My Childhood in a Cigar Box

Also, since I'm using the incredible RetroPie software, I could easily add more platforms to my emulator. If you were a Sega Genesis fan, for instance, you could add those ROMs and get back a slice of your own childhood. RetroPie supports somewhere around 20 different platforms! I just wanted Nintendo and Super Nintendo, but obviously you can support whatever games you want.

The Really Long List of Parts

First off, it's important to note that I've been building this machine on and off for months. I didn't come up with a list of items all at once; rather, while I was building, I'd realize I needed something and order it. I also decided to do this build "right" versus how most of my projects go. In a huge paradigm shift for me personally, you won't find any duct tape in the box. That said, please don't buy all these parts just because I did. Your build will look different, especially at first. Duct tape is perfect for the trial stage, and often, there's no need to get past the trial stage!

Here's my list:

  • Cigar box (Figure 2): I bought this at a sidewalk sale for $2. It didn't contain any cigars, thankfully.

  • Raspberry Pi 3: it's taken me so long to complete this project, I had to buy a new RPi twice, because new iterations kept coming out! I started with the original RPi B, then bought version 2, and recently, version 3 with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

  • ControlBlock (Figure 3): this is a new device, and it is amazing. You can use the GPIO pins directly if you want, but buying this device makes the project simple and incredibly awesome. It's $39, and worth it.

  • Original SNES and NES controllers: I got these from Goodwill and eBay. I have had about a 50% success rate with the eBay controllers. I suspect they're just really worn out. I haven't tried the aftermarket ones on Amazon, but they might work.

  • Extension cables for SNES and NES: I used these to make connectors and adapters. They're from Amazon.

  • HDMI/USB mountable extension cables (Figure 4): this allowed me to connect HDMI and USB from the outside of the box. I like this particular one because it has a round mounting hole. Round holes are easier to make than square ones!

  • Flush-mount power socket: I'm just using 5V for the project, so anything that supplies 5V would work, even a hefty phone charger (2–3amps).

  • Soldering equipment: I suck at soldering, so I got a fancy device for holding things while soldering. Be sure to get rosin core solder as well.

  • LED switches (toggle), nylon standoffs (for RPi mounting), wires, resistors, shrink tubes for wires, hole saws, hot glue and probably 50 other things I can't remember—also probably duct tape, but I honestly don't think so!

Figure 2. This is the cigar box I used. It was surprisingly sturdy, but obviously not the only option for building something like this.

Figure 3. The ControlBlock from petRockBlock is amazing. Truly, it took this project to the next level. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Figure 4. This adapter was from Amazon, and it is my way of cheating. I'm not good at soldering, so prebuilt cables are awesome. Unfortunately, 3-feet long was the shortest option.


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.