The Octagon Theory

The Octagon Theory (TOT) is a completely original Sci-fi, turn-based, strategy game that is played on an octagon-shaped board. It's completely different from but also in the style of board games like Othello (Reversi), Checkers, and Chess. 

The game play  can be: 

- Solo player: Human against the AI (computer player).
- Two to four players: Online multiplayer. All players are human.

Although the strategy is very deep a person can learn to play without using a manual or following a tutorial. Just follow your intuition and make a few moves then watch what the computer does in response to your moves.


The Birth of The Octagon Theory (Part 1 of who knows how many parts) 

First of all let me get something straight. I have a very long story but I'll try and keep it short, sweet, and to the point because most of my time from now on will go to finishing up the coding of my game. Some of my time will go to promoting it here, on Twitter, and on other Web 2.0 venues. And a little of my time will go to writing these posts, so I'm not going to be too concerned with the spelling, punctuation, and grammar. If my story get across to you, it's good enough for me, and I hope it's good enough for you too. 

So here goes... 

TOKYO 1982 

I was really sick of working in the exploitive eikaiwa industry (Eikaiwa is Japanese for teaching English conversation). I could see it was a dead end job. I was desperately looking for a way out. At this time personal computers were just showing up in electronics stores and articles about the personal computing hobby were in a lot of trendy Japanese magazines. Apple had released the Apple I in 1977 and by 1982 a few had been imported to these shores. 

One day while checking out new audio equipment (the listening kind, not the podcasting kind) in the local electronics store I saw a couple of very excited and animated kids between 10 and 13 years old standing in front of one of the new contraptions that were just starting to take shelf space away from the audio equipment. These contraptions were "Pasocons" (Japanese contraction for personal computers).Wondering what these kids were up to I walked over and peeked over their shoulders. One kid was holding a magazine open to a page of jibberish and another kid was wildly peking away at the pasocon keyboard. I looked at the monochrome monitor that was attached to the pasocon and saw the same kind of jibberish on the screen. I recognized some words like 'loop', 'for', and 'do' mixed with what looked like convoluted math. 

After confusedly looking at the screen for a while I realized that one kid was typing in the computer program that was listed in the magazine that the other kid was holding. (I now know that that listing was a Basic program for a simple game). Now the listing in the magazine looked long and I wasn't about to hang around until the kids were finished, so I walked away. But I didn't yet realize what an impact that event would have on my life. 

I left that store with a kind of future shock. And at thirty three years of age I had the feeling that those young kids knew a heck of a lot more than I did about something that was going to be very important. I felt like Rip Van Winkle and was worried that if I didn't soon learn about personal computers that I'd be the old man who couldn't use one and would depend on younger people to use them for me. 

Around this time I had also read an article, can't remember where though, that the 3rd best jobs would go to people who weren't afraid of computers, the 2nd best jobs would go to people who could use computers, and the best jobs would go to those who could control computers. 

Knowing what kind of job I wanted I set out to learn how to control computers. 

I tried applying for a mail order personal computer repairman course that I had seen advertised in the back of some magazine. Having previously spent eight years in the US Air Force, the GI Bill benefits would pay for the course so I wasn't worried about finances even though my meager eikaiwa salary alone wouldn't have allowed me to to pay for the course. 

I was getting excited about trying to learn a new trade, something that would allow me to break out of the eikaiwa rut (which was almost impossible to do in those days) but the school offering the course would not deal with me because I was living in Japan. 

But now I was determined. I'd find another way to learn about computers even though I was in English- information-scarce Japan, had little time and almost no extra money to spend on learning a new skill.


The Birth of The Octagon Theory, Part 2

Well, since circumstances prevented me from learning about computers via formal means I decided that I would learn as much as I could on my own. But the problem was I didn't know where to start nor what I really wanted to learn. I wasn't aware of the difference between hardware and software. I didn't even know what software was. So I set out to learn what I needed to learn by visiting all the nearby electronics stores and questioning the salesmen about the pasocons on the shelves. The salesmen explained what software was - it was the instructions that those kids were typing into the computer that day I had my first run-in with computing. I learned that a pasocon was nothing without software and that software didn't have to be typed in, it could be loaded from a cassette tape or from a floppy disk.

