Your word is law

  • Developer: CapDisc
  • Publisher: Philips Media
  • Release Year: 1994
  • Available On: CD-i
  • Genre(s): Puzzle (word puzzles), Sci-fi

It probably goes without saying, but the CD-i is one interesting machine. Originally meant to be the multimedia machine of the 90s to end them all, it didn’t quite pan out. The only reason most people still remember it is because of the infamous Mario and Zelda games that have been getting memed on for years, and while the weirdness of those games is somehow still funny after all these years, they don’t paint the full picture. The CD-i had educational titles, virtual art galleries, encyclopedias, adaptations of board games, ports of acclaimed games like 7th Guest and Myst, and even its own version of Tetris, making it uniquely diverse compared to the competition despite its relatively small library. Admittedly, I don’t think I would have been too happy to get one instead of any of Nintendo’s or Sega’s consoles at the time of its release, but now? Now it’s a pretty fun library to mess around with via emulation – all of the fun and curiosities without any of the high costs! When you look at what’s on the CD-i now, you can see how it has gained some appreciation amongst those who dig real deep into the world of video games – The unusual “anything goes” approach to gameplay mechanics, the surreal early 90s 3D graphics, the CD audio that tends to go extremely hard, the digitized actors doing their best to not sound incredibly goofy, it’s really a perfect encapsulation of that 90s approach to game design that people reminisce about so fondly nowadays. If it doesn’t exist already, you could probably do extremely well on Twitter with a “CD-i ~aesthetics~” account because a lot of people have no idea what they’re missing!

Engaging with the Effacer, engaging humans, playing Fire Emblem Engage, I’ve been doing a lot of engaging lately!

Despite knowing that people would get more out of it than they realize, I’m not surprised many CD-i games languish in obscurity with few backlogs/completions on sites like Backloggd and How Long to Beat. Most people don’t know what games are on there and even if they do, CD-i emulation takes enough effort to set up and troubleshoot that most people are probably going to give up unless their interest goes beyond the casual level. Getting real hardware is extremely expensive and not worth the potential maintenance and trouble to most people at this point, but it is pretty cool if you’re lucky enough to have it. I got to play the real thing at a retro gaming expo once, and though the only game available to me was Hotel Mario (further perpetuating the idea that it and Zelda are the only things worth caring about to passersby, unfortunately), I was still stoked to finally get to try one out. CD-i emulation isn’t perfect and doesn’t offer savestates (if done through the RetroArch core I used, anyway), but it has come such a long way since the last time I tried it and makes for a much more reasonable alternative, which is wonderful to see. Back in the day, I remember trying to emulate Link: The Faces of Evil with some standalone emulator that didn’t work well AND expected you to pay for it after a short trial! I think seeing how much better it is nowadays sparked something inside of me because even after I was done with today’s game, I just started playing other CD-i games for the heck of it.

Kether is a wonderfully ambitious blend of seemingly disparate things – Space Harrier-style flight sequences (without the ability to shoot), timed memory games, first-person dungeon crawling and shooting, all wrapped in a bizarre sci-fi narrative with some legitimately strong presentation choices and audio design. It’s a really cool game and if it didn’t kick you back to the very start after one death, that probably would have been the game I chose for today. I also had a strange emulation bug that was causing both the English and French voices to play at the same time, making it very difficult to tell what anyone was saying. Still, it remains on the list for whenever I have the time and patience because it absolutely should get more attention as one of the console’s curiosities. Accelerator is one you never hear about, even for CD-i standards, perhaps because it’s one of the more “normal” games on the platform, but it’s a pretty dang good RC Pro-AM clone and worth playing for at least a bit. I’m a fan of that game and think it’s one of Rare’s better non-platforming efforts, so I instantly got sucked into this one, especially as its Amiga-like soundtrack full of samples that are definitely references to quotes from things I don’t immediately recognize compelled me to keep going. I was going to finish it and bundle it with this one as a two-fer post since Effacer is an interesting one with not too much to say mechanically, but Accelerator becomes impossibly difficult at the ninth level. Like, it might actually be impossible based on how ridiculously demanding it becomes and how it litters the extremely narrow track with instant kill mines that appear in different locations on each attempt. I’ll probably give it another shot someday because I really was enjoying it, but it’s telling that there aren’t any full playthrough videos on the internet that I could find! Those two were but a taste of what I messed around with, and I could keep going if I wanted to, but we should probably get into the main topic, huh?

