Exploring the 'Best Games': Savoir Faire, by Emily Short

Savoir Faire was the first non-IFcomp game since 1999 to win Best Game. Replaying it, it is miraculous how detailed and exceptional the game is. Emily Short had long worked on modeling different related life systems and has succeeded here in modeling certain physics very well.

On a personal note, this is one of the games I was most frustrated with when I first played it, as I tend to really identify with the PC and throw myself into the role. This is why I was so disturbed by Varicella and Vespers, and it’s why I was frustrated with Savoir Faire. The protagonist is not my personality type at all. However, stepping back for this essay and looking at the technique and craftsmanship, it is clear this game is almost unrivalled for quality.

Here are the best spots.

==Attention to detail/depth==

It doesn’t get deeper than this. All items are categorized by size, liquid capacity, hardness, easiness to throw, weight, cuttability, color, and so on. An intricate magic system allows you to link items that are similar. Within these constraints, any objects having the right characteristics will work for the puzzle at hand. For instance, when you have to throw something at the bauble, literally any throwable thing of sufficient weight will work, but get stuck. Many things contain water, which you can pour in varying amounts, and which can evaporate.

The linkage system will work on any two similar things, or it will tell you why it won’t work. This and the physics simulation evoke the Sandbox feel of Spider and Web or Varicella, breaking the two year run of linear story-driven games. Very few, if any, games have this freedom to experiment, and most of its rivals are written by Short herself.

==Setting and PC==

This game has a very well though out setting. You play in France in some indeterminate century, but an alternate France where the nobility employ a linking magic. There are feeling detailing the background, and at least two other games exploring this rich setting (First Draft of the Revolution and Damnatio Memoriae).

The PC us very well characterized as a sort of gentleman rogue, like the Scarlet Pimpernel. His complex moral system definitely leaves an impression. Short makes the player complicit in his actions by assigning points to his thefts, eating and sleeping. His motives are slowly revealed by ‘remembering’ cutscenes, which she leads the player to interact with by using them to provide essential clues…

Very few games reach this level of wordbuilding, and most of them are also XYZZY winners.

==Thematic Unity==

This game manages to bring every part of itself together. The puzzles are natural from the PC’S point of view; there was an old saying that bad games stopped the protagonist with ‘soup cans in the pantry’, but when your PC is a hungry foody, it makes sense to stop the play with dried beans in the cellar. The PC in turn derives their characterization from the setting, a rich renaissance/pre-revolution France. And the setting may well be derived from the need to have many objects with elaborate decorations to promote linking.


In terms of pure programming and craftmanship as well as world building, Savoir Faire is in the top tier. It was also the last non-IFcomp best game for 7 years. It represents a significant achievement, and provides a great game for fans of the original Infocom games.

One of my favorite IF games of all time. Definitely top 5.

As I originally imagined this, Pierre doesn’t regard himself as a thief. Rather, he thinks of himself (not without some justification) as the beloved heir of a mutually supportive family, and their possessions as partly his own belongings. He’s also confident that, in this threatening situation, his parents would rather part with some expensive trinkets than lose him – and that his father will be able to help get them back later, or otherwise settle the score.

I entirely understand how there are other readings around him, and he’s not meant to be a wholly admirable character anyway. And of course it’s on me if I didn’t communicate some pieces of his personality. But for what it’s worth, some of the things people have read as repugnant were intended to come from a communitarian attitude to family property that’s less common these days.