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Interactive Fiction: Zarf

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Interactive FictionThis review regards a genre that I believe is a first for Jayisgames - Interactive Fiction. Or, to put it simply, text adventures. Since the world of text adventures is very big (and quite scary), I'll be focusing on the works of one particular author: Zarf. (Real name - Andrew Plotkin).

Firstly, a note about text adventures. For anyone completely oblivious, they are games played using only text commands in response to on-screen written descriptions. Personally, I adore them. However, I am aware that they aren't for everyone. To fully enjoy them and immerse yourself in the experience, I recommend playing them alone, with no distractions. It's also a good idea to set some time aside as, if you play these games online, they can't be saved. However, you can download them, but some require you to download an interpreter, so this can be more effort than it's worth.

The first of Zarf's works that I'll focus on is 'The Dreamhold'. This games bills itself as an IF tutorial, designed for people who've never played IF before - making it the perfect place to start. Although not particularly easy, it does feature numerous hints and an extensive help system. As with the majority of Zarf's games, the character that you play as is, at first anyway, sexless and ageless, with no backstory or explanation of why they are doing what they are. I enjoyed this game, although the size of the area can be daunting and, due to the fact that you have to try and create a create a map in your mind of all the room locations, navigating your way to certain areas can be tricky.

Zarf's next creation, 'Shade' is my personal favourite. It's very short and only takes place in a single room. What starts off as usual and ordinary soon develops into something quite different. It's fairly easy, apart from the end, where you think outside of the box.

The next entry is an absolute work of genius. 'Spider and Web' is about a man who stands in an alley and then leaves. And I'm not telling you any different. (Don't worry too much about your actions in this game, since you can't get a 'Game Over' until the end).

Finally, 'A Change in the Weather'. This game concerns somebody who is tired of partying and decides to go for a relaxing walk. I'll let you find out the rest for yourself. This is unquestionably the hardest game that I've posted here, and is near impossible to complete with numerous attempts or a walkthrough.

They are simply my favourite four of Zarf's games, but there's also the cave crawler 'Hunter, in Darkness', the extremely bizarre, 'The Space Under the Window', the sublime 'So Far' and a few others. And let's not forget Andrew's most recent mind-bending game, Delightful Wallpaper, where you play a ghost with a notepad who can't move physical objects. Unfortunately there isn't an online version yet, so you'll need an interpreter to play the game. The following programs will run most IF games:

Gargoyle (Windows), Spatterlight (Mac OS X), Zoom (Unix)


I've never really played these IF games before aside from hitchikers guide to the galaxy and I love them...they are hard and challenging and a real treat thanks a lot for putting so many up,...a nice way to ocupy time


Yes, they are, Bryan. And thanks go to Wulfo, he's the one who reviewed this batch.

Derek also has a review on text adventures in the hopper somewhere. Maybe we can get that one published soon as well.


Great to see some IF represented, but as Jay mentioned, he really is only scratching the surface of a huge iceberg. Dedicated programmers have been making IF throughout the 90's and 00's, and while Zarf is one of the best, interested gamers should check out Baf's Guide to the IF Archive if for a very nice introduction to the larger IF scene. I'd personally recommend the work of Adam Cadre and Emily Short.


these games are fun but really frustrating...im finding the dreamhold (tutorial) hard...maybe i just dont have enough patience cause i feel like im going in circles..if anyone has walkthroughs to help get through the confusing parts that would help


I am a huge IF fan, and I'm really glad you're featuring them! But, yeah, surface of the iceberg, although Zarf's really one of the best out there.

Regardless, I hope to see more IF on your site in the future. This is all so exciting.


I'm always open to new guest reviewers who have something special to share. ;)

Just drop me a line at the email address next to my picture in the sidebar.


Let me second the Emily Short recommendation and point out Galitea. It's... not quite a game, but you can play it over your lunch break. Or at least start it. It's the only game that's ever made me tear up.


Woohoo! I adore text adventures... now Jay will have to feature reviews on the IF gaming competitions... delightful!

I love these types of games so much, as they combine reading and gaming, while leaving plenty of food for the imagination. Plus, I've always said, one of these days, I'll write my own IF piece. :)

Thanks for sharing these with us, Wulfo!


Graham Nelson's seminal work Curses! is an IF classic, and Christminster is excellent too.

the flying monkey January 23, 2006 3:02 AM

making your own text adventure is fairly simple. I've tried it before, but i never have the patience to finish them. I recomend the program adrift. It's relatively easy to use. find it on http://www.adrift.org.uk/cgi/new/adrift.cgi#.
The only problem is i dont think you can convert it to java. hope this is helpful.