Out of the NEC, Hitachi, and Fujitsu pasocon sitting on the shelves, The salesmen usually recommended the NEC '98 as it was the most affordable and most popular among the fast-growing computer hobbyists. ('Geek' wasn't used to describe such people in those days.) So I decided to buy a NEC which was about 80,000 yen or, in those days, about 350-400 dollars. The problem was that the user manual and programming how-tos were only in Japanese. There was nothing in English. Although I had studied Japanese and could read a little, one look at the Japanese user manual changed my mind about buying a Japanese computer.

Now what to do? I got a Byte magazine from the international section of the Kinokunia book store in Shinjuku and learned that the popular pasocons from the USA and Great Briton were Apple, Commodore, Atari, and Sinclar. Apples were too expensive even in the USA. The Sinclar seemed like a toy, so I decided I wanted a Commodore Pet or an Atari. But I couldn't find anywhere to buy either of those in Japan. As far as an Apple, well, there sure were no Apple Stores here in those days, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Of course I could have ordered a pasocon from overseas but what if it arrived broken? And the postage was very expensive too. There was no Amazon.

Anyway, my continued search led me to one shop in Ochanomizu, near the world famous (now, not then) Akihabara geek/nerd/otaku electronics district of Tokyo. That shop was named Computer Luv and it was the only place in all of Japan that sold Apple Computers. (There might have been one other shop in Osaka). Computer Luv was a nice modern shop with a lot of equipment for serious computer hobbyists but it wasn't an official Apple dealer. They just imported Apples and sold them at quite a premium, which put them way out of my reach. The price for a 48Kb Apple II+ with no floppy drive was about 400'000 yen (about 1800-2000 dollars). My monthy salary was 250,000-300,000 yen which left me in a 10,0000-20,000 yen hole every month which I perpetually owed my girlfriend (now wife).

I was almost ready to give up on buying a computer when one night, looking out of the bus window on the final leg of my 1.5 hour commute home from work, I noticed an "Apple Computer" sign in front of a small office bulding. I wondered what such a small nondescript shop, near my home in Tachikawa to boot, had to do with Apple computers. I went there the very next morning.

Falcom was the name of the small 2nd-floor shop (Nihon Falcom is now a big company still located in Tachikawa and it was run and staffed by early-day Japanese geeks who were on the forefront of game development for Japanese pasocons. They made quite a few well-known Japanese Adventure games. And they just happened to import, sell, and support Apple computers. Also they just happened to have my 1st computer - a refurbished Apple II+ with 48kb of memory. 

The owner of the shop preached the marvels of this computer. He told me that the Apple with a 5.25" floppy drive gave a computing experience that was unsurpassed. Compared to using a cassette drive, a floppy drive allowed programs to be loaded almost

instantly. I could have the Apple and the floppy drive for 300,000 yen with a 6-month warranty. 100,000 yen cheaper than a new, non-floppy drive Apple from Computer Luv. I also discovered Softalk magazine which that shop was selling.

I bought that magazine!

And I wanted that Apple!

Now I just had to figure how to get the 300,000 yen? 

More to come later...


Sayonara Steve Jobs

I feel like a part of me is gone. Steve has constantly been in my thoughts since 1982 when I bought my 1st computer, a used Apple II+. It was because of that Apple II+ that I was able to make a better decent life for myself here in Japan by moving from a low-paying job in teaching English conversation to high-paying jobs in the tech industry.

Thank You Steve! Sayonara

How one person (plus The Woz) changed another person's life

Wed Oct 5 22:22:51 2011

I got really good jobs because Steve (and The Woz) made the Apple II available.

I bought a used Apple II+ and taught myself how to program. During this time I was living hand-to-mouth between monthly paydays by teaching eikaiwa (English conversation) here in Tokyo.

