THE PLUS 3 DISC SOLUTION
Solving the 128K +3's software shortage. Is Romantic Robot's Multiface 3 the essential Plus 3 add-on? Rupert Goodwins gives his verdict...
In the beginning there was the Spectrum. Lots of people bought one. Lots of other people wrote games for the Spectrum, and lots of people bought those as well.
But there was a snag - everything used cassette tapes, which were fine for Depeche Mode but not for so hot for computer software. Slow, unreliable and frustrating were some of the kinder terms used for the medium.
Then came the Microdrive, Wafadrive and (for the fortunate few) disc drives. Wonderful things all - fast, reliable and capacious. Just the thing. Except for the one anchovy in the pizza - how do you get all the games from tape to their new home? Cue Multiface from Romantic Robot.
Multiface was revolutionary. With the press of a button, anything could be dumped to Microdrive or disc. And as the Spectrum evolved from 48K chocolate bar to 128K Amstrad, new versions of Multiface were produced.
Now there's the 128K +3, a games machine that has all its software on tape and built in disc drive... Guess what Romantic Robot has produced?
Multiface 3, that's what. Plug it into your 128K +3, and load a game from tape. Press the red button and you can port it on to disc at any stage, yours to load in a trice at a whim's notice. Multiface works by waiting for the program to load and run. Then it takes a copy, and as the program was running at the time, it will run when the copy is loaded back later.
Software houses are stuffy about this - they can see games being copied and distributed by pirates (but not of course by any reader) with a consequent impoverishment of the programmers.
Romatic Robot is sensitive to this, and claims that any program saved using a Multiface 3 will only load back with the machine attached.
That said, if you're a Plus 3 owner the only way you'll get your software on disc is via the Multiface.
The tape to disc function of the Multiface 3 would be enough to recommend it to anyone. But there's more. When the red button is pressed, a whole range of functions appears. You can look through the 128K+3's memory, altering it at will. High scores have never been so easy to obtain. Memory can be displayed as hexadecimal, decimal or text. All of the 128K +3's 128K of Ram can be fiddled with, not just the 48K's worth that Basic has access to.
You can also print out areas of memory and screens in a variety of different forms. The Multiface 3 can do the same types of graphics dumps as its brother Multiprint, straight text, Spectrum-style Copy and a couple of shaded screen dumps. It can't do much more than 128K + 3 Basic does, but it does it in the middle of programs.
The main purpose of the Multiface is to get things on to disc. As well as the simple Save and Load, it's got a few other tricks up its interface. You can, for example, use the disc from 48K mode. Lots of people get excited by this. Unlike the Spectrum 128K and 128K +2, the 128K +3 allows you to go into 48K mode without fatally locking out all of the new features. You do this by typing SPECTRUM in Plus 3 Basic, and you have a 48K Spectrum that, with Multiface, can use the disc drive.
Other things that the Multiface can do is allow you to erase a file to make room on a disc, in case you need to save something in mid-game and can't get to Basic to do the deed. You can't Format a disc from the Multiface, alas.
Multiface also compresses stuff automatically, and doesn't Save empty areas of memory. These two features mean that you can get (for example) more than three games on the 170-odd K allowed you per disc side. But you can turn those features off, if need be.
Everything is accessed by the traditional one-or two-line menu and single keypresses. Multiface 3 is very careful about invalid inputs, and didn't crash or otherwise misbehave at all. And I did try to confuse it.
I didn't like the manual much; eight half-size pages of dot-matrix isn't enough. All the major subjects are covered, though: the way in which the 128K +3 manages its memory and the ways in which you can use the Multiface 3 for multi-part games are mentioned. It's all a bit terse and dense. If the Multiface wasn't so easy to use the manual might have been a problem, but it is, so it isn't.
More than that, what can I say? I enjoy a good rant, most reviewers do, but the Multiface 3 seems set on continuing the Romantic Robot tradition of doing the job reliably. I can't even complain a little.
Any 128K +3 owner will find it a wonderful device, indispensable even - I'm not giving mine back without a fight. I expect to see the usual extra programs appear for the best in due course (Genie et al), whereupon not owning a Multiface 3 will brand one a complete loser.