12 Ways to Build Your Own Retro Game Machine

By David Nield on at

With some 30 years of video gaming history now behind us, there’s never been a greater choice of retro games to dig back into, whether it’s on your smartphone or a classic console rebooted for modern times. For the more serious seekers of gaming nostalgia, there are plenty of hands-on projects you can attempt yourself, and these are some of the best we’ve found. So prep your wallet, brush up on your coding and handyman skills, and get ready to build.


1) Turn a Raspberry Pi into an all-in-one console

The Raspberry Pi is a retro gamer’s dream and there are all kinds of ways to relive your gaming youth with one of these mini computers. One of the easiest and most comprehensive is via the RetroPie software, which lets you emulate everything from a PlayStation to a Game Boy. You can even pack it all into a tiny 3D printed case. We’re especially fond of this one that looks like a SNES that we used in our guide for building your own RetroPie system.


2) Turn a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy

If you really want a retro-gaming project to get your teeth into, then this Game Boy one on Adafruit fits the bill. As well as getting familiar with emulators on the Raspberry Pi, you also need to build some custom electronics of your own and find a 3D printer to create a case to fit everything into, but the end results are should be worth all of that time and effort.


3) Turn a Raspberry Pi into a NES Classic

For those of you who can’t get your hands on a NES Classic or just want to get creative by building your own, there are several DIY options to pick from. Over at Howchoo you can find a detailed guide for stuffing an entire Raspberry Pi emulator setup inside an original NES cartridge (you’ll need to take the game out first) and hooking it up to your TV.


4) Build an arcade cabinet

If you like to think a little bigger than a Raspberry Pi then there’s always the option of building your own arcade cabinet and instantly transporting yourself back to the 80s. This informative Instructables guide takes you through the process of modding an old cabinet and control deck, though it doesn’t cover configuring the PC that ultimately runs it all. For that you should probably check out the next project...


5) Build the guts of an arcade cabinet

For help with the electronics inside your arcade cabinet, few guides are as detailed and as comprehensive as this one from I Like To Make Stuff (it’s actually part 3 in a series). In this case an Arduino Uno is used to run the actual emulator and its retro games, but there’s a lot of other electronics to think about as well, including speakers, lighting, and controllers.


6) Build a mini arcade cabinet

Maybe a smaller arcade cabinet would suit your living space better and thanks to the shrinking size of modern-day electronics that’s possible too. This Porta Pi project is powered by the Raspberry Pi, as the name suggests, and can sit easily on top of a desk. You can buy the kit required from the links in the description and then put it together yourself.


Games consoles of years past were nowhere near as powerful as the electronics of today, which means you can cram old-school systems into very tiny spaces—as this guide demonstrates. You won’t actually need to track down an old NES or Atari to cannibalise. Instead you use the MAKERbuino system, based around Arduino and compatible with the open source Gamebuino platform. Besides building a cool GameBoy like device you’ll also learn some basic coding and electronics skills.


8) Build your own arcade coffee table

If a full-size arcade cabinet won’t fit in your living room then you can convert your coffee table instead, and even add charging ports for your regular gadgets. You can use a basic PC system or a Raspberry Pi to run the emulator software, and of course customise the table to suit your needs. Lifehacker has a comprehensive guide on how to get it set up.


9) Put a retro console inside an original console

Many of us have outdated consoles lying around the house and some of them can be upgraded to meet modern-day audio and video standards. Again, the emulator-friendly Raspberry Pi can act as the hub of the whole operation, or you can build your own mini PC inside the casing you have, depending on how ambitious (and wealthy) you’re feeling.


10) Turn any PC into a retro emulator

The Raspberry Pi is a powerful system for emulating games, but some games need more than the processor punch of the Pi. Building a custom PC, or re-configuring an old one lying around is a great alternative and Lakka is evidence of that. The Linux-based OS combines two popular emulators and can run on almost any normal PC—with that done, you can then put your computer components inside any kind of housing you like, from an arcade cabinet to a 3D-printed Mario case and play the latest and greatest emulated games.


11) Use an old TV as a retro gaming console

There’s a lot of room inside old CRT TVs—plenty of room for a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie, for example. This useful guide from the Element14 community shows you how to fit the Pi and get the video and controller connections sorted, and if you’ve got an old television lying around the house then this is a great way of bringing it back to (retro) life.


12) Build a mechanical Donkey Kong

You can’t actually play this mechanical version of Donkey Kong, but you can build it yourself and marvel at its ingenuity. The designer behind it has put together a number of posts on the various bits that go together to make the finished product, but of course the beauty of any do-it-yourself project is you can tweak the instructions as you like.