Two of my eikaiwa students were Japanese engineers from C.Itoh Electronics, a subsidiary of C.Itoh, a big Japanese trading company. The two students didn't like the teaching system of the world-famous language school and since I was the only teacher that had tech experience they'd always request me to teach them. They always brought hardware manuals to class to use as teaching aids.

The two engineers needed to speak and understand English because their company was getting dot-matrix printer hardware from TEC (Tokyo Electronic Company) and writing the firmware for the printers. The printers were known as the Apple ImageWriter. The hardware manuals that my two students always brought to class were Apple ImageWriter User manuals.

That company ended up hiring me and tripling my pay over what I used to make as an Eikaiwa teacher. That started me on a very lucrative tech career.

So you can say that my life was changed for the better by Steve Jobs (and The Woz), the man (men) that made that old used Apple II+ that I bought back in 1982, and the man (men) that caused a whole industry to sprout up around a brand.

There are now probably millions of other people who could tell the same story. I'm really, really sorry to see you go Steve.


The Birth of The Octagon Theory, Part 3

Being a foreigner in early-to-mid 1980s Japan was fun but not always easy. It was almost impossible to get a credit card issued from a Japanese bank. Same with a loan. That is unless you had someone co-sign the loan documents for you. Well that's where my girlfriend (now wife) came in. She cosigned the legal papers for that 300,000 yen just like that. Which means she'd have to pay back the loan if I didn't. Now It didn't take any convincing on my part at all. Here she was, having known me for only two years, and she fully trusted me to pay off that two-year, 300,000 loan, and not leave her in the lurch.

As for me, I fully intended to pay back that loan but I was wondering if I should really get the loan and buy that Apple. I mean, learning how to use, fix, program computers could very well be way over my head. Didn't you have to be a mathematical genius to do that? I hated math and stopped paying attention to my math teachers from about the 6th grade in elementary school. Not to mention the possibility that after a few months I could completely lose interest in the Apple like I did with my childhood toys and put it away in the closet never to be used again. 300,000 yen was an expensive price then (and still is) to pay to learn such a lesson about one's self.

I decided to get the Apple.

My girlfriend and I went back to Falcom, filled out the loan papers, waited for the approval, and came back about a week later to pick up my new (used) 48K of RAM-1Mhz 6502 Motorolla CPU-able to display eight colors- Apple II+, with a 5 and a 1/4 inch floppy drive.

We drove home, got out the Apple manuals and set the Apple up on a small wooden lawn table, connected it to my 2nd-hand TV and fired it up. Having read the manual I knew enough to put the floppy disc that I'd also bought into the drive and restart the Apple so it'd read in and execute the program on that floppy.

Did I mention that the floppy I'd bought was a game. I mean, what is a computer without at least one game, right? That game was Microwave.
( video ).

My wife and I played that game over and over, for weeks. We loved that game and it was the 1st of many to follow.

Anyway the very 1st night with my new (used) Apple II turned into a party, but little did I know that this was one toy that would NEVER see the inside of a closet. And little did my girlfriend know that her vote of confidence in me was going to turn out to be such a good investment.


The Birth of The Octagon Theory, Part 4  (Pre iTunes App Store Fart App)

Well, that night was the start of a whole new direction in my life. I devoured the manuals that came with the Apple. One was the Apple II Reference Manual and it actually included detailed hardware specifications about what was where in memory, and how to directly access the memory with machine code and how to write short programs with the built-in mini assembler. The other manual was the Applesoft Basic Programming Reference Manual which was enough to get me started. These days computers don't come with that kind of detailed, low- level information about their hardware, nor with manuals about how to program.

From that point on, learning about computers and programming was all I wanted to do. 1st thing in the morning and last thing at night, sixteen hours a day when I wasn't working my miserable (to me) Eikaiwa job. Those days and nights just flew by without my even noticing the long hours I was spending reading those manuals and trying out the coding examples. Never did I imagine how much I'd like it. I was having a great time learning something new and something I thought was revolutionary.

