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About the StoryThe beautiful life is always damned, they say. As for you, you've
overexpended yourself: fifteen years of prominence, champagne,
carriage rides in the Tuileries, having your name whispered behind
manicured hands, getting elegant ladies out of elegant fixes -
and you're in debt. Bound by oath and honor to a pack of scoundrels.
Your father, old peasant that he was, could have warned you against
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
-- 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: 9
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
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!]
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!
Related reviews: emily short, fantasy
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.
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