but the kids love them.

HDMI Type C USB Hub Adapter for Switch

hdmiadapter

This can replace your not-portable Switch Dock. I didn't believe it would work but it's great. I can also fit this tiny Dongle in my Switch Case, and along with an HDMI cable and existing Switch power adapter I can plug the Switch into any hotel TV with HDMI. It's an amazing thing to be able to game in a hotel on a long business trip with minimal stuff to carry.

BASSTOP Portable Switch Dock

31-q00P0AWL

Another docking option that requires some assembly and disassembly on your part is this Portable Dock. It's not the dock, it's just the plastic shell. You'll need to take apart your existing giant dock and discover it's all air. The internals of the official dock then fit inside this one.

What are YOUR must have Switch Accessories? And more important, WHY HAVE YOU NO BUY SWITCH?

* My blog often uses Amazon affiliate links. I use that money for tacos and switch games. Please click on them and support my blog!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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RetroPie and X-Arcade Tankstick - The perfect Retro Arcade (plus keybindings and config and how-to)

June 7, '17 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
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Eight years ago I stumbled on the husk of an old arcade cabinet and along with my buddy John Batdorf, proceeded to reclaim the cabinet, refinish, paint, and turn it into a proper MAME (Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator)

As an aside, a bit after helping me this project, John happened to start an amazing business making furniture with reclaimed wood, check him out at http://deercreekfurnishings.com. Amazing stuff, truly.

X-ARCADE TANKSTICK + TRACKBALL: WITH USB

Last week I build a RetroPie into an X-arcade tankstick. This is my best retro arcade yet because it's got HDMI out and I can take it to friends' houses. That said, I'm going to briefly go over my other systems because they may be more attractive for your needs. If you have no patience, scroll down.

A full size MAME Cabinet - The Complete MAME Cabinet How-To

I wrote up a complete 7 part series on making your own MAME Arcade Cabinet. It's super fun and will only take a few weekends and perhaps a few hundred bucks.

  1. Cabinet and Power
  2. Monitor and Mounting
  3. Control Panel
  4. Sound and Lights
  5. Paint and Art
  6. Computer Hardware and Software
  7. Success and Conclusion

When I made my first MAME cabinet I put a small "Shuttle PC" inside. The MAME system is in my office and runs to this day on Windows 7 with a HyperSpin frontend.

Software Disclaimer 1: There's all sorts of iffy legal issues around emulating arcade games with boards/ROMs you don't own. This series of posts has nothing to do with that. I do own some original arcade boards, but if you want to emulate arcade games with MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), you can search the 'tubes. What I'm doing here is putting a computer in a pretty box.

Hardware Disclaimer 2: Many folks that build arcade cabinets have a purist view of how these things should be done. They will prefer original Arcade CRT monitors and more expensive, higher quality parts. I am more of a pragmatist. I also have no idea what I'm doing, so I've also got ignorance on my side.

There's been a huge amount of work done in the last few years to reconcile the dozens of emulators and systems and the nightmare of keybindings, menus, and configuration. My first MAME machine was a few hours to install and literally weeks of messing around with the settings of various emulators. I started with the legendary v1 "X-Arcade Tankstick" that had was effectively a PS2 keyboard. I took it apart and built it into my MAME system's control panel. I then needed to tell each individual emulator the key codes for up, down, left, right, a, b, x, y, etc. Each emulator had a different configuration file. Some were INI files, some XML, some freaking magic.

It's a lot to ask in 2017 to dedicate a complete PC to a retroarcade - in fact, it's just not necessary. A $35 Raspberry Pi 3 (or even an overclocked Raspberry Pi 2) has enough power to handle all but the most complex emulators.

Tiny Raspberry Pi Powered "CupCade"

Later I discovered RetroPie and built a tiny "cupcade" with plans from AdaFruit.  It is/was a tiny little thing that with just a basic menuing system but it got me thinking about how powerful the Raspberry Pi is. The AdaFruit site has all the plans and parts you can buy. I had a local makerspace laser-cut the case. Assembly was just a weekend.

