Building the Picade – A Raspberry Pi Powered Arcade Machine

By Chris Skinner

The resolutions you make at New Year are very rarely met and even rarer is for a New Year’s resolution to be successfully completed before the year has barely got started. However, my resolution to build my own retro gaming arcade cabinet has been completed way before schedule.

My starting point was a book by John St.Clair ‘Project Arcade: Build Your Own Arcade Machine’. This tome is over 500 pages of essential guidance, advice and plans for how to make your own arcade machine from scratch and comes with a CD containing plans for different cabinet designs. However, after reading a couple of chapters I concluded I would need some more basic skills before I tried making my own.

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A bit of googling and I came across the answer to my problem – the Picade. This beautiful little thing is a build-yourself mini-arcade cabinet in kit form – just add a Raspberry Pi. I promptly ordered both a Picade and a Pi 3 starter kit and waited impatiently for them to arrive. The Pi arrived first so I got playing, installing an operating system and getting it onto the internet, which surprisingly easy to do.

The Picade arrived in a gorgeous box and the components had been packaged sepaerately based on their function. I had to wait a few days before I had time to build it, so I would occasionally takes bits out and just look at them, waiting for the time to build. I also got a pack of cool stickers which now adorn the Earth Arcade flight cases.

The build took me an evening. The instructions are printed on a poster and you have to take care to follow the separate errata sheet. I found early on I was struggling to follow the written instructions, but the manufacturers have a YouTube video which takes you through the build and I found this extremely helpful.

The artwork which comes with the cabinet is on printed sheets of cards sandwiched between two clear pieces of Perspex. There are three sections – surrounding the screen, and keypad console, and the top section which overhangs the screen. I like this as it would be very easy to customise, for example to add Earth Arcade branding…

The Picade is designed to work with the RetroPie operating system which includes emulators for all sorts of retro consoles – essentially the first Playstation and anything older. The kit comes with a ‘hat’ which is an extra circuit board which sits on top of the Pi, and it has spaces for you to plug all the wires for the controls, buttons and speaker into, and is pre-programmed to be able to use all of these in RetroPie – this is brilliant for novices like myself. Similarly, there’s a piece of kit which sits between the Pi and the screen which sorts out all the magic for you. My only issues were I was little too firm connecting up the speaker and the power button and damaged the connectors – the speaker works fine, but my power button is lightless and lifeless. I got around this last issue by using a chisel to widen the access hole at the back to use the power button on the hat itself.

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The build was a great challenge and I am dead chuffed with the end result. Getting RetroPie and games onto it was straightforward too once I’d found some instructions online. However, navigating the legal grey areas of abandonware and intellectual property of old games is not so straightforward, and I’m still not sure what I can use and how to obtain game files legally. This won’t be a problem if you made your own games however.

Now, I need a new resolution to keep me going until 2020…

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