Glad that there's so much love for the IF genre. Thanks for all the reccomendations of other sites and games, which I'll be sure to visit. Looking forward to seeing more reviews in the future.

For anyone discouraged by some of the games, I should probably point out that Zarf is generally regarded as being an author who produces quite difficult games, so there are plenty of other great IF games that are much easier.

Oh, and thanks for the image Jay.


Thanks for the tips, flying monkey. :)

I wouldn't really care whatever format my IF ended up being; I've even considered just using .html. My biggest obstacle, however, is time. It's on a list of projects a half mile long of things I'd like to do, someday. All the same, I've bookmarked the link for future reference. Thanks again :)

On a separate note, Wulfo thanks Jay for the IF image, but where is his picture?! I had to cough up mine :P


Awesome, I dare say, I have a new genre of games to look into XD.
The hitchhikers guide game was a bit daunting (I still need to get back to that one), so it's good to see some other good games.
Shade was very nice :)


I'm curious ....and i love adventure games.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for reviewing the work of Zarf.

I have long been a fan and never suggested it to you because text-based games are not the usual Jayisgames fare.

Zarf rules.


BTW, if anyone's wondering why I don't have a picture, I simply haven't got a picture of myself on my computer. And I don't have a digital camera or scanner, so...


If you'd like to try some IF but only have a 10 minute coffee break, give 9:05 a whirl.


nice to see IF getting some respect.

anyone who enjoys "dreamhold" might want to try some of plotkin's other works. "spider & web," in particular, is one of the best spy-themed games that i've ever played, graphical or otherwise.


Firstly, that 9:05 is brilliant. Second, Yossarian, I did mention other games by Zarf, including 'Spider and Web' later in the review.

MatrixFrog January 26, 2006 7:32 PM

I feel silly asking for help on such a seemingly simple game, but I'm very stuck in Shade.

I found the plane tickets, turned the computer on and off, and did various other things with little to no effect. Suddenly, everything started turning into sand, and now I have nothing to do but walk back and forth picking things up and putting them down again. What do I do?!

Yossarian January 27, 2006 9:04 AM

Wulfo: Yeah, I noticed that after I posted the comment (was so excited about actually seeing IF get some publicity that I didn't read the full review).

And MatrixFrog: In Shade, just keep examining things and checking out the various rooms in your apartment until things start happening. That's all I can really tell you without spoiling anything.


By the way, it *is* possible to lose early in Spider and Web--I managed it within the first ten turns :)


Huh? I thought Jay reviewed a text adventure before (BBC's Hitchhiker's Guide and the Infocom AIMbot thing).

Ah whatever. I just wanna know where people get the patience to finish these things ;)

Monimonika January 31, 2006 10:23 AM

I was able to finish (as in, get to an ending) "A Change in the Weather" on my first try.

I simply headed back to where my friends were :-P Shortest game ever. It took me either one or two steps to do it.


I only noticed this page today. (Popped up jayisgames, and found myself staring at my own name... that was disconcerting...)

Thank you for the kind words and the recommendations.

And if you're interested in creating IF, take a look at Inform 7 at http://www.inform-fiction.org/. The new design language is interesting indeed.


I used to own a comador 16 given to me by my aunt, it used to have a game on it called Three Little Indians sadley my comadore 16 has been up in my attic for some time although i never forgot the game

and then i found this!!!! i never thought that people were still making these games!!! its great!!! although i am stuck on shade
so if theres anybody out there that could help me just a little i'd appreciate it very glad, ive forgotten most of the commands that should be used!!!!

keep these games coming!!!! FfireXXX


playing shade I think these games are awsome used to play one on my comador16 called Three Little Indians

i got the

plane tickets and i got peanut butter and i got crackers got sand on the floor

and now im stuck



just somehow stumbled over this review and decided to try. I'm playing dreamhold and I got all mask and I can't figure the order. There is always 2 masks left out. Can somebody help me?


You can't figure out the order? There are three ways, really, to figure out the order of the masks.


This is the most obvious, but hardest. Put the masks on in chronological order of the scenes revealed when you wear them.


You know the sea where you found the knotted string? The water changes in the same order as the masks need to be in. (If you haven't, paintings aren't the only thing you can put on the easel.)


You know the pyramid in the middle of the dome? After you've put a light source in it, the sky changes in the same order. (Where's a light source? Check a fireplace.)

tankgirl23 November 9, 2006 7:06 PM

This is BS. I left my computer for a few hours, and when I got back, it had reset to the beginning.

WARNING: Apparently you have to play this game all in one sitting.