AdaFruit's CupCade

Hyperkin - An off-the shelf RetroArcade Console

We also picked up a Hyperkin Retron console. This is a great legal way to plan retro games because it requires actual cartridges. We buy our games at Retro Game Trader. If you are EVER near Portland you HAVE to stop and check it out. It's insane.

There's a old joke about building a retro arcade machines - Is it more fun to play retro arcade games, or is it more fun to build a retro arcade machine with a cool front-end where every keybinding works in every emulator but you never get around to playing games?

A RetroPie inside an X-Arcade Tankstick

There's a whole series of gotchas that took me a few weeks to work through when taking a Raspberry Pi, RetroPie software, and an X-Arcade and getting them to work well together.

THIS blog post is going to be a collection of all the stuff I wish I'd known BEFORE I started on this path. Even one of these tips would have saved me an hour, so the collection of them is days of googling, forum reading, and trial and error.

Start with this 7-part short video series (they are less than 10 min long, so it's not so scary) on the X-Arcade with the RetroPie.

Parts List

You'll want at least these things to start.

  • Raspberry Pi 3 - Don't skimp, get a 3. Yes you can use a 2, but you'll be far happier with a 3.
  • Raspberry Pi 3 Heatsink Set - Raspberry Pi's can be persnickety. Spend the $5 and get a heatsink.
  •  128gig high-speed microSDXC card - Get the largest and fastest microSD card you can get. Class 10 is ideal.
  • 2amp+ powersupply with a 5 foot microUSB cable. Make sure your powersupply does at LEAST 2 amps. Less and your Raspberry Pi may not boot up with keyboards or mice attached.
    • Remember that the goal here is to be able to plug this into your TV while you're sitting near or on your couch. You might even want a longer cable.
    • Make sure the microUSB powersupply cable length matches your HMDI cable length. You're only as useful as the shortest cable between these two.
  • PS2 keyboard - Yes, PS2. I picked one up at Goodwill or a local Thrift Shop. You'll need this to program the X-Arcade Tankstick. You change its mode switch, press a button on the controller while simultaneously pressing a key on the PS2 keyboard. You'll repeat this until all your keys are set.
  • Also, you can never have too many cable ties.

And finally, last but not least. An X-Arcade Stick. You can get them with or without a Trackball (which acts as an independent mouse and uses its own additional USB cable). As I mentioned, I'd long-been a fan of all X-Arcade products. Their stuff is legendarily reliable and built like, well, a tank. They're fantastic in that you can even get adapters for your X-Box, X-Box One, Wii, Dreamcast, whatever.

My brother recently found an X-Arcade stick at a local thrift story for $30 and grabbed it for me. I opened it up and noticed it was the PS2 version from years ago. Fear not - you should be aware that there is the PS2 X-Arcade that requires a PS2 keyboard be attached, and there's the newer USB version.  Here's the epic part - and reason #564 why I love X-Gaming as a company - you can upgrade the electronics in your v1 X-Arcade stick with a simple board for $35. And I did just this. This kit takes any existing X-Arcade to the latest hardware and you're going to want the latest if you want your X-Arcade to work smoothly with RetroPie.

I took the back off the X-Arcade and threaded the HDMI cable and USB micro cable through the back holes. I 3D-printed a case (the yellow cage in the photo below) for the Raspberry Pi but really any case will do as long as wires aren't touching wires. There's an RS232 cable and the vestigial green PS2 male that you can tuck away in there. I used the remaining hole to keep the purple PS2 female connector handy as it'll be used for "programming" the keys for the X-Arcade.

Hey it's a Raspberry Pi 3 shoved into an X-Arcade. That's not very sophisitcated.

Yes, it's janky, but all I had was electrical tape. Ideally I'd get a rubber gasket for the wires to keep the tension off the Raspberry Pi and make it more "kid safe."

