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Episode 1 of Lavori d'Aracne

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Number of Reviews: 15
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Character and craft, December 19, 2021

There's little about the game that hasn't been touched on in other reviews, but, a few things that struck me in particular -

The protagonist was beautifully rendered. The swashbuckling hero, with both a refined sense of manners and a total lack of scruples, will be familiar to anyone who's read Dumas or similarly-flavoured French period fiction -- and his character suffuses everything from the room and item descriptions to the structure of the puzzles. I laughed out loud several times, which I do rarely when reading. This is certainly a puzzle game, and the story is not the focus -- outside of the feelies, which are excellently done and worth reading -- but the prose here is nevertheless among the best of any IF I've read, and very fine even by Short's usual standard.

The puzzles are centered around the game's form of magic, but almost all of them also rely on an elaborate physical simulation of the world. Liquids and light are particularly deeply-implemented, and interact in a consistent way with the "linking" mechanic. Once you've experimented enough to learn the rules of the world, the puzzles are all logical enough and frequently have multiple good solutions... the game is overall still quite challenging, but a thorough player can work their way through the whole thing without a walkthrough.

Altogether wonderfully done.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
(mostly) Logical Magic, October 11, 2020
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy, History

I had been putting of playing Savoir Faire because it is a) an old school puzzle hunt which b) depends on magic. Two things I do not particularly enjoy when playing IF.
However, after succesfully completing the puzzly Theatre with very few hints, I decided to take on Emily Short's challenge. It was great!

The reason I dislike most magic is that it feels superficial. A bunch of floaty blabla about "words of power" that somehow control the essence of things doesn't appeal to me.
In Savoir Faire, most of the puzzles depend on the Lavori d'Aracne, a magic system that lets the practitioner LINK objects. That way there is at least a hint of a physical connection between the objects and the practitioner of magic. These links also depend on a material likeness of the objects, so the magic system feels more like the use of an extra property of nature than a violation of it.

At the start of the game, your PC is almost too obnoxious to even be an anti-hero. Coming to the house you grew up in to ask for money to help with gambling debts, finding that your adoptive father and sister are not there while you expected them to be, and then going on to loot the place? Not very nice, to put it mildly. Through the snippets of backstory you find through memory and exploration though, he is somewhat redeemed (somewhat, that is.)

The setting, the mansion of the count who took in the PC, makes quite an impression through the near-perfect prose of Emily Short. Descriptions are terse, only the bare necessities there, with an ever so delicate sprinkling of detail. Examining further however opens up layers of feeling and meaning about the rooms and furniture, so that the player is drawn into this world. Extremely well done!

Because of the use of magic, I tagged this game "fantasy", but it's actually more an alternate history, where the old France is precisely the same as it was, with the addition of this extra set of natural laws, i.e. the Lavori d'Aracne.

Hard puzzles, but all of them logical; many alternative solutions (except one I found so obvious that I was disappointed not to have it work: (Spoiler - click to show)To uncork a bottle you link the cork to your sword and then draw the sword. To my mind it made much more sense within the magic system to put the sponge in the drain, then link the cork to the sponge and pull out the sponge.)
And even when you're stuck you can relax while playing with the mechanical cooking contraption (which is very reminiscent of the contraptions in Metamorphoses)

Great game!

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
One of the great puzzle games, July 28, 2015
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

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.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Technically brilliant game with unsympathetic PC, July 14, 2015
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

Savoir-Faire is a longish game set in an alternate-world version of France. The game prominently features a magic system involving linking items together so that they share certain properties.

The puzzles are brilliant and the game is well-implemented. You can experiment to your hearts content, and most reasonable solutions to problems work. The writing is excellent, and the storyline well-thought out.

