John Wase gives the latest multi-purpose interface a thorough testing
Yes, it's here at last. The all-singing, all-dancing Multiface 128 by Romantic Robot. Advertised as "No 1 Spectrum multipurpose interface", its principal purpose is to transfer tape-based software to other more rapid storage media - microdrives, Discovery, Beta or Disciple, or even to tape (with a turbo-load option). Although the copy saved is unprotected, it is of no use to commercial software pirates, as the first screen, usually the loader pictures, is distorted to a greater or lesser extent in the top half. This is usually righted during the running of the program. As an alternative to mere copying, Multiface will allow you to stop a program, study it, with various displays of the registers in hex or decimal, even ASCII to show hidden text, PEEK at it, insert POKES and save screens.
The customary black plastic box has a through part at the bottom and a red spring-loaded button on top, and it fits upright at the back of the Spectrum, on the expansion port. I found it fitted well on a 48K, but not quite so well (though adequately) on the 128K Spectrum +2.
You load a program. Any old program. Press the red button; everything stops and a menu comes up on the bottom line inviting you to exit (to Basic), return (to continue the program), save (to go to save menu), tool (to access multi-toolkit routines), print (to dump a screen to the printer, but only for interfaces with a COPY command like Kempston E or LPRINT III), jump (allows you to jump to any specified address on restart) and clear (to clear the extra 64K memory banks of a 128K Spectrum). I seized the nearest 128K program to hand; Tasword +2, loaded it and filled the file full of junk. I was particularly anxious to see if the distortion of the screen caused any problems; but it didn't. It saved a treat and loaded fine, the screen distortion disappeared. The only point that I could mention was the loader screen being completely blue, it left Tasword +2 with a blue border until I did some operation which turned it green.
Those who are familiar with the old Multiface 1 will know that it had a Kempston joystick and a switch to make the device transparent to other add-ons. There is no longer a joystick port, probably because the Plus2 has its own. The transparency switch is a different matter, however, and is sometimes necessary. This has been replaced by a software switch, toggled on and off by 'o' - it shows on the bottom line of the main menu along with the version number - in my case version number 87.1. Once set at off, Multiface is transparent on return to the program until reactivated with the red button.
I then tested it with some pictures. These saved perfectly, bottom lines and all. So you can save pictures of games and then print them out large on a printer to prove that you've got to that impossible screen, or you can even print out a poster advertising Aunt Jane's party.
Next I tried tape. First class. A battered old copy of Manic Miner saved perfectly but took well over four minutes to reload; the turbo version took two minutes two seconds; a very worthwhile saving.
Then I tried the Disciple interface. Things started to go wrong here. It just wouldn't. I tried it between the Spectrum and unit as recommended. Crash! Romantic Robot told me that a Disciple-compatible Multiface 128 would be in the shops in April. So take care.
And so to the other facilities. Like the toolkit, this menu gives 'q' (to qutie), ENTER PEEKs and scrolls through addresses, and allows you to POKE any value into any address. The space bar allows you to type in a new address to POKE to, the current address being shown on the bottom line in either hex or decimal, being toggled between the two by 'h'. W is extremely powerful; it opens a window which displays 128 hex addresses and their content, all in glorious black or yellow, the current address, the one on the bottom line, being also shown on the window in tasteful flashing blue. The whole can be scrolled around with the cursor keys. If, like me, your hex is doubtful, then it's easy to have the main window in hex and change the current address to decimal to check. This too changed as the window scrolls. The window can also be changed to ASCII equivalent, allowing "hidden" text to be located, and this can be a useful facility. Finally, 'reg' shows the Z80 registers at the time of stopping, and s selects additional RAM banks to examine. Incidentally, you need to POKE 8192/3 with a specific address, before returning to the main menu. If you want to use the jump facility. That, then is the address to which the program will subsequently jump.
Finally, if you're a machine code freak, there is an additional facility. Multiface has an 8K ROM and an 8K RAM as buffer, and this can be used for further machine code; it's no use trying Basic since the RAM overshadows the Spectrum ROM so both cannot be paged in at the same time. For instance, it could be used for a piece of code enabling one to remove the menu from the bottom of the page, thus pressing the button would freeze the frame and allow a photograph to be taken. The ideas and potential are limitless...
It's a pity about the temporary problem with the Disciple but, apart from that, Multiface 128 has a lot going for it. It has an excellent package of facilities, just the job for one to get the most out of one's gear. I thought it worked very well, and though it's not cheap, I would recommend it.