Photo Jun 06, 11 46 29 PM

Again, follow these videos. If you're a little technical it's pretty straightforward stuff. The general idea is this.

  • The Raspberry Pi uses the SD Card as its hard drive.
  • The X-Arcade is a keyboard and you'll have the PS2 keyboard temporarily plugged into it for setup.
  • The Raspberry Pi 3 is best not only because it's fast but it's also got built-in WiFi. If you use a Raspberry Pi 2, you'll need a Wifi adapter.
  • With your computer, you will use Win32DiskImager to copy a pre-made image of RetroPie to the SD Card.
  • You'll put the SD Card into the Pi, connect the X-Arcade via USB to the Pi, connect the PS2 keyboard to the X-Arcade , connect the Pi's HDMI to a monitor or TV, connect the power, and boot up.
  • You'll follow some on-screen prompts (again, see the videos) and setup RetroPi.
  • You'll program the X-Arcade to act as a keyboard.
  • Then you'll see what works and start debugging.
    • Debugging often consists of using putty and/or Bash for Windows to ssh into the Raspberry Pi. The user name is pi and the password is raspberry so that's usually "ssh pi@retropie" then the password.

Little Gotchas when Hooking up RetroPie and an X-Arcade

Now to the little details that took me weeks that will hopefully help you.

  • Xarcade2Jstick vs standard keyboard mapping - Some people swear that the X-Arcade stick will/can get detected as a joystick using a user-space driver called Xarcade2Jstick. This driver is built into Retropie now and it takes your keyboard/xarcade and "lies" to the system and makes it look like two gamepads. Some folks swear by it. I fought with it for a week and decided that since I understand keyboards, I would just stick with keyboard mapping. Your mileage may vary, but the good thing to know (and try) is that if your system "just works" when you boot up, then perhaps Xarcade2jstick worked amazingly for you and you can skip a LOT of this mess. Sound off in the comments.
    The gent who made the videos also believes that keyboard mapping is more reliable and recommends this "non-standard" set up and programs it in "bank 2" of the X-Arcade. That means the toggle switch is in the second position inward, away from the serial point when you program it. He recommends this layout and I've used it also. This is a screenshot from his video.
    Keyboard mappings are in the linked to Zip file
  • NOTE: I needed to go into optional components in RetroPie setup and specifically disable xarcade2jstick. You can re-run RetroPie-setup from the command line as often as you like.
    cd RetroPie-Setup
    sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
  • Keyboard Bindings for RetroArch compliant emulatiors - Now, I think I understand this, but if I get it wrong, let me know in the comments. There is an organization called "libRetro" that comprises the libRetro library, the RetroArch frontend that runs libRetro programms, and Lakka, a Linux that's meant for retroarcades. You don't need to sweat Lakka as you used a default RetroPie image. But RetroArch you'll be hearing a lot about. Remember earlier when I was complaining about all the trouble configuring emulators? RetroArch has scoped, nested config files (with includes) that allow you specify your config and keyboard/gamepad/joystick mapping once and then participating emulators will "just work." 
    Another way to look at it is this. In the past you needed lots of emulator programs from lots of people with lots of config that was all different. Retroarch tries to unify all of this so there's "cores" for each emulated system that Retorarch calls out to for the emulation.
    Follow the videos, but you'll basically go to /opt/retropie/configs/all and edit retroarch.cfg to support the keymapping above. MOST of the emulators will pick these settings up. But not all. More on that in a second.