I finished the game years ago. Every time I try to replay it though, I lose interest. Why would anyone lose interest in such a technical marvel? Because I really don't care about the PC's situation. He's a wishy-washy wimp; he can't decide if he's investigating his adoptive family's disappearance or looting their house; he can't decide if he's a rake with a million love interests or a romantic with one woman at heart; he can't decide if he's a member of the royalty-hating lower class or a priviliged upper-class man; and he can't decide if he's starving or picky.

Short hasn't written him poorly; she's just very accurately portrayed a disagreeable man. I wish I could have him slap himself, remove his silly white feather, and tell him to just eat the andouilletes plain or stop whining. I don't care about finishing the game because I don't want to go through all that trouble just so his aristocratic palate won't have to endure stale bread and unseasoned lentils. The ending helps a bit, but it is too little, too late. If he really cared about his family, why is he stealing everything?

Others may not have the same reaction.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Featured on Radio K #1, April 28, 2015
by Adam Cadre (Albany, California)

Clare Parker and I discuss Savoir-Faire at

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Puzzles got in the way of story, May 20, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)

This is not a proper review. Didn't finish the game and don't really intend to. Already having problems in the beginning of the game. It's possible to lose vital items or worse, unknowingly lock yourself into areas. At least, the author does give warning that the game is like this, so people who don't care for that kind of experience can turn back quickly. From what little I saw, puzzles seem logical but also arbitrary. It's like things are difficult just for the sake of being difficult. Even though some of the difficulty comes from the player character himself and his attitudes, it still feels not entirely justifiable. (Spoiler - click to show)PC doesn't like to get his hands dirty, or his clothing. Can't just eat anything. Needs a proper meal. In short, someone who seems all too ashamed of his peasant heritage and annoyingly stuck-up. Heck, there's not even a way to boil water that I found, 'cause the characters can't do it themselves. Oh no. They need slaves, even if those slaves are machines.

I'm wondering how anyone got far enough in the game to make a walkthrough, unless they used hints. What little I saw of the story seemed intriguing, but the puzzles make it so I'm stuck wandering around and whatever attraction the story holds gets lost in the frustration. I could play through with the walkthrough, but if I need it for most or all of the game, seems like what's the point of playing it? For me, getting stuck a few times in a game is normal. You can imagine my impatience for more than that. To play a game through with no hints is rare and means the game is super easy.

The one good thing that came out of trying this game was that I learned why I'm not a puzzler, and that there are degrees of difficulty in terms of puzzle solutions. It's great that the author incorporated the PC's characteristics into the game, but just made the atmosphere less enjoyable.

Note: this rating is not included in the game's average.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Good, but not as wonderful as others think, February 16, 2013

As far as IF games go, I'm going to give this a four star rating. 9 out of 10 stars would be more like it.

I love old-school IF games, so I was into this game more than some people will be. Overall, it is a treasure-hunt, but the underlying background story really ties it all together nicely. The descriptions of everything are solid.

That having been said, I'll agree with some of the other posters about some shortcomings. Most notable to me was that I didn't think that one of the linkages was fair at all. (Spoiler - click to show)I didn't like the concept of linking to sunlight. There is nothing at all to suggest that linking to wholly intangible things is even a possibility, and asking people to figure that out smacks of pure trial and error using every possible noun without any regard to the fiction of the game's universe. Besides, I found the description of the bauble confusing; its description suggested that it was already emitting light, so there was nothing really to suggest that, after putting it in the model, that the model was not working at full power.

I also was not a fan of all of the food-related puzzles. One was solid and fun. But the incessant remarks about hunger were a drag, and the whole "collect ingredients and make food" chore seemed to dominate the game by the end instead of just being a background task. I would far rather have seen some of that effort devoted to a slightly larger house for exploring. For a mansion, there were really not many rooms to visit.

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Short Makes Writing a Masterpiece Look Easy, March 24, 2012
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: emily short, fantasy

Play it if: you loved everything about old-school IF other than its cruel gameplay and frequently illogical puzzles; if you want to see Emily Short's talents for innovative gameplay in a more traditional framework; if you're a sucker for prose that is both elegant and vividly detailed.

