20 February 2010


The Multiface, product of Romantic Robot UK Ltd, was designed to be a multi-purpose interface. You can see where the marketing boys came up with the name...

The basic idea was quite simple. The Multiface 1, a small black box with a red button on top, was wedged into the expansion slot of your Spectrum where it would patiently sit, waiting to spring into action. One press of that red button later and up popped a menu allowing you to perform all manner of amazing feats.

Back up the entire contents of memory to cassette, cartridge, wafer or disk. Fill the 8k RAM extension with whatever sneaky code you could think up. Use the 'Multi Toolkit extension' to POKE around in the gubbins of your Speccy - infinite lives, anyone? And, last but not least, there was a Kempston-compatible joystick interface stuck on the side.

This was heaven! The Multiface 1 provided unprecedented access to the guts of your machine, and most importantly of all it allowed you to take a snapshot of your entire machine and 'back up' your games collection. And your friend's game collection. And, in fact, any games you could get your hands on. Depending on your moral standpoint, of course, which led Romantic Robot to make the following statement:

MULTIFACE 1 is NOT designed to encourage PIRACY!
Please note that you must not use it to copy, reproduce or infringe in any way any copyright material without the clear permission of the copyright owner. ROMANTIC ROBOT neither condones nor authorises the use of Multiface for the reproduction of copyrighted material - to do so is illegal!

Technically, the Multiface was extremely clever. The Z80 processor at the heart of the Spectrum had a non-maskable interrupt line. This means little to most of us, but rest assured that when the red button was pressed, a NMI was triggered, and the Multiface quickly paged outthe Spectrum ROM, replacing it with an entirely new program: that of the Multiface. It was cunning, no doubt, but most importantly of all it allowed you to hack and crack those games with consummate ease...

Oh, and it only worked in 48k mode. So Romantic Robot developed the Multiface 128 and, in time, the Multiface +3, each designed to work specifically with those systems. With each incarnation came further benefits; compare the feature set of the Multiface +3, which offered transfer of programs from various formats, copying of screens to the printer, the use of DOS commands in 48k mode, and an expanded toolkit for fiddling about with memory contents.

In its time - that's October 1986 - the Multiface was one piece of equipment any hardcore Speccy owner had to have, despite its £40 price tag. The proof of this worth may well be its inclusion in so many emulators today, and you'd be hard pressed to find a latter-day Spectrumowner who doesn't have equally fond memories of their multiface.

But, the ingenuity of Romantic Robot doesn't end there, for the Speccy wasn't the only machine around with a solid Zilog Z80 chip sitting at the heart of it. The Amstrad CPC, too, was prime candidate for a multiface attachment. With much the same abilities as the Spectrumversion, the Multiface 2, 2+ and 2E caused similar joy in the lives of many Amstrad users...

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