And I was picking this programming stuff up really quickly.

One of my earliest memories of my 16-hour days teaching myself how to program was on a weekend. I was following an example on how to code a tone generator in AppleSoft Basic and I was well into it when a knock came to my door. I didn't want to be taken away from my new love of coding so I decided to quickly get rid of whoever was at my door. To my disappointment, It was my best friend, his wife, and one of the other Eikaiwa

teachers at my school who had become my close drinking buddy. I told them I was busy and that they should

have called beforehand. But I couldn't keep them from barging in as they were determined and well armed with a few small kegs of nama (fresh, raw?) beer.

Needless to say we all got into the drinking, my three intruding friends, my girlfriend, and a reluctant me. They were sitting on the couch and on the floor of my six-tatami "living room", with me sitting at the small wooden picnic table that I used as a computer stand. The room was so small that our knees were almost touching, and we had to crawl over each other to make frequent trips to the head. We all were getting royally drunk and having a great time, when they asked me about the Apple and what could be done with it.

As I was studying tone generation that day the only logical step was to show them what kind of sound I could generate. After fiddling around with the parameters in my Applesoft Basic program I was able to generate various sounds. My new expertise was an instant hit. And I got so good at it that the rest of the evening I was spontaneously and instantly punctuating silly remarks they made with a variety of fart sounds, and in our stupefied condition it was hilarious. At the end of the evening my friends departed, and left me with the weird feeling that I was now, in their eyes, the computer expert.

Continuing on with my study I soon worked through all the examples in the Apple II manuals and started following every coding example or tutorial I could find in the monthly Softalk magazine. I'd make two or three trips a month to Falcom, the Tachikawa pasocon and PC game shop where I bought my Apple, hoping that the latest issue of Softalk had finally made it to Japan. I also looked at the games that were on the shelf and talked to the guys at Falcom who also happened to be game developers and had already released a few successful Japanese fantasy/role playing games for the NEC 98 pasocon. They'd give me advice about programming and after a few months with my Apple II I asked them that if I developed a game would they'd sell it at their shop. They told me that I had bought the Apple only a few months ago and they didn't even want to talk to me about that until two or three years down the road.

That didn't didn't discourage me. I kept reading Softtalk, and Nibble (another rag devoted to Apple hobbyists) studying the examples in their pages, and even started trying to put my own ideas into code. Baby steps at first, but I was really assimilating the logic of programming and my code was getting longer and more complex by the day. Every chance I got I was writing code. On my ninty-minute commutes each way, to and from work, on my fourty-five minute lunch breaks, and during the sometimes short breaks that suddenly occurred because of last minute lesson cancellations. I loved my Eikaiwa students when they cancelled at the last minute.

A short time before I had bought the Apple my wife and I often played the well-known dice game of Yahtzee, Therefore the 1st coding project that I tried on my own was a simulation of dice. It wasn't graphical, it was just a short basic program that would generate five random integer numbers from one to six and display those five numbers on the used 13" TV screen that was connected to my Apple. Well that wasn't so hard and after a few more months of study I was confident enough to try writing a short simple game. I had already read some detailed articles in Softtalk and Nibble about writing games, and I ordered a few game programming books that was advertised in those magazines. I figured the best way to really learn about computers in general and programming specifically was to learn how to make games.

The game programming books that I had bought showed how to use bit-mapped graphics to create simple animation, and in those days it took a lot of work for even the simplest things. Just one frame of an animation required seven images, one separate image for each x position the frame might be located at across the seven bits of the Apple's bit-mapped display memory. The 8th bit was used to determine which colors to display.

And soon I had an idea for my 1st game. I'd decided to make an escape game. So I wrote my ideas on scratch paper, started putting those ideas into code with Applesoft Basic, and laboriously started to make the sprites for that first game by hand. Man. My game was going to be cool.

Well, in reality it was going to be more like a simple demo of my abilities than a real game.


