Retropie table writeup

May 27, 2016 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Development, Hardware, Linux, Personal 

A co-worker of mine asked me to do a writeup of my retropie table build and yes, I guess I should. I rarely write anything about what I do anymore ūüôā .

So, I got kids, and I thought it would be fun for them to play some of the old stuff I used to play and found the¬† quite interesting and so set out to do something similar. I winded up going to Ikea with the kids and told them to choose colors, we winded up with a pink IKEA Lack table … ;).

I also got a bunch of old screens at home, I picked a very heavy 17″ monitor and removed all the casings etc greatly reducing the weight. My choice was slightly bad though for two reasons, the connectors are standing at a 90 degree angle to the screen so it winded up not fitting inside the table and it’s pointing out on the underside as it is now… secondly, the viewing angles are so so, I winded up rotating¬†the screen 180 degrees as the viewing angles where much better from that direction and the /boot/config.txt in raspbian systems have options to hardware rotate the output. I also bought a set of 2 joysticks + 20 buttons with built in backlight and a xin mo based usb controller from ebay, a small speaker from a local shop and the power adapters I had at home, and a connector to fit for power input to the table. I decided to pick up a powered USB hub as well to fit so it was reachable from the outside. I also had a sheet of plexiglass lying around for many years which winded up useful. I also had a USB wifi dongle lying around so I reused that for connectivity.

We started out with measuring out and sawing up the holes needed and then removing the innards that are in the way. I used some paint masking tape to protect the table, more on this later. This work was very easy to do with a dremel with a circular saw addon. The underside wasn’t so important how it looked but I tried to make the cuts¬†decent looking at least.

Once this was done, I test fitted and probed a bit on how to get the raspberry pi, monitor and power system fitted inside the the table before moving on to sawing the plexiglass sheet into the same size as the table, and then drilling and countersinking the screw holes, temporarily fit the plexiglass while drilling the holes for the joystick + buttons. Some sanding and fixing of edges followed. I removed the plexiglass sheet and drilled and countersunk holes for screwing the joysticks to  the topside of the table underneath the plexiglass.

Moving on, I screwed in the joysticks and fitted the power adapters for the monitor, USB¬†hub and raspberry pi in the screen. I made 6 foam inserts to rest the monitor on and glued in place inside the table, wired up the monitor and put the monitor in. Removing the paint masking tape I realized that I used some shitty tape with much too¬†hard tacking adhesive, meaning that I managed to pull away a bunch of the foil/tape (the “paint” on the table, it’s not painted, but rather foiled with a layer of colored plastic). When I realized this I started rethinking a paint scheme I had already planned and decided to do some modifications to hide the errors and to possibly heighten the feeling of the table.

I did the paintjob, made some simple paint masks etc and airbrushed the table with black borders, softish blue and red and green colors further softened with a few drops of white.

After this had dried for a few days I put the plexiglass on, screwed in all the buttons, joystick heads etc and installed the raspberry pi + other final electronics and tested the system. This is when I realized the problems with the screen viewing angle so I had to back everything up, remove the buttons, joysticks, plexiglass screen, and monitor. I winded up lifting some of the paint I had used to paint the table (the paint was really sticking badly to the surface). This lead me to question the surface of the plexiglass and¬†figured I’d polish the plexiglass. I originally made the bad choice of trying to apply an old plastic modelling technique on the plexiglass, washing it with a layer of future floor polish. This looked absolutely horrible on this big surface so I winded up spending 1,5-2 hours removing the stuff again and then using some proper polishing compounds on both sides of the table making the plexiglass sheet incredibly nice looking (in my humble opinion). I Repainted the parts where the paint was removed, took out the screen, rotated it 180 degrees, re-fitted all the power adapters etc so it wouldn’t be in the way of the monitor and had to saw up a second hole for the DVI connector… I then reinstalled plexiglass, buttons, joysticks, etc… and now, a much nicer viewing angle of the monitor and a nicer looking plexiglass sheet, but paint job not as nice anymore. Shit happens. Oh, I also pulled a cable through from the screen to the front panel button so I can turn on/off the monitor from one of the buttons. The USB hub was glued into a hole made in the skirting so it sticks out underneath the table with two accessible USB ports.

After everything was fitted and tested to work I started to look at the backside what could be done about it… I had to make a raised area to increase the depth of the table as the buttons I got wont fit properly otherwise. I used a 1 cm floor skirting around the hole and then took the sheet from the monitor hole and sawed into two pieces which fits over the hole, drilled a lot of holes in it to at least create some air ventilation into the table.

At this point I’ve installed some games, used it for a bit, let the kids play around and I’m absolutely happy with it. The software side I didn’t need to do anything about, it worked more or less out of the box. I had to make a usb quirks hack to split the controller into two halves, I had to rotate the screen in the config.txt and that’s it, then just follow the installation howtos. Retropie was a really happy surprise, I wasn’t expecting things to be that smooth to install. I do wish the Amiga emulator was better integrate, it would be nice to be able to do the same thing as with the NES images, just drop them in and they work… but I understand that each game needs its own “fixes” to get up and running… I will have a look and see if it’s possible to improve the situation somehow, at least so I can start games with just the joysticks and buttons.