Task: Advice for Planning Atari Projects
Needed: Some decision making
Time: 10-15 minutes
I aspire to do at least one Atari project each week. I don’t always accomplish this goal, but have been able to do at least 2-3 per month over the past year. Most of these projects have been documented here and in the Atari Projects book. I was recently thinking about how I decide what projects to do. There is no simple answer to this question, and it of course depends on a whole host of different situations. I thought it might be useful to work through some of these issues to help others make the sometimes tough decision of what project to take on when presented with some time.
Things to think about when planning an Atari project.
Many Atarians are in their 40s and 50s which means they have little time for hobbies. In addition to being the Atari generation, we are also currently the sandwich generation. I am definitely in that space. If you are not familiar with the term it refers to those of us that have busy careers, children under 18 that we need to care for, and parents over 65 years old that often also need care and attention. For many, the Atari nostalgia hits right during the busiest and sometimes most stressful part of our lives. We have the interest. We have the resources. We just often don’t have the time or energy. This is partly why I created this web resource. I wanted to document small projects that could be completed in a few minutes or an hour or two in an evening or over a weekend.
So, my advice is to plan ahead a few days and estimate how much time you have in the coming weekend for an Atari project. This is helpful because you can then begin thinking about or planning the project ahead of time so when your weekend window hits you are ready to go. I find this makes a project much more likely to be launched and completed than one that is spontaneous. Also, there are tons of really short projects that can be completed in less than an hour. These can be fulfilling and leave you with a sense of accomplishment to get through the next work week. I have documented tons of really short and fun projects here.
Even the most enthusiastic Atarians sometimes go through a period of time where the motivation to start and complete a project just isn’t there. This is normal and happens to everyone practicing a hobby. Sometimes you just need a break. Sometimes life consumes every neuron leaving nothing for your hobby. This certainly happens to me from time to time.
My advice is to take a break. That could be a one week break or a one month break. This is healthy I promise that you will return with renewed enthusiasm. I think it is important not feel compelled to practice a hobby when the mood isn’t right. Don’t force it. Wait until it seems fun and exciting. It will be there waiting for you when you are ready.
One of the most difficult aspects of the Atari hobby is the cost. An Atari 8-bit computer or peripheral off of eBay can easily set you back $100-$200 or more. The current hardware and software prices are insane. Further, many of the new hardware mods and extensions can run $100 or more. This all adds up and can get pretty expensive with $1000 or more spent in a year.
My advice is to focus on the cheaper projects now as I believe the Atari prices will start to come down in a few years as the nostalgia boom of the sandwich generation starts to fade. This could be accelerated if we enter a global recession as some are predicting. A recession would drive prices down as demand lessons and supply increases with people selling off their collection to generate extra income. A sad thought, but lower prices would be welcome for many.
4. Technical difficulty
Each project comes with some amount of technical difficulty that can be important to factor into the planning of a project. For example, taking on assembly language programming for the 6502 can be quite challenging if you have only done BASIC on the Atari. Something like assembly language programming would require background reading prior to starting a project such as writing some assembly code to do something. In my experience, this always takes longer than you think because the documentation of much of this old stuff is not very good.
My advice is to make sure you understand the technical difficulty of a project before you plan to do it. Leaving a project unfinished because I got stuck on a technical difficulty is always a bummer. I try to take on projects that I know I am qualified to finish during the allotted time.
I would rank space as the number three biggest problem Atari hobbyists have after time and cost. I definitely think about whether I have space on my desk to complete the project, and whether I have the space available to store the project when I am done. I have a finite amount of space that requires something to be moved out if I am moving in something new. This is certainly true for larger items such as computers and peripherals. This can add a lot of stress to a project.
My advice is to make sure you have the space for a project before you commit to it. You want to be able to finish a project with a smile of your face and not feel stressed because now you have a space issue that needs to get sorted out.
The most important thing is to pick projects that are just plain fun. After all, that is the main goal of a hobby. I tend to stay away from projects that are tedious or laborious. For example, I haven’t yet tried retrobrighting because it just doesn’t seem like much fun.
So, my advice is go with projects that are very likely to be fun. This could be something like trying a game you have never played before or a hardware project such as acquiring an SIO2PC that you know will be fun to try and that will enable other fun activities.
The next time you are looking for projects to do, you might first think about how much time you have, your motivation level, cost, technical difficulty, space available, and the fun factor. Considering these factors can make the project more likely to be completed and more fulfilling.