The first Artist program came out in 1985, its CRASH Smashed sequel in late 1986, but this venerable Softechnics product remains extremely popular. A +3 version was recently released and IAN CULL decided to see how it stands up in 1989. Also coming under scrutiny are MGT’s Fixer and TwoFace, the former promising to solve interface incompatibility problems for +3/+2A owners.

Dated has-been or all-time classic?

BO JANGEBORG developed The Artist II while working on the sequel to Fairlight, an impressive and Smashed isometric arcade adventure. Its principal advance over its revolutionary predecessor was an ST/Amiga-style icon-driven control system currently supported by Datel, who offer the program, a mouse and interface for £49.95.

The first thing to say about the new program is that it isn’t really all that new. The basic program is unchanged from the earlier version, except that it supports the +3 disk drive and printer interface. Nevertheless, The Artist II is a very powerful graphics program, offering many functions useful in creating screen displays.

‘an ST/Amiga-style icon-driven control system’

One of the most interesting features of Artist II is that it comes complete with a ‘Page Maker’ program too. This allows screens created with Artist II to be combined with text written using Softechnics’ word-processing program — The Writer (48K version £14.99, 128K version £17.99). Reviewed in CRASH 31 this was judged very impressive, and the two together give a form of Desk Top Publishing on the Spectrum +3 (both mouse compatible). You can even create your own fonts and fill patterns.

The Artist II: Menus and icons

On loading (which takes about 40 seconds), The Artist II prompts for the AMX mouse — you can use either an AMX or a Kempston mouse (I was unable to test this option, however). Unfortunately it is quite easy to crash The Artist II back into Basic (doing a SAVE to a write-protected disk, for example. If the LOADER option was used, this will result in the loss of your masterpiece — so use LOAD "DISK" from +3 Basic).

As well as driving Artist II by mouse, the keyboard can be used for all cursor movements — Q/S up/down and I/O left/right. ‘M’ is used to select options or set pixels, and ‘N’ to cancel options or clear pixels. You can also use a Kempston joystick (which I did for this review) but Artist II does not support the built-in + 3 ‘intelligent’ joystick. I occasionally found that control reverted to keyboard only, entailing use of the EXTRAS pulldown menu to re-select Kempston control.

‘Desk Top Publishing on the Spectrum +3’

All Artist II controls are handled using pull-down menus or by selecting one of the icons at the base of the screen. These include those for drawing empty or filled shapes — including circles, ellipses and rectangles. There is also a brush icon, calling up a display of assorted brush shapes of various sizes, for use when free-hand drawing on the screen. A scissors icon allows irregular shapes to be cut out of the screen display and pasted back elsewhere (quite complex to use, but very powerful). The magnifying glass icon allows sections of the screen to be enlarged for detailed work, and an A icon allows text entry and a dotted rectangle icon is used to set up (rectangular) windows.

At the bottom-right of the screen is the current colour and fill pattern — selecting either of these brings up a menu of colours. The pull-down menus, across the top of the screen, give access to additional functions — the STORAGE menu allows LOADs/SAVEs/CATs and screen dumps to be carried out. The TYPEFACE menu allows various fonts to be selected. And the MODES menu allows the way that other operations will function to be set (eg text can be laid down transparently, or in colour).

The Artist II: Predefined fill patterns

The SCREEN menu allows the full screen picture to be viewed, and either the top or bottom section to be displayed for working on (the menus & icons mean that three lines of the full screen are lost). There is also an OK option, which stores the current screen — if a mistake is subsequently made, the undo option will restore the OKed screen. A pattern option puts a chequerboard pattern over the picture, allowing attribute alignments to be made more easily.

The last menu option is the WINDOWS one — this allows a predefined window to be cleared, inverted, scrolled, moved or copied to a new position on the screen. There are also options to ‘thicken’ or outline the picture, and to re-scale the picture into a new size and position. If no window has been defined (or the window has been closed) then any of these options will operate on the whole screen picture!

LOADing and SAVEing screen files is achieved by choosing the STORAGE menu, and selecting the appropriate option. A CATalogue is then displayed, and the SCREEN$ filename should be typed in — there is no chance to ‘back out’ here, and specifying a filename which is not a SCREEN$ can cause havoc! There is also an option to ERASE a file from the disk. One annoying problem here is that the disk motor continues to run after the disk option has completed and the Artist II display is restored — to stop this, do a disk CAT, and wait for the motor to stop before pressing the space bar.

Alternatively, edit the Basic program, and insert RANDOMIZE USR 14495 into line 2. This may also help other +3 programs which leave the disk running. The STORAGE menu also offers options to SAVE/LOAD fill patterns (which can be altered, along with the character fonts, by choosing options on the EXTRAS menu). There is also an OTHER option, which seems to do nothing — left in from the 128K version, and should switch storage to TAPE, but doesn’t; and a VERIFY option, which simply gives a ‘Nonsense in Basic’ error message.