If anyone has seen the ending, please tell me about it between spoiler tags... I was at this part:

I had put all of the masks into the mirror, and gone back to the study to look at the book. It said something about there being one step left...


I'd really like to play, but the links aren't working for me. Is it just me?


The links are working for me. Do you have Java installed?


I believe I do, I downloaded the latest recently, and it's been updated. I click the link and it loads for a minute or two, and gives me a blank page.


I see I have won a "best of". Thank you!

(I also see I got the bottom of the popular vote list. Heh. My congratulations to Inanimate Alice, which I agree is pretty awesome.)

Evilwumpus January 21, 2007 9:29 PM

Any help on Praser 5? I managed to solve the unicorn's riddle, but I can't figure out the puzzle I get from that.


Hey evilwumpus,

I'm working on praser 5 too. You're probably past the unicorn now. If not:

think of the elements as compass directions

Has anyone managed to solve the griffon's riddle?

FunnyMan July 26, 2007 7:18 PM

Actually, it is possible to get a game over early on. When the man asks "Isn't it?", say no.


Blah, I cant get any z-code interpreters to work on my OS.
I really want to play Delightful Wallpaper though.
Shade was very cool if not slightly strange... and A Change In The Weather is next to impossible, I can't beat it. As for the downloads I'm probably doing something terribly wrong >_>


I think you meant "without numerous attempts or a walkthrough" instead of "with numerous attempts or a walkthrough." Hehe.


I'm stuck on "Hunter in Darkness". Anyone know what I'm supposed to do? I'm at the bottom of a cave with sides that are un-climable, my arm is bleeding, and I guess the bats must have scratched my eyes because I can't see anything...it keeps saying that anyway.

spacepace neepa November 12, 2007 8:36 PM

Simetra: the bats haven't blinded you. What's around you? Examine it. What's around you that can help you stop the bleeding? There is another way out, though it's pretty freaky.


Just started playing these kind of games, but I kind of need some help on praser 5... I can't get the creautures to talk to me... is it just me? Or am I missing something? Please help! Thanks!


The creatures will only talk if you address them by name. On the plane of shape, you will get 4 names to start with.

I found the name of the pegasus, but its riddle stumped me. Any help?


I'm playing Inhumane, and I can't figure out what to do in

the East Alcove, with the platform I apparently can't interact with

. I've successfully navigated all of the other traps in just a few tries, so this is rather frustrating. Suggestions?

fendopolis August 5, 2008 3:43 PM

I'm working on Praser 5, and after much time (years) I'm wanting help.

I managed the sphinx's riddle, but the unicorn baffles me.

The griffon's riddle is hopeless, but if you know...

The typhon: I know to say

hydeaneef, but I have no idea what the other half is.

Perhaps the typhon becomes easier once the unicorn is satisfied.


Can anyone give me a walkthrough with Spider and Web, particularly

the part where the woman is talking and the guards are coming


Other than this one spot, it's a great game.

Asthanius March 29, 2010 10:49 PM

I found a walkthrough for A Change In The Weather!

Get all
Fill bucket
Pour water on mud
Get spade
Drop bucket
X rock
Move rock with spade
(wait for the fox to appear)

Throw shaft
Get key

(you have time to go and explore if you want)
(until the rainy night comes)
save game

(the rest of the game is very tightly timed
so we will not do any RESTORE's after we wake up)

Drop blanket
(this will cost you 1 move)
(you don't really have to drop the blanket now,
but it is nice to have a dry blanket later)
W, NW, SE, S
Unlock door with key
Drop key
(this will cost you 1 move)
(you could drop the key inside the shack if you wanted,
but then you could never get it back later if you wanted it)
(wait for lighting)
(if the lightning doesn't come now,
then you have taken too many turns
and must start over)

Get torn
W, N, SW, N
Drop torn
Push rock south
(other directions will also work)
Get blade
Wedge blade in crack
S, E
(wait for lighting)
Get dirty
Throw dirty across gap
Get dirty, branch
Drop dirty
save game

Examine bridge
(wait for the fox to yip)
Dig spot
(until the beam erodes)
Wedge branch under bridge
Dig spot
(until morning)

(told you it would be nice to have a dry blanket)
W, NW, SW, W, W

demigod163 March 9, 2015 7:15 PM

You left out one critical thing that I cannot BELIEVE nobody has mentioned yet: Hadean Lands, my favorite Zarfhome game! (note that "favorite" is a relative term; they're all amazing)


I decided to revisit Praser 5 and (with the help of various resources around the internet) managed to solve everything. Since there doesn't seem to be a full walkthrough anywhere, I'm posting one here:

