HEADS UP: This is NOT a kit that we sell. Nor is it a complete step-by-step guide. It’s lessons learned during an impromptu weekend hacking session which, to be honest, was a lot of trouble to build and only marginally fun to play, aside from the incredible “gee whiz that’s tiny!” factor. But it may provide insights for others looking to build small gadgets…
A practical and satisfying gaming project for intermediate builders is our PiGRRL Zero; better controls, better display, runs off a battery. Beginners may want to start with running RetroPie on a full-size Raspberry Pi and regular monitor, then you can incrementally learn about adding arcade controls or a small LCD screen.
Just trying to temper expectations…this is an unrefined “sketch” of a project and lacks the finish of our other guides.
The idea came about while discussing a gaming “bonnet” — a small accessory board precisely fitted to the Raspberry Pi Zero form-factor — which would include a few basic controls and a tiny monochrome OLED display. The question was whether a color OLED might be workable, that we might run RetroPie and all those cool old games.
The short answer is no! The color display is just too small and coarse, requiring major graphics downsampling that render existing games just barely recognizable. But it’s also a matter of cost. We’re talking about an accessory board for a $5 computer; the RGB OLED alone can cost several times that! A mono OLED is more “to scale” with the system cost and the idea of writing small bespoke games in a high-level language like Python. They’ll look great and sharp, and it’ll be affordable.
Seeing these arcade games though…like, the actual quarter chompers of my youth, not cheap ports…running on this tiny screen is pretty hilarious. Wrapping it up in a little case and badging it “world’s smallest” seemed a nice way to cap off the study…though I fully expect to be upstaged by someone else’s even smaller build before the week is out, then repeat ad nauseum. Small MAME builds are a big thing!