Daniel (dmsc) was very instrumental in getting this programmer to happen. Without him, I really doubt that this would even be a reality today. He kind of came out of left field when I first started talking about the possibility of doing something like this, and then he grabbed the ball and ran with it. Really a very nice and extremely intelligent guy, and it was a pleasure working with him on this project. I kind of count myself lucky to be able to work with people like Daniel and Jon (flashjazzcat) who are phenomenal programmers, and to all the people I have on my 1088XEL beta test team as well.
To answer question 1: The RC networks were mainly about providing ESD protection for the inputs for the PIA 6520 chip (although they do serve the purpose of creating a crude A/D converter for the paddles). You have to remember that the Atari's were first and foremost game computers aimed at kids, who would probably set them on top of the carpet in the living room while commandeering the family TV. What happens when you walk on carpet and then touch something metallic --- ZAP!! So the resistors limited current, and the capacitor shunted the voltage to ground, thereby protecting the inputs. Now days the A8's are used by the children who grew up, and they don't tend to play with their Atari's on the floor anymore (getting too old for that).
Yeah on the gerber generation thing, I forked out about $45 and bought a program that exported my ExpressPCB files to gerbers. It was well worth the money, and I think I got off cheap. I've used Eagle, never really liked it, but I did quite a few projects with it. However it's FREE version has several limitations, such as only 1 sheet allowed for the schematic, and I believe the board size has to be kept fairly small, although that last part might not be an issue with a lot of the upgrades for the A8. but I also heard that recently AutoDesk bought Eagle and things are changing to some sort of subscription service? Is that true?
Thanks for the info on the ZIF sockets and for that AliExpress link .