The CD-i wasn’t drowning in support from the big third party developers that gamers on the internet typically think of as “the big ones”, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t get support, and CapDisc was one of its most consistent developers. With at least 20 games under its belt according to Mobygames (they even had time to make NFL Football Trivia Challenge for the Sega CD!), they were one of the most prominent names on the platform alongside the likes of Infogrames and Philips themselves. According to Sega Retro, Capital Disc Interactive was a spin-off of Capitol Video Communications Inc, which is a company that’s somewhat hard to Google with such a generic sounding name. The bright side is that their trademark seems to be long dead according to this USPTO report, so if you like the name for some reason, maybe you can do something with that information! Jokes aside, you gotta give CapDisc a lot of the credit for the variety they offered the platform. They brought pinball to the CD-i, adaptations of Battleship and Axis & Allies, a port of Mad Dog McCree (one of the most well-known Laserdisc games), a couple of Sesame Street games, and even a port of Kingdom: The Far Reaches, an adventure game that’s available on modern platforms like Steam and GOG to this day. Looking at their resume, Effacer fits right in as an educational game that adapts a physical game into something with more flavor than normal. Effacer’s gameplay isn’t anything particularly unique, as we’ll get into shortly, but it has one heck of a look and world built around it!

The Effacer himself shows up to greet you in the most endearing way possible

Effacer is exactly what it says in its subtitle: this is Hangman, but in space! The “Effacer” part refers to both what you’re attempting to do and the titular alien that takes you under his wing. In case you didn’t know, efface is an actual word and it means “to erase”, which certainly fits what you and him are looking to do! You see, the Effacer loves nothing more than knowledge and proper use of the English language, but there are wanted criminals out there using grammar and vocabulary for nefarious purposes and their ignorance offends the Effacer. That might make him sound like something of a badass, but he’s actually a goofy looking alien guy with a costume designed by someone named Frank Rogers. I couldn’t find many credits for Frank Rogers on Mobygames, but he was credited on the 1995 DOS game Mission Critical for “1st Assistant Makeup”, so considering those are somewhat similar roles, they may very well be the same person. The Effacer is also a very encouraging guy and, to my surprise, never gets mad at you for screwing up on the job. In fact, he always comes packing words of encouragement, which is very kind of him! For another bit of trivia, he’s also voiced by Jonathan Bryce, who has voice acting credits on Mobygames for a bunch of characters in The Elder Scrolls III and IV, multiple characters in the Wii version of Star Trek: Conquest, and perhaps best of all, the Monkey Totem narrator in the 1997 Jumanji game that’s loosely based on the movie! Between all those roles and some producer/production assistant roles on shows like The X-Files, it’s safe to say that Jonathan Bryce had a pretty decent career. I wonder if he remembers his time as the Effacer, enlisting the humans who purchased the game to eradicate aliens who dared to offend his sensibilities… I like to think it’s a very memorable role!

Go ahead and laugh at their name, but double negatives are serious business!