There are also four print options: large or small colour or grey scale. The Artist II uses the +3 printer port, but does not use the +3 dump routines — my printer, an ancient Epson MX80, could not print the Artist II dumps, even though normal +3 dumps are perfect.

‘A chequerboard pattern makes attribute alignments easier’

Finally, the Page Maker option calls up a new list of options, selected (confusingly) by pressing a number 1 to 8. From here an A4 sized sheet of paper can be created bit by bit, using Artist II screen pictures, and The Writer text (up to 7000 characters). There are functions to cut out bits of the Artist II screen, and to ‘flow’ text around the pictures as they are fitted onto the page.

But you always have to be careful of LOADing a new screen picture when the EXTRAS up option is selected (which allows the bottom of the picture to be altered). Apparently this confuses the program — the new picture is loaded in the down-position, but the up option is still set. This can be sorted, by using the WINDOW SCROLL function on the whole screen.

Overall, The Artist II is a very powerful graphics package for the Spectrum +3, but it’s a pity that after all this time the product wasn’t more polished, with bugs eliminated and proper instructions for the +3. The Artist II can be purchased on +3 disk for £19.99 from Softechnics. Alternatively the Datel pack is available from Datel Electronics.


I HAVE HAD some response concerning the printer problems experienced by Adrian Dixon, regarding his Silver Reed EX32 and +3 paging subroutine so that the printer strobe signal is normally high, rather than normally low. My printer (an old Epson MX-80) works perfectly with or without the pokes, but obviously other printers are more strict. (The Brother 1109 is another that needs the pokes). The signal is supposed to be high normally, so it would appear that yet another +3 bug has been unearthed.

Aidan Orton also asks about a replacement chip for his Multiface 3. This is a specialised chip, Aidan, designed by Romantic Robot. I therefore think that their repair price of £10.95 is quite reasonable. I cannot imagine what you were doing to damage it!?

On the subject of Romantic Robot, I have had a number of readers expressing interest in Genie for the Multiface 3. I have managed to patch my original 48K version of Genie to run quite well on the +3, but am still working on the 128K version. It is interesting to note, however, that Romantic Robot were at one time claiming to be developing Genie +3. (Mr. B. Walton sent me a copy of a note sent from them in April ’88 assuring him that Genie +3 would be available — I was told much the same when I ordered my Multiface 3). Romantic Robot’s other Multiface program, Lifeguard, does run successfully on the +3. However, since the Multiface 3 MUST be active in order to re-load disk-saved games, these programs are less useful than for the other Spectrums. Perhaps users should have two Multiface 3s fitted.

Various readers are also voicing concern over Spectrum programs that will not run on the +3. Personally, I have not yet had any trouble (but I have a backlog of new software which I have not yet had time to load and play). If you write in with problem programs, CRASH will try compiling a complete list of them (and manufacturers, if some are worse culprits than others).

EVEN WHILE MGT gear up for releasing the SAM Coupé (see News) they continue to support the Spectrum with new products. Two of the most interesting are the Fixer and the TwoFace. While the former has proved unexpectedly popular, the latter has proved over-ambitious and is unlikely to be continued in production.

The Fixer is a small circuit board and edge connector designed to allow owners of the +2A to use the MGT Plus D disk interface. Regular readers will know the +2A is the black cased version of a +2 with a +3 circuit-board inside. Since the +3 has a redesigned edge connector many interfaces are incompatible with it. MGT have subsequently been surprised by the interest in this gadget, with people hoping it will solve problems with other interfaces as well. Apparently some high street stores are even talking about stocking it.

‘In 48 Basic the Fixer runs almost every interface I connected to it’

The Fixer comes in two basic versions, both costing £9.05. A standard version will connect the +2A to the Plus D, while another version allows the Opus Discovery disk drive to work with the +2A. Obviously the Fixer only solves interface problems, and games which crash due to +3 changes in the ROM chips will be unaffected by the Fixer.

The miraculous Fixer from MGT

To see how well the standard Fixer works I connected to my +3 and gave it a whirl. In 48 Basic it runs almost every interface I connected to it. The ZX Interface One and microdrive combination worked perfectly (though trying to select +3 Basic crashed the Spectrum immediately). The SwiftDisc II interface (reviewed next month) also worked fine in 48 Basic, but was also usable after the SPECTRUM command was entered from +3 Basic (ie ‘quasi-48 Basic’). This gives the advantage that the extra memory is still accessible to machine code. Multiface 1 and 128 both run on the +3 via the Fixer — in 48 Basic or the quasi mode, with Multiface 3 running too! This meant that I was able to run Genie on my +3 at last — loading games using Multiface 3, set up to put the machine into 48 Basic after the load, then using Multiface 128 to run Genie 128.

‘The TwoFace has proved overambitious and is unlikely to be continued in production’

Using what the Fixer is designed for, I had similar results. The Plus D interface worked fine in 48 Basic or quasi-48 Basic, but would not run under +3 Basic. The interface will, curiously, boot from +3 Basic (by typing RUN) but crashes when booting has finished.

