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Multiface - The Little Red Button

For Spectrum users who had just bought a Microdrive, or those lucky enough to be able to afford a disc system, the Multiface was the answer to their prayers. For any mass storage device the problem was always going to be how to get your favourite games transferred from those slow cassette tapes onto your new, super-fast storage system, whether that be Microdrive or Wafadrive cartridge or floppy disc.

Most software companies were trying to deter pirates and part of their strategy was to use different loading systems. Although these very rarely stopped the home copiers, they more often than not caused legitimate purchasers a headache when trying to load them.

Transferring games became impossible, even with the heavily advertised transfer utilities. They could usually manage the normal loaders, but give them a custom, hyper-loader and they fell over.

Romantic Robot came to the users rescue in 1986 when they launched Multiface One, a hardware device that could stop and save any game to a variety of device include Microdrive and Opus Discovery. It was about the size of a joystick interface and slotted into the back of the Spectrum and contained a single, soon to be iconic, red button.

Also built into the 8k of on-board RAM were other tools that allowed users to go looking through the contents of the Spectrum’s memory; something used to locate POKEs for infinite lives. It also allowed the memory addresses to be changed, and this in turn triggered a flood of game-changing POKEs to the magazines.

Some game companies didn’t like this new found power the user had and so tried to curtail it by causing the software to crash if the device was detected. Un-deterred, Romantic Robot released another version with a switch that allowed the device to be hidden during loading. It could then be switched on and activated, circumventing the detection process.

The Multiface One was compatible with the 48k machine or the 128k machine running in 48k mode. This meant that 128k games could not be saved. When the +2 machine arrived, so did Romantic Robot’s new device, Multiface 128. Allowing users to save 128k games to Microdrive or disc. This version also added support for the +D disc interface. The Spectrum +2A and Plus 3 soon followed, which meant another device, the Multiface 3. This gave Plus 3 users the ability to save games to the internal disc drive.

To try and avoid any legal action, Romantic Robot modified the saved game data so that it could only be used if the device was plugged in, but it wasn’t long before utilities were available that got round this caveat. The 8K RAM was also used for other utilities including Genie, a machine code dissembler.

The Multiface was a must-have piece of kit for anyone with a mass storage device, and I am sure that sales of Microdrives, +D and Opus were increased by the very presence of the little black box with the red button.