Downsway proves the point that not all programmable joystick interfaces have to be big and bulky. The unit plugs into the edge connector port of the Spectrum and could be mistaken for a neat rampack if it were not for the 9-pin D plug protruding from its side and a two position slide switch. What is quite astonishing is that there is no logo or maker’s label to identify the unit, which is pushing the incognito image a little bit too far. No instructions are provided with the unit, so beginners may have to solve the riddle by process of elimination.
The interface must be programmed from Basic. The slide switch is set to programming mode (Upper position for lack of annotation). Each individual joystick function is programmed in turn. The joystick lever is activated and at the same time the appropriate key pressed on the keyboard. Care must be taken to ensure the lever is released before releasing the key on the keyboard, as the memory stores the actual data on release of the lever. Once this operation has been completed for all the functions, the slide switch may be returned to the normal position. The function of the joystick may now be checked and the correct characters should appear on the screen when activating the joystick.
The Spectrum is now ready for the game to be loaded. Atic Atac is taken here as an example. This game has provision for Kempston, Cursor or keyboard control. Either Cursor or keyboard control may be used in combination with the Downsway interface.
Keyboard control will be chosen and the joystick controller programmed for left, right, down and up using Q, W, E and R and fire action with T. Having checked the individual actions in Basic, the game is loaded and the keyboard control selected (option 1). On play, two things become apparent. First the good news, the fire action although programmed only individually, will work even when activating a direction control. The bad news is that the diagonals do not oblige in a similar manner; they will not operate unless they are programmed beforehand. The same programming procedure as with the other directions applies, only that two movement keys will have to be activated at the same time while holding the joystick lever in a diagonal, so depressing Q and R keys the joystick must be pushed into the upper left diagonal and released.
In fact the standard procedure will be to program the 4 diagonals first and then the 4 main directions followed by the fire action. A snag will occur when trying to check the programmed functions, as Basic will not register two keys activated simultaneously and therefore the diagonals cannot be checked. If an error has occurred, it will only be noticed after loading the game and this means having to reset the Spectrum and restart the procedure. With a bit of practice, however, this should not occur. The fact that the programming has to be accomplished in Basic requires the function keys for the game to be known beforehand. In most cases this information will be found in the cassette inlay. During the period of the test, the Downsway unit performed faultlessly and without any side effects.
The Downsway interface is a very compact and effective programmable joystick controller. The lack of programming instructions complicates the initial use, especially since there is no annotation of the slide switch.
As with most of the soft or hardware programmable interfaces the programming is required to be done before loading the game and requires a little exercise, but apart from this drawback the unit proves to be far more versatile than any of the standard interfaces and provides a joystick facility for any game on the market.