Don't play it if: Come on, just play it.

In almost every sense of the term, Savoir-Faire is a masterpiece, and in my opinion the best of Emily Short's longer games.

The chief technical innovation is the magic system, which allows the protagonist to blend the properties of different objects and create interesting cause-and-effect relationships. This system is not merely for show: the puzzling possibilities of this game mechanic are explored very fully - you need to use this skill to acquire items, reach areas, observe rooms, and more. The gameplay never feels repetitive as each puzzle involves a different use of these skills, and this is one of those games where you want to take a week to give yourself time to stew over all the possibilities. Another less visible but no less wonderful detail is the fluid dynamics (allowing you to have containers with different amounts of water, to pour them on the gruond, to have the resulting puddles evaporate gradually).

If this is an impressive achievement - and make no mistake, the Lavori d'Aracne is implemented in all sorts of interesting ways - what makes it even more brilliant is the quality of writing to hold it up. Because links can only be forged between objects that are similar in meaningful ways (form, function, or appearance), it becomes necessary to examine objects closely to look for possible links. Accordingly, the aristocratic mansion setting is brought to life with amazing levels of detail; you can examine details that are minute almost to the point of absurdity, sometimes discovering some lovely anecdotes (the reason for the family's cups and plates all being metal made me laugh out loud).

These aspects by themselves would be enough to make Savoir-Faire a great game. But added to this is a back-story that becomes something of a fore-story - the tale of the protagonist's origins and the possible fate of his family. You get a glimpse into the kind of conflict fans of Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice would love, involving aristocracy, intrigue, and class identity.

If I had to sum up Savoir-Faire in one image, it would have to be a tapestry. The magic system is intricately linked to the puzzles, and the puzzles' raisons d'Ítre are linked to both the magic system and the backstory. The result is that you have a game with a medium-sized setting (a mansion) but which feels incredibly tight. There's an almost effortless sense of completeness at work here.

This is perhaps the game's ultimate triumph, for if there was anything we tended not to associate with old-school IF, it was writing this strong. Games like Zork may have had interesting settings and great humor, but they tended to be much looser, with puzzles rarely subscribing to some overarching puzzle or story. In this sense Savoir-Faire is the culmination of an entire genre of interactive fiction, recreating the wonder of exploring a mysterious setting while tying it into an intricately interwoven plot and puzzle system.

The one real flaw in the game is almost absurdly minor: there doesn't feel like much of an overall difficulty progression (Spoiler - click to show)(for instance, the solution to the rat-hole problem seems almost absurdly simple in comparison to navigating the maze, or helping Marie escape D'Envers) which is probably due to the fact that the puzzles themselves don't really have to be done in a specific order. But in a story which has an abundance of fascinating puzzles to offer already, and which is admittedly emulating the exploratory style of early IF, this isn't really something to raise much complaint about.

In sum, this is a game pretty much everyone should play. Newcomers to IF might find it a bit much to take in when you throw in the Lavori d'Aracne, but somehow I think they'll be fine with it.

A definite masterpiece.

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent, July 18, 2011

Brilliant game. The puzzles are generally harder than those found in many of Emily Short's other games, but are still reasonable. I found a rare few of them "unfair" or inconsistent with what I thought was the game's logic to that point, but these puzzles (or one example in particular, the (Spoiler - click to show)blue door puzzle, (solution spoiled within: )(Spoiler - click to show) doors in the light still affect their sister doors in darkness, so there is no real reason to believe that the color of light illuminating a door will affect its link. The other colored doors are always linked regardless of the light shone on them. Yet somehow colored light is enough to fix the broken link. ) might have been easier for those more familiar with the history of IF than I. The vast majority of the harder puzzles are highly stimulating and very clever, and the story is engaging and entertaining. I hope to see more from the Lavori d'Arcane universe in the future!

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
A fresh take on the old-school style, April 21, 2010

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!]

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