In the 25th century, word crimes are the worst crimes and so it’s up to you to execute these alien offenders by playing an extremely high stakes game of Hangman. If you succeed, you get to watch the alien die before your very eyes, but should you fail, the criminal gets to escape with no punishment. Heck of a legal system they’ve got here, right? While there’s no story to follow here and no ending or anything like that, you do get to meet a batch of truly weird aliens that each have their own delightfully cheesy backgrounds. These fellas have some of the most unusual, hardest to pronounce names I’ve ever seen, including the likes of ‘Gon Koaliphier, Errati Nomadi Glockenspiel, and Greeb-Beerg. Their appearances suit their bizarre names as well, including some, uh, thing with what appears to be multiple appendages, a guy that looks like he’s split in two, a squat looking little guy with a very bumpy head, and a jester-like king that seems like he belongs from another game. It’s one heck of a batch of weirdos, and they’re easily the stars of the show. Each one is imprisoned for some kind of crime, but these crimes come with stories you can listen to that would have made for compelling games or TV episodes in their own right. For example, Hyfeena was arrested for “Reckless Hyphenation”; doesn’t sound so bad, does it? However, it seems Hyfeena’s bad habit was so bad that they nearly caused a war by butchering some intergalactic documents with incorrect hyphenation, completely changing their intent! Schmierfink’s “Poor Penmanship” seems harmless enough, but if left unchecked, he would have covered literally everything in unreadable scribbles! Eroom Mij loves puns, and who doesn’t, but his use of them was so excessive that the people he ruled had no choice to revolt against him! Not only is it silly enough to be entertaining, it also presents a legitimately interesting and perhaps underutilized idea that crimes in video games don’t necessarily have to be of the violent nature. We’re so used to things like monsters, demons, corrupt humans, and aliens causing trouble with devastating weaponry, magic powers, or imperialistic ambitions or whatever in our video games, but sometimes, a crime more subtle or deadlier to different aspects of life can be all the more interesting. You wouldn’t think something like using the wrong tense in your speech and writing could cause any problems unless you were taking some kind of exam or something, but in the world of Effacer, such a mistake can be utilized to cheat the concept of fate itself! It’s obviously and intensely exaggerated here for comedic effect, but the idea is sound and I would have loved to see even more of it here.

As for the actual Hangman part, well… it’s pretty much what you would expect. After deciding your word difficulty level and the length of the timer for choosing letters, you get six chances to guess whatever word the alien in question has in store for you. Wrong guesses deplete your chances as does using a hint to guarantee one of the letters gets revealed, whereas correct guesses don’t take anything away. You get four losses before you get a game over, but getting a game over doesn’t really matter anyway. I figured there might be an ending of some kind for executing all of the aliens, so imagine my surprise when an alien I executed on a run came back like nothing happened! Yeah, this is a game where you just keep going until you lose, which is cool and all, but it was a bit of a bummer to see the aliens I just dealt with come back so quickly. Really makes the whole legal system they have here seem pointless and like a bunch of fluff, unless… that’s the point… maybe Effacer is making some kind of biting commentary about the legal system or the futility of the concept of justice or something, yeah, that’s gotta be it, right?!

…I’ll leave you to decide that for yourself.

Anyway! The words that you can get only range from four to nine letters (based on all the words I got), but that doesn’t mean the difficulty isn’t sufficient. The lower difficulties work as a perfectly sufficient way to get the hang of Hangman (heh), whereas the higher difficulties don’t hesitate to give you words that are so obscure that they sound fake. I was able to rack up plenty of wins on the lower difficulties, but the highest difficulty was too hot to handle, and I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on vocabulary and the English language. I mean, who’s going around using words like “Malvasia” and “Fenthion” nowadays or ever, really? Whether you succeed or fail, you can view the definition of the word afterwards, which is how the game educates its players. It’s a nice gesture and the dictionary they use (the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary) seems to be quite robust, offering several possible definitions and uses for every word.

Beyond all that and a multiplayer mode, that’s really all there is to Effacer. Well, there’s apparently hidden code for a hypothetical debugging mode, but I don’t think that counts as bonus content for most people! It’s an undeniably slim package and even though it boasts a whopping 40,000 words, I can’t imagine most people will get anywhere near seeing all of those words. Still, there’s a lot to like about the general vibe of Effacer, both on its own merits as a bizarre twist on Hangman and as a representation of the curious world of the CD-i. There’s really nothing else like it and playing Hangman normally isn’t exactly going to be the same thing unless you create your own alien backstories and role play them or something! I suppose I’m not surprised the CD-i never won the hearts of “core gamers” back in the day considering how it was trying to be so much more than just a typical game console, but as something to look back upon and experiment with, it’s a very compelling piece of hardware. I’m definitely going to cover more CD-i stuff in the future, but I think I might start bundling some games together so I can check out the neat art galleries and encyclopedias and stuff while still giving you dear readers the same degree of chunky content you’ve come to (hopefully) appreciate. Whenever the time comes, both you and I can look forward to some cool and interesting looking stuff on the Philips machine that wanted to do it all.

More Screenshots


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