    Like this:

    input_player1_a = t
    input_player1_b = r
    input_player1_y = q
    input_player1_x = w
    input_player1_start = num1
    input_player1_select = num5
    input_player1_l = e
    input_player1_r = y
    input_player1_left = left
    input_player1_right = right
    input_player1_up = up
    input_player1_down = down
    input_player1_l2 = u
    input_player1_r2 = i
    input_player1_l3 = nul
    input_player1_r3 = nul

    input_player2_a = j
    input_player2_b = h
    input_player2_y = d
    input_player2_x = f
    input_player2_start = num2
    input_player2_select = num6
    input_player2_l = g
    input_player2_r = k
    input_player2_left = a
    input_player2_right = s
    input_player2_up = o
    input_player2_down = p
    input_player2_l2 = l
    input_player2_r2 = z
    input_player2_l3 = nul
    input_player2_r3 = nul

  • Exiting Games with the Xarcade controller - One of the most common questions I saw in the forums was "I can move around in the menus and launch and emulator but I can't exit it!" Folks were forced to pull the plug and hard reboot which isn't a sustainable solution. The xarcade has a "flipper" (imagine a pinball flipper's controlling button position) button on each side. The standard hotkey for exiting an emulator has historically been pressing the Player 1 start button PLUS the left flipper button. That's the 1 and 5 keys together if you look at the diagram above.
    You'll want to go to /opt/retropie/configs/all and edit retroarch.cfg and confirm that you have these lines somewhere:
    input_enable_hotkey = num1
    input_exit_emulator = num5
    Then launch emulationstation (or reboot), launch an emulator, and press P1 and left bumper/flipper. You'll also come to know the left and right flipper buttons as the virtual "insert coin" buttons for Player 1 (P1) and Player 2 (P2) respectively.
  • Some emulators don't listen to RetroArch settings - Depending on the RetroPie image you downloaded, you may find that some emulators don't listen or respect your core retroarch.cfg settings. Or, perhaps the defaults buttons don't feel right. For example, Sega controller buttons are two rows of three buttons each. You can override your settings to make your xarcade more intuitive. Go to /opt/retropie/configs/megadrive and edit the retroarch.cfg in there. Note that it includes the MAIN "all" retroarch so you're just overriding some settings on an emulator by emulator basis.

    # Settings made here will only override settings in the global retroarch.cfg if placed above the #include line

    input_player1_a = y
    input_player1_b = t
    input_player1_y = r
    input_player1_x = w
    input_player1_l = q
    input_player1_r = e

    input_player2_a = k
    input_player2_b = j
    input_player2_y = h
    input_player2_x = f
    input_player2_l = d
    input_player2_r = g

    input_remapping_directory = /opt/retropie/configs/megadrive/

    #include "/opt/retropie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg"

  • MAME isn't working at all with the Xarcade - This hit me and I see lots of folks struggling. If the MAME core/emulator you're using doesn't integrate with RetroArch, you may need to manually keymap within MAME itself. Use the attached keyboard (while it's still attached) and when inside MAME press Tab. You'll go into the "Input (general) and go down the line one at a time and remap the keys. It's NOT obvious that you have to press and hold the buttons on your XArcade before MAME will pick up the new mapping. It's also not obvious that if you press AGAIN and hold that you can tell MAME another alternate key. In other words, the "OR" key. As in "1 OR 5" if you like.
    You might like to know that mame-advmame stores these configurations in /opt/retropie/configs/mame-advmame in *.rc files. For example, I had advmame-0.94.0.rc and wanted to be able to exit MAME from my xarcade. If I had a keyboard attached, I'd press "ESC" but with the Xarcade I wanted "Player 1 plus Left Flipper" to work. Then I wanted either "Enter" to confirm, or the main button for Player 1. I ended up with this. Again, this is for non-RetroArch advmame, but it makes the larger point in case you run into these kinds of emulators.

    input_map[ui_pause] keyboard[0,enter] or keyboard[0,tab] keyboard[0,up]
    input_map[ui_select] keyboard[0,enter] or keyboard[0,q]
    input_map[ui_cancel] keyboard[0,5] keyboard[0,1] or keyboard[0,esc]

That pretty much covers all the hairpullingout of the last few weeks. The result is very nice though. I hope you make one also!

Photo Jun 07, 12 58 22 AM


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.