The Birth of The Octagon Theory, Part 5  (The Debut)

I came up with the idea of making a simple side-scrolling escape game where the player had to move his character from one side of the first screen to the opposite side of a second screen without getting killed. The player would start out in a rocket ship with flying saucers firing at him. Since it was a simple concept there was no need for a design document. Instead I just wrote my thoughts in psuedo-code in my paper notebook. Too often I would find myself doing this on my way to Computer Luv in Ochanomizu to have my Apple II repaired. I didn't look foreward to going to Computer Luv every few months or so. It was a pain, lugging a computer on a crowded train, ninty minutes each way. Those old Apples were the most unreliable things. I was told the problem was where the chips were connected to the motherboard, that it was a weak point in Apples.

After putting my Apple in the shop for repairs I'd usually have a week or so to do nothing but write more game ideas along with the corresponding psuedo-code in my notebook until I could pick up my 'reparied' computer, take it home, then type in the Basic code to see if it worked. For the next few months that was how I spent my life; working on my game, tuning it, changing things, debugging, adding things. Even when I was out drinking alone at a local izakaya (pub with snacks like a tapas bar) I was writing routines in my notebook.

Things continued like that for a few months until one day two new students started coming to the world-famous language school in Shibuya where I worked.

These two new students happened to be senior engineers at C.Itoh Electronics (CIE), a subsidiary of C.Itoh, a big Japanese trading company. After taking my lessons two or three times and learning about my programming hobby they'd always request me to teach them since I was the only teacher in the school that had any kind of tech experience. The two students didn't really care for the teaching system of my school and they would always bring hardware manuals to class to use as learning aids. These two engineers needed to speak and understand technical English really well because their company was getting dot-matrix printer hardware from TEC (Tokyo Electronic Company) and writing the firmware for the printers. The printers were known as the Apple ImageWriter, and the hardware manuals that my two students always brought to class were Apple ImageWriter User manuals.

The two students and I got along really well and we always had a good time in class. The younger one, Sumioka san, was already pretty fluent in English. The older one, Murioka san, was Sumioka's boss (Little did I know how much Murioka san would impact my life. He is a friend to this day). During one lesson when they were asking lots of questions about how to explain a certain printer option in English I joked that they needed a native English speaking tech advisor at their company. Laughing, they said that that was a good idea. I though they were just joking!

It wasn't long before they invited me out for drinks and yakitori (skewered barbecued chicken, or more likely pork) and they asked me to come by their company to see what they do, and maybe I could give them a demo of the game they knew I was making.

We parted company after a very enjoyable evening and man was I ever excited. Although nothing was mentioned about a job, I could see, or at least hoped, where this was leading. I had about a week to get ready.

The day came. I never wore a suit at my Eikawa job, just a tie. But I put on a suit for this event. It wasn't an interview, it was more like a tech tour that two Japanese engineers were kind enought to give to their Eikaiwa teacher who they liked. But I was treating this like an interview, or more like a debut because I was going to show them my game.

I packed my game floppy and setout on the ninty-minute commute to Shibuya in the center of Tokyo.

C.Itoh Electronics offices were, if I can remember, on the 13th and 14th floors of the Shinogi Shibuya Building, not far from my school and just on the other side of Shibuya JR Yamanote line train station.

Sumioka san met me at the door to the CIE office and showed me around. Like most Japanese offices it was a big open room with rows of desks grouped by function or project with the leader's desk facing his team. The higher level managers' desks were in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass, facing in to oversee all the rows. What a beautiful view of Shibuya from those floor-to-ceiling windows! I thought to myself that I'd sure love to work in this beautiful, glamorous office.

First I was introduced to the Butcho (section manager). His English was fluent from having worked in the USA for

a few years and he was a very nice and stylish man. He explained that Murioka san and Sumioka san were 2nd and 3rd in command. I guess I was making the right connections. Something can be said for working an Eikawa job after all.

