Overview

A Maker Faire exhibit of mine once incorporated a Pac-Man theme “for the old-timers.” It was a surprise then to see young kids all recognized the characters too. How? Smartphones! Thanks to emulation — running old code byte-for-byte on modern hardware — these classic games are still played and relevant a generation later.

Much of the mystique of the originals lied in the cabinets and controls. Anyone can load a game on a smartphone or tablet…but the physicality of the arcade machine and its clicky buttons made them rare objects of desire back in the day. We wanted to capture a small taste of that, using the tiny Raspberry Pi computer. The result is a DIY kit we call Cupcade!

Cupcade isn’t the first, but it’s notable for using the Adafruit PiTFT display. The direct digital interface delivers a pixel-perfect rendition of classic games with none of the blurriness you’d get with a composite screen.

There have been MULTIPLE RELEASES of the Cupcade kit. This guide covers ALL of them. Some sections are common to all versions, others may be specific to one generation. The latest generation tends to be covered first, with prior generations as a follow-up.

Current “Gen 3” Kit Contents:

You will also need:

  • Raspberry Pi computer with 40-pin GPIO header, except for Pi 1 Model A+. Compatible boards include:
  • Soldering iron, solder and related paraphernalia
  • Masking tape
  • Tiny screwdrivers
  • For setup you will temporarily need a USB keyboard and HDMI monitor. Pi Zero boards will require adapters for both of these.
  • Network connection to the Raspberry Pi board. Some models have WiFi built in, some can use Ethernet, others require a USB WiFi adapter.
  • Game ROM files

Optional additions:

Hey! Don’t be fooled by the fun-and-games nature of this project. It’s a challenging build that draws on a broad range of maker skills: fiddling with Linux commands, soldering, and even a bit of arts & crafts. Read through the whole guide before starting, decide if you’re ready to tackle this and make sure you have everything you need.

Our original Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi guide is a little easier — same goal, fewer pieces, using a regular computer monitor for the display. You might want to start there if this project looks a bit daunting.

If you have a current “Gen 3” kit, you can skip ahead to the next page.

Prior “Gen 1” and “Gen 2” Kit Contents:

Gen 1 kits had some additional parts not listed here; Gen 2 kits have these pre-assembled on the interface board.

You will also need:

  • Raspberry Pi Model B computer — later model with mounting holes. The early “V1” boards with no mounting holes will not work with this project. Model A also works, but with only half the RAM this may impact performance.
  • Soldering iron, solder, stranded or solid core wire (24 or 22 gauge) and related paraphernalia
  • Masking tape
  • Tiny screwdrivers
  • For setup, you may temporarily need a keyboard and monitor
  • Game ROM files

Optional additions:

This guide was first published on Apr 04, 2014. It was last updated on Nov 19, 2018. This page (Overview) was last updated on Apr 19, 2018.