Miles Gordon Technology tell me that the Plus D does work in 128 Basic on the +2A so the +3 disk system must be causing problems. I don’t know how much Amstrad would charge for their add-on disk drive, assuming that they bring it to market, but my money would go on the MGT Plus D or Sixword Swiftdisc system (both much faster than the +3, and a lot more compatible with existing utility programs).

The MGT TwoFace is another add-on aimed mainly at Plus D users. It is reminiscent of the old Currah Micro-slot, in that it allows the Plus D (which has no expansion connector) to be used on the Spectrum along with other interfaces. It is more sophisticated however, in that a switch allows either device to be isolated, and there is also a built-in Kempston joystick interface.

When a Plus D is fitted to the TwoFace, it is mounted vertically, the combination extending some 6 inches above the desk (with the disk drive cable emerging from the top) — so anyone who has the Spectrum immediately in front of the TV may need to raise the screen so it can still be seen. A metal bracket (supplied with the TwoFace) allows the Plus D to be bolted rigidly to the TwoFace, so that there is no wobble.

The switch on the TwoFace allows the Plus D (in the top socket) to be active in the forward or centre position. The rear socket (at least, whatever is plugged into it) is active in the forward or rear position. The built-in Kempston joystick interface is always active (unless an internal wire link is cut, which does not void the guarantee).

Which interfaces work in the rear connector along with the Plus D interface is a problem to answer. Some devices won’t work because they clash with the Plus D in such a way that even the disabling switch on the TwoFace cannot help. Others won’t work because the Spectrum itself cannot drive both interfaces at one time (some Spectrums have an ‘underpowered’ edge connector and cannot drive more than one device at once).

Miles Gordon Technology suggest that the best method is to try the required combination of interfaces and TwoFace (there is a problem-solving flowchart with the TwoFace documentation). However, they advise that interfaces such as the ZX Interface One, Swiftdisc and Alphacom printer are unlikely to work. Interfaces like the Opus Discovery and Beta interface, and even a second Plus D, should work okay.

‘The Plus D and ZX Interface One seem to be totally incompatible!’

My own tests largely confirm MGT’s advice. The Plus D and ZX Interface One seem to be totally incompatible! The Sixword Swiftdisc II seems to run OK, provided that the Plus D is disabled using the switch. However, the Plus D is unable to operate usefully. My Alphacom printer and Plus D combination tended to work OK (most of the time) provided that the switch was correctly moved before each device was used — rather laborious, and it makes printing disk catalogues impossible! Trying the Rotronics Watadrive and Plus D gave rather different results — the Plus D worked fine but the Wafadrive crashed as soon as it was initialised.

So, the TwoFace will mainly be of use to Opus Discovery or Beta interface owners wishing to upgrade to a Plus D system (it is a shame that it is not Interface One compatible to allow upgrades for those users), or for those Spectrum users simply needing the additional edge connector (for example, the non-Disciple Multiface 1 & Plus D work fine together via the TwoFace, provided that the switch is used to keep them separate). The other possible TwoFace purchaser is a Plus D owner needing a Kempston Joystick interface, since one is built in. At £29.95, the TwoFace would be an expensive joystick interface, but gives the option of adding other hardware to the Plus D at a later date. Remember that if the TwoFace does not work for you, MGT promise to refund the cost of the Plus D if it is returned undamaged.


AFTER LAST month’s coverage of the Miles Gordon Technology Plus D disk interface, a quick look at the ‘official’ support magazine — FORMAT. This is a paper-only production, as opposed to the disk-based magazines reviewed recently. The October ’88 issue contained, amongst other snippets, a review of the PCG Wordmaster program (to be looked at in detail in a future Tech Tips), an adventure section in the style of a story about playing adventure games, some MIDI jargon explained and programming sections on cutting down the size of Basic programs and adding new machine code commands to Basic via the Disciple/Plus D interface. The November issue continues the adventure story and MIDI section, as well as the two programming sections. There is also a discussion of the SAM Coupé. The Christmas Special has, as well as the regular sections, User Defined Graphics for use in BASIC games, a screen dump routine which works in many different sizes, a Catalogue Sort program and a Basic Battleships game for two — played over the Spectrum network (for owners of the ZX Interface One or Disciple interface).

FORMAT is received by all members of INDUG, the official MGT users group. Membership of INDUG costs £10 per year. However, a 3 month trial of the FORMAT magazine alone costs £3. Full membership of INDUG brings additional benefits, such as 5% discount on MGT products, utility programs on tape, etc.

In-depth coverage of your favourite computer’s insides and appendages will continue next month with, hopefully, a look at the PCG Wordmaster and a detailed examination of the Sixword Swiftdisc II Upgrade. But as with all the best columns, the right to change everything is reserved — just in case something more exciting comes along (like my cheque). Futile letters urging me to keep my promises, offer advice/information or ask for help should be sent to Ian Cull, Tech Niche, CRASH.