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About the Story
The beautiful life is always damned, they say. As for you, you've
Winner, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner, Best Story; Nominee, Best Setting; Winner, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Individual Puzzle; Winner, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Use of Medium - 2002 XYZZY Awards
In 18 century France, a young man in urgent need of money visits his aristocratic adoptive father's house, only to find the inhabitants mysteriously vanished. Fortunately, he is not without resources: he is a student of the "lavori d'Aracne", an interesting form of magic based on weaving links between similar objects, so that anything that happens to one happens to both. This is in many ways an old-school treasure hunt, full of locked doors and no NPC's, but with rich detail (you'll have to look very hard to find a noun that isn't implemented), an impressive degree of simulation (especially in the handling of liquids), and many puzzles with alternate solutions. A real joy to play, and the kind of game that you'll keep toying with after you've finished it. Some bugs (as of version 6, at least). It is possible to lock yourself out of victory without realizing it.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
This is, all in all, very Emily Short: clockwork and magic, affluent Rococo / Enlightenment scenery and pseudo-Continental setting, cheese, acerbic put-downs as parser responses, complex object code and the usual and inimitable tersely elegant turns of phrase. The central contraption in particular felt extremely Metamorphoses-esque; however, Savoir not only outdoes Metamorphoses in terms of scale, but also has a much more widespread and human touch, despite the lack of immediately present NPCs. The motivation changes subtly throughout the piece; initially, it appears to be just an old-skool grab-and-plunder, which then develops a recollection-of-past subtext: so far, so conventional. The nature of these memories adds a definite feeling of guilt to the indiscriminate raiding, though (I looked over my shoulder a couple of times before breaking the seal on the letter), as well as introducing the further motivation of finding out what happened to the house's residents.
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Savoir-Faire is an excellent game, featuring a strong sense of place, an innovative backstory & magic system, and a protagonist whose idiosyncrasies are charming in a way that reminds me of Varicella. (Daphne Brinkerhoff)
When a game comes out and patently calls itself old school, comparisons to some of the more popular Infocom classics and early shareware games will be drawn. So the question is, does Savoir-Faire succeed in replicating the old Infocom standard? As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't just succeed in replicating it; it's better in every respect I can think of while still maintaining the illusion that the game could have been created in Infocom's heyday. (Francesco Bova)
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Number of Reviews: 11
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Emily Short has pioneered a number of advances in IF, most notably the radically innovative conversation model of Galatea. Galatea was not universally loved; my sense is that many people thought of as too experimental or too "new school" (i.e. all story, no puzzles) to be generally accepted. Not one to turn down the implicit challenge, Emily set to work on Savoir Faire to demonstrate that she really did "know how to do it" in the old school style.
She succeeded dramatically, removing any doubt that she is one of the modern masters of interactive fiction, and joining the pantheon of the New Implementors. Savoir Faire is arguably her most acclaimed work: Too big for submission in the IF Comp, it swept up most major awards in the 2002 XYZZYs and was a finalist for the remainder.
Ms. Short's signature style seems to be daringly huge conception followed by lengthy and intense efforts to bring her new brainchild into being. In this case, the kernel of genius is her conception of the "Lavori d'Aracne", a type of sympathetic magic that allows users to link objects together, entangling them physically and conceptually in interesting ways. Where most authors might go on to write a perfectly delightful game full of special-purpose code to produce the "fun parts", Ms. Short seems to have labored to create an entire simulation system for it -- implementing not just the magic but its very laws.
This has two effects: First, the modeled world seems incredibly rich and deep as a result of your freedom to deploy this new power in just about any way that respects the built-in laws. It is entirely possible to forge links that are useless to the main character, but which nonetheless function in a consistent manner. Second, it sets the bar for coding very high, as the complexity of the game's system soars.
Unfortunately, Savoir Faire seems to have been a bite that was slightly too big to chew from a coding perspective -- though I played version 8, there are still (minor) bugs to be found. These are completely forgivable and do not detract from the entrancingly intricate story, but they did throw some jarring notes into an otherwise grand symphony.
Though this would normally qualify as a five star entry in my book, I'm only giving four stars because of the unfairness of one particular puzzle. Why "unfair"? Because:(Spoiler - click to show)The puzzle with the dancers and the letter was a sharp departure from the consistency of other linking puzzles. You are required to build a link between the two objects, but there is little to indicate that this should be possible according to the laws of linking as I gleaned them in a week of playing the game.
