How to turn your PC into a retro game emulator

Games have changed phenomenally over the past 25 years. Today's games may be much nicer, better and faster than those of the past, but we humans are nostalgic creatures. In other words: those games from the past are great fun to play again. But how do you do that? Do you install an emulator for every game console in history? No, you turn your PC into one big retro game emulator.

In this article, we'll show you how to install and configure the software to play retro games on your PC. The setup is quite a hassle, but totally worth it, as it ensures that you have one emulator that will satisfy all your nostalgic gaming needs in no time. Also read: Super Mario Run - Surprisingly long breath.

01 RetroArch and EmulationStation

To play games from, for example, the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, etc. within one environment, you need two programs on your PC: RetroArch and EmulationStation. Before we explain how to get started, it is important to know what these programs stand for. RetroArch is the software that takes care of the actual emulation of the different consoles. It's purely the power under the hood, but doesn't have an interface that lets you launch the emulators and games graphically. That would mean entering a separate command line for each emulator and each game, which is obviously not helpful. For that reason, we also install EmulationStation. If RetroArch is the engine, EmulationStation is the rest of the car you control the engine with. It provides the graphical interface that allows you to launch all emulators and games without using your keyboard.

02 Installing and configuring software

The installation of the programs is not that complicated, the configuration takes a little more work, more about that in step 3. You download RetroArch here. Download the file RetroArch.7z and extract this file to a folder (remember where), for example with WinZip on 7-Zip. Download EmulationStation here by clicking Installer and then follow the steps in the installation. Then when you try to configure RetroArch without explanation, it can be very frustrating. When you click with the mouse in the interface, something happens, but not what you expect. The reason for this is that RetroArch does not support a mouse, you navigate using the keyboard (the arrows and Enter). If you want to start playing your games with a controller (e.g. an old compatible SNES controller or an XBOX One controller, it should work almost flawlessly without you having to do anything (so you can also control the menu with it) If not, you can easily configure this yourself by navigating (with the keyboard) to Settings / Input / Input User 1 Binds / Bind All. You can then decide for yourself which function you want to connect which button.

03 RetroArch – Video Settings

Once you've configured the controller (which is optional by the way, you can also control games with your keyboard), it's time to adjust the video settings. These are settings that are almost impossible to figure out yourself, luckily others have already done that for you. It therefore does not make much sense to wonder why certain settings should be the way they are, you can simply assume that these are the ideal settings. In RetroArch, navigate to Settings / Driver and make sure that Video Driver the option GL is selected. Then navigate to Settings / Video and toggle the option VSync in. In addition, make sure that the option Hard GPU Sync is enabled.


In this basic course, we'll teach you how to turn your PC into a true emulation machine. That is of course very nice, but you have 'lost' your entire PC. So if someone has to work on the PC, you can't game. If you want to prevent that, RetroPie is an interesting alternative. The principle is almost the same as what we do in this article, with the difference that you don't install it on your PC, but on the Raspberry Pi, so a super compact setup. If you're a bit handy, you can even tear the internals out of your old SNES or Sega Master System and then build in a Raspberry Pi and connect the whole thing to your television. That way, of course, you build the coolest retro console ever.

04 Download games

Before we proceed with the configuration, let's first make sure that we have one or more games on our system. Emulators use so-called roms. The internet is full of sites that offer you (free or paid) the possibility to download ROMs. It is important to be careful and have good antivirus software. When you search with Google for Rom in combination with the platform of your choice, the top search usually already hits the spot.

Save the games you want to be able to play on your computer. It doesn't matter where you create the folder containing the roms, as long as you know which folder it is. In this example, we have created the ROMs folder on the C drive. To keep an overview, it is also useful to create a folder per emulation platform. So if you have ROMs for a PlayStation, create a folder within ROMs PlayStation and put the files for the PlayStation in there. This will prevent it from turning into a huge mess over time.

Are roms legal?

Nowadays you can easily get ROMs, even for relatively new game consoles such as the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube. That doesn't mean downloading ROMs is legal, though, even if you own the original games. Companies like Nintendo see the rise of ROMs as a threat to game developers' copyrights and claim that downloading, copying and distributing games is copyright infringement. If you take precautions and download older ROMs on a small scale, we do not think that you will be fined for this. However, there are no guarantees that you are safe. You are safest if you make ROMs of your games yourself, there are many useful ways to do this on the internet. Or you use homebrew games. These are non-commercial games made by home developers, which you can play legally and for free.

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