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Domestic Elementalism

by fireisnormal


(based on 23 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

The plants that grow out of your bedroom walls are associated with Earth. The fairy lights strung across your kitchen are associated with Fire. Change an object's element, and the object will turn into something else.

As a research witch, elemental transformation is second nature to you. And that's just as well, because your house is malfunctioning, and you'll need to use everything you know to put it right.

Game Details


10th Place overall; 3rd Place, Miss Congeniality Award - 23rd Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2017)


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Number of Reviews: 2
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Interesting, clever, compact game involving shuffling the 4 elements, December 3, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I played the author's 2021 IFComp entry, After-Words, first, and I was intrigued enough to give Domestic Elementalism a look. AW is probably more my thing, but DE is clearly interesting and stylish and worth playing. If you like one, you'll probably like the other. You, as a research witch, come home from a week-long conference to your house not working. You wonder who could've done this, and why. But more importantly, you need to get your house working again. Generally you keep it running by infusing your life force, but starting it from scratch would take too much.

As you might expect from the title, DE plays with the four elements: water, earth, air and fire. You have one room dedicated to each. Water is the bathroom, fire is the kitchen, earth is the bedroom, and air is the living room. There's also an attic, but finding the key to it is one of the first puzzles you encounter. A lot of this is, reductively, dry-goods stuff, but it's interesting. Each item you can put in your inventory has four states based on the elements. Being a witch, you can change them at will--well, sort of. "Orthogonal transformation" isn't available with your life force as depleted as it is, so you're stuck with fire/water or earth/air to start. This seems restrictive at first, but actually it's a handy way not to overwhelm the player. You don't get your powers back until you get in the attic, by which time you're comfortable with the game mechanics.

So there seems to be a lot of trial and error later on, and strictly speaking, that could be true. But thankfully the interface lets you cycle through both the items you carry and their states pretty readily, and if you can do anything special with your current item in its state, a "use this" sort of box pops up. And, of course, it makes sense. You need something sharp to break through the ice covering the oven, or you need something to reach high up, or you need something soft to catch a bird nest in a chimney you need to remove bricks from. This all fits in well with the title--using your control over the four elements to tidy things up. And you don't have to remember what does what, either. DE lists all the forms you've put an item in, so you can see them. Some aren't ultimately useful, but if they were, DE would sprawl too much. The whole interface is, in fact, well done, as it's a six-room affair with two sides of an engine room each leading to two elemental rooms.

At the game's start, I was also worried I had no clue how long it would take, because the first puzzle seemed to take a while. I put this more down to me just getting my bearings. But fortunately there's a gauge in one of the engine rooms that tells you which rooms have been fully repaired. And it's a good feeling as each one gets going again. DE also finds reason to get rid of things you don't need any more, or it mentions that scenery in an elemental room is working well and doesn't need tinkering. So it doesn't feel arbitrary, yet you have enough powers to really experiment, and you can't quite say "Okay, I still need to use this item to make the whole thing abstractly tidy." There is a lot of internal logic to DE, but you don't have to memorize it.

I also guessed the twist at the end, but that's because it was well-clued without hitting you over the head. There's some mystery of who could've done this and why, and with each out-of-place item you find or eventually fix, more is revealed. This leads to a denouement that feels quite appropriate. The game could've ended with a "yay, you win," once you restored all four rooms' power, but there's still a bit of reckoning, I found a small lesson bungling it the first time through. All I can say is my actions were not specific enough at first and likely what may've (narratively) caused things to go wrong in the first place. Without direct spoilers, you have to be careful with magic--you need to take careful notes, but it's not all formulas and experimentation.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Awesome transformation witch game, November 17, 2017
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

I beta tested this game.

This game has a utilitarian interface, but don't let that fool you: this is a seriously great game.

Your magical witch house is broken, and you need to fix it. You have an inventory (even though it's web based), and you have the power to alter the elements of various inventory elements.

It has a cheerful backstory. Different items you carry interact with each other.

The various interactions are fiddly sometimes, and perhaps even unfair; but somehow everything gelled for me in a great way. Not everyone may feel the same.

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