While being shown around the office I noticed strange computers that I'd never seen before on some of the younger engineers' desks. I was introduced to the short, chubby, young engineer who'd designed those computers. He humbily said his design was inferior. I was shown the lab rooms where printers were being tested with new firmware that was being developed for Apple. Finally I was shown the special enclosed room where their hundred thousand dollar VAX computer was installed. Did I mention that I was also introduced to some very beautiful secretaries.

After the tour and the introductions Sumioka san asked me if I had brought my game and if I could give a demo. I said yes and he turned to the group an announced "Huffman san has brought a game that he has developed and he would like to show it to us".

My time came. They took me to a side corner of the office where an Apple II was waiting. About ten engineers gathered round, I took out my floppy, stuck it in the slot of the 5.25 drive and turned on the power to the Apple II.

I picked up the game paddle and waited while the Apple II+ floppy drive started making it's well-known grinding sounds...


The Birth of The Octagon Theory, Part 6  (Press the paddle button to start)

In the previous post I left off about to demonstrate my simple game to some members of the staff of C.Itoh Electronics. Let's continue...

After the floppy drive of the Apple II stopped making its grinding and clunking sounds, my game loaded and the screen came to life. On the left side of the screen, hovering in the air was a cartoonish rocket ship with its pilot sticking out. Below the rocket ship was dangerous mountainous terrain. Above the rocket ship were the words "Press the paddle button to start".

I pressed the paddle button.

I showed the CIE staff how I could control the elevation of the rocket ship by turning the Apple II game paddle knob, and how I could use the paddle button to cause the rocket engine to fire and propel the ship towards the right side of the screen.

During this quick demo of the controls an alien ship came on the right side of the screen and started shooting at my rocket ship. I explained to the CIE staff that since my ship had no firepower the only thing I could do was to try to get to the right side of the screen which would get my ship to the next level, and to do that I had to move foreward while also maneuvering the ship up and down, avoiding both the alien ship's bullets and the mountainous terrain below. If I could do neither, it was game over.

I got the rocket ship to the next level where the new screen slid in from the right with still more mountainous terrain and an even stronger alien rocket ship on the far right. This alien ship fired so quickly that it was impossible to avoid all the bullets and ended up with my ship exploding and the pilot ejecting, then slowly descending to the ground with the help of an open umbrella. This got some laughs from the CIE staff members.

When my pilot reached the ground I had to get him to run to the right side of the screen. This was done by turning the game paddle knob clockwise. My pilot ran to the right and the next screen slid in but this time the terrain was flat and on the far right of this new screen was a tower. And it was shooting red lasers at my pilot.

Like his rocket ship, the pilot had no firepower. I explained that the pilot's only recourse was to get to the right side of the screen by using a combination of running and ducking (done by pressing the paddle button), and If the pilot could get right next to the laser tower without getting killed he could run right past it and on to the new screen. So I artfully caused him to duck, avoiding the lasers, and ran right past the laser tower.

The new level that slid in was pretty much like the previous one except instead of a laser tower there was a man shooting a rifle at my pilot. Again the pilot's only course of action was to close the gap between him and the shooter by running while ducking below the rifle bullets. I explained to the CIE staff that this time it was impossible to just run past this level boss, but if you could find a way to beat the shooter you'd win the game.

I showed them how this was done.

While using the paddle button to duck the pilot beneath the shooter's barrage of bullets, I rotated the game paddle clockwise and the pilot closed the gap, until he was almost right in front of the shooter. I explained that I coded the game so that if the pilot could get a little closer to the shooter that the action of the paddle button would change from ducking to another action.

The pilot closed the gap a little more, I quickly pressed the paddle button, and the cute little pilot delivered a swift and deadly kick to the shooter's nuts. This got a big belly laugh from the CIE staff.

Down went the shooter...
The Game Won banner appeared on the screen...
And the CIE sta
ff members actually applauded!
I laughed, felt happy and relieved. I thought to myself that I had given a perfect demo. And I wondered if it

would lead to something good.