Start by going to Literal and looking at the clues there.
Go to Shape.
Read the sign to get the names of the nymphs.
Speak to each of the nymphs (Hypborea, Alaseia, Iriphaea, Loprasme)
Each one will ask "What is the Way as [Element]?"
Don't worry, you don't have to solve the riddles yet.
Just look at the description of each location on the literal plane.
Air - Wind
Fire - Lightning
Water - River
Earth - Mountain

The first three nymphs will tell you more names:
Sphinx - Arlumere
Griffon - Adracaston
Unicorn - Aelacimos
The fourth will open the way to the plane of Structure

The Sphinx gives you a geometry problem. There's no easy solution, you actually have to do math here.
This StackExchange post explains the solution: http://puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/10876/a-purposefully-obtuse-euclidean-geometry-riddle-from-an-old-interactive-fiction

The answer is "parallelogram 6." The Sphinx tells you that the name of the serpent is Proealms, but you must unlock it first.

The Unicorn asks what form is hidden in the Sphinx's riddle. To find the answer, look at the letters in the puzzle. They can be arranged to spell "SPHEROID."

The Unicorn gives a clue for the name of the Pegasus
Number of my race - 1

The answer to the Griffin's riddle is "stoplight" - three "eyes," one for stop, one for go, one for slow.

The griffon gives a clue for the Hippogriff: 3, 6, 1, 12, 4, 5, 2, 8.

Now go to the plane of Structure.
We can find the answer to the Unicorn's clue here: Start at the sphere (1) and follow the directions, writing down the letters as you go:

You can also solve the Griffin's riddle here. Each shape has a different number of sides. Match the number to the shape with that number of sides, and write down the letter.

The Hippogriff (Arpemlos) gives this clue: The key to the snake's name is west-south-east-south.

Now we have both the serpent's (the Typhon's) name and its key. Notice that you can spell "Proealms" on the Structure plane. Go to each letter in that name, and go WSES, as the Hippogriff says. Note the letter you land on. Repeat this for each letter in the name, and you'll spell out "MEPSORAL."

We have the Typhon's name, but we don't know what to tell him. Time to talk to the Pegasus.

The Pegasus (Prolmeas) gives a riddle. The answer is "syllables."
His clue for you: "The last name of the Norn is hidden in the clues of the Literal Plane. The first name is Fyreen. Tell the whole to Typhon."

Go to the literal plane. We still aren't solving the riddles. Instead, look at the parchment on the monolith. The capital letters spell "The name be hydeaneef."

Say "fyreen hydeaneef" to the Typhon, and he will open the way to the Plane of Essence.

If you go to Essence, a voice will ask you for the Mark of each element, and then drop you in a maze. For each question you answer correctly, you'll get an orb that you need to solve the maze.

We can't put it off any longer - go back to the literal plane to solve the riddles. As the parchment on the monolith suggests, each riddle is an acrostic - find the answer to each line, and then read the first letter of each to get the final answer.

The monuments described by the clues are:
Washington Monument
Hagia Sophia
Empire State Building
Eiffel Tower
Library of Alexandria

The Mark of Fire is "wheel"

The introductory statement says that the names are "contained," so look for words inside the words.
iodine - Din
silicon - Icon
radon - Ado
bromine - Mine
thorium - Or
technetium - Net
molybdenum - Den

The Mark of Water is "diamond"

"Behead" and "betail" mean cutting off part of a word to get another word.
Caraway -> Way
Image -> Mage
Partridge - > Ridge
Hospice -> Spice
Ellipse -> Ell
Ribbon -> Rib

The Mark of Wind is "cipher"

For the mark of Earth, the clues imply that the end of each line is the beginning of the next, making an "endless wheel." The words are pretty damn obscure, though.

Shield - Aegis
Particular - Specific
To force - Cause
Fine mixture - Emulsion
Halo - Nimbus
Fresh food - Sushi
Tertiary hue - Indigo
Warning - Omen
New light - Nova

The Mark of Earth is "ascension".

Go to the plane of Essence and answer the questions. When you arrive in the maze, you should have four orbs with you.

The maze works like this:
You can only pass through a colored wall if you have the orb of the corresponding color.
You cannot pass through a wall if you have the orb of the opposite element (red opposes blue, yellow opposes green).

In the maze, you'll also find the iron orb and the crystal orb. Similar to the colored orbs, iron can pass through iron walls, but not crystal, and vice versa.

There's no good way to explain the maze in prose, but there's no more riddles here - you just explore until you reach the end. To make progress, you'll need to pick up and drop the orbs where you can reach them by other routes. For example, to reach the iron orb, first drop the green orb in the room to the west, then circle around and carry it north.

Once you solve the maze, you win!


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