All other links seem to require at least two points of similarity from several categories: form, material composition, color, decoration, or physical relation/relative positions. This is true for both puzzle-related links and general case legal links, but no such correspondence exists for these two items. In my perception, the picture of the dancers would count as decoration on the old letter but must correspond to the physical form of the dancers themselves.
The dancing/encryption idea was very clever but this particular link seems not like the others; I am certain it is enabled by special-purpose code and would not be allowed as a general case. So, even though I knew the letter and dancers were related, even though the picture of one is on the other, so consistent was the negative reinforcement from my many failed experiments in linking that I spent a whole day without it ever occurring to me that a link of these two things might be possible. After all, some puzzle solutions do not directly involve links.
Maybe this incongruence was intentional -- many famous old school puzzles are at least as arbitrary, and there is a mocking undertone running through the game directed at old school fanatics (like me). I suspect this was just an error in continuity, though, and it had a disproportionate impact on my perception of the overall quality of the playing experience.
Then again, maybe I'm just annoyed that I didn't think of the solution on my own, since I was doing so well without hints to that point, and I may have eventually found the right command through brute force (a definite echo of the oldest of old school play). As she mentions in her own hints page, I always had the option of decrypting the letter out-of-game.
These minor flaws aside, there's no question that Savoir Faire is one of the great accomplishments of the new era, and I highly recommend this work to all players. It delivers the best of both the new school (dense story) and old school (great puzzles), and left me with a hunger for more that will no doubt be satisfied by the sequel, Damnatio Memoriae. Allow yourself one hint to avoid getting irritated like I did, and you'll probably end up giving it a five-star rating yourself.
[edit: With the passage of time, my irritation about that one puzzle has faded, and I have come to realize what a tremendous accomplishment this work embodies in its exemplary integration of a simulationist implementation with both the puzzles and the story. As such, I feel compelled to increase my rating to five stars, since it is undoubtedly the pinnacle of that class. Hats off to Ms. Short!]
It's difficult to write a puzzle game with a strong story. Emily Short manages to accomplish this in Savoir-Faire. The detail of the model world is almost ridiculous: there is enormous amount of takeable items (almost all of which you will need) and the setting itself is detailed. What stands out most is the magic system: you have the ability to link similar objects together, so that what happens to one happens to the other. I can imagine what a nightmare that must have been to program, but it works well.
The story starts simple: you're broke and must plunder the Count's house for anything valuable. As time goes on, however, you begin to find out suspicious things -- (Spoiler - click to show)could your debt to D'Envers be part of a larger plot? The writing is what I've come to expect from Short (brilliant), and the puzzles are logical and sensible. (At least, I think so. Wimp that I am, I picked up a walkthrough early on.) Get used to the logic of the magic system quickly, as almost all the puzzles are solved using it in some way or another. This game is unabashedly unfair: there are a few sudden death situations and it's very easy to lock yourself out of victory. Save early and save often.
I loved Savoir-Faire, and feel it deserves a five-star rating. I look forward to Emily's next game!
I still haven't finished Savoir-Faire. I played through almost the entire main part of the game a couple of months ago, but then I had to move house and the game languished for a while. Returning to it, I was overwhelmed by the amount of objects I had collected and the amount of information I had at one time processed. I found it very hard to get into the game again. Enough had slipped away that I needed to replay the game, but enough remained in my memory that this would have been mostly boring. No matter. I'll put it aside for now and return at some later point in time, knowing that there will be still more for me to discover -- including de denouement.
For let it be clear that Savoir-Faire is a game you will wish to return to, not so much because of its plotting (which is slow) or its characterisation (which isn't exciting), but because of the beauty and intricacy of its puzzles and of the model world that supports them. Savoir-Faire is in many ways an old-school puzzle game, which means that it is hard; but it is also fair. Banging your head against its mysteries is bound to be a very rewarding experience, and I would encourage you not to use a walkthrough or a hint file. This game is worth persevering.
A large part of the game's beauty comes from its central puzzle mechanic, which is incredibly flexible but also strict enough to give coherence to the whole. This mechanic is the Lavori d'Aracne, which I suppose translates to the "labours of Arachne", that is, the spinning of spider webs. It is a kind of magic in which you can link objects that are like each other, and they will then start exhibiting the same behaviour. E.g., you link two boxes, and then, when you open one of them, the other will be opened as well. A large part of the game is spent exploring the possibilities and limits of this system, and while these limits may sometimes feel a bit arbitrary, they are consistent enough that one will keep faith in the game.
Savoir-Faire is possibly my favourite large puzzle game. And next time I return to it -- perhaps in a year or two -- I'll finally solve it! I'm sure of it.
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