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Improv: Origins

by Neil deMause

Part of Frenetic Five
Superhero, humor

Web Site

(based on 9 ratings)
5 reviews

About the Story

In the long-awaited (by someone, surely, maybe) prequel to the Frenetic Five trilogy, your new employer SuperTemps has sent you out into the field with nothing more than your wits and your freshly minted Ingenuity degree from superhero community college. Now, if only you had some duct tape...

Game Details


4th Place - ParserComp 2022


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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
How far can you get with a dozen rubber bands?, January 14, 2024

There is something deeply endearing about the Frenetic Five franchise to me. If there was anyone out there long-awaiting another episode of this series, I was that one.

What do I love about the series? It's not just that it hits the superhero satire sweet spot better than anything since the Tick animated series, but that it does it in such a clever way. Author Neil deMause's sense of humor is both shallow and deep, running from playful one-liners such as

You canít actually quit, since as an independent contractor youíre not technically employed.

Oh, *that* kind of quit.

Are you sure you want to quit?

to the refrigerator logic perfection of the fact that even though the superpowers of the main characters seem foolish, they truly *are* superpowers in the context of an interactive fiction game. (To wit: Improv is the player avatar whose "power" is to come up with improbable solutions with at-hand materials. Lexicon knows all the words in the game's dictionary, defeating guess-the-verb and guess-the-noun issues. Pastiche can violate the physical world model's containment rules at will, so no locked container is a barrier -- plot requirements of this episode notwithstanding. Newsboy's awareness is not bounded by scope; he can theoretically see anything happening in the game universe. Clapper's power bypasses visibility and concealment rules, obviating any lightweight "puzzles" that are based on objects being hidden in a room.)

This prequel is written in Inform 7, a departure from the TADS platform used for every previously-released episode. The author's notes indicate that writing it was partly an exercise in learning the new language, and the oft-noted bugginess of release 1 is undoubtedly in part a reflection of this fact. (As relevant background, a certain level of bugginess can be found in the author's TADS-based works, as well.) The presence of bugs (even the serious one noted by other reviewers) was not enough to prevent me from enjoying release 1, and in any case they are substantially addressed by release 2.

I found this episode to be as good as any installment of the series, in that the plot was just as flimsy (in a manner entirely in keeping with the superhero genre), the jokes were just as funny (in a manner entirely in keeping with the author's trademark style), and the writing was just as entertaining as ever.

For a newcomer to the series, this may not be the best first episode to play, because much of the strength of the series comes from the interaction between the PC and other members of the team. That kind of interaction in this game is almost entirely lacking -- the relationship between characters is (appropriately for an origin story) that of newly-introduced co-workers instead of familiar friends (and even roommates) as seen in episode 1. There is still enough to entertain in the way of deadpan comedy, unexpected puns and puzzle cussitude, but it just doesn't have the same feel of being a dynamic situation full of active and interesting characters.

The puzzles were more enjoyable in this episode, though I'm not sure how much of the difference is attributable to improved design vs. better alignment of my expectations. There is automatic hinting for several of them when no progress is being made, so I assume that an effort has been made to be "fair" in the strictest sense, even if necessary actions don't always make sense at first blush. Sometimes it may be necessary to stumble on a solution through experimentation, and it certainly appeared to be the case that involving NPCs was not optional in some places. As a result, there doesn't seem to be any reason to refrain from calling for help early and often.

The ending is somewhat anti-climactic, and the "post-credits" scene will make little sense unless the player is familiar with (or goes on to become familiar with) the chronological sequel: The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm und Drang.

The author's notes claim that he "will absolutely be writing more games sometime in the next two decades," and I hope that is true because I definitely look forward to whatever else he might publish. Welcome back, Mr. deMause!

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Bugged but excellent puzzles and very funny, January 31, 2023
by Denk
Related reviews: Inform

This is a very funny, puzzly, one-room parser comedy. However, it is also very hard and in the version I played, I had to work around a bug.

I rarely give a game with a significant game breaking bug five stars. In this case I made an exception because I realized that it was a bug and managed to work around it. Also, the author should be working on a 3rd version and I completed the 2nd version after having given up on the first version. So I think it is a shame if such an excellent game will be forgotten because the author didn't fix the bugs in time for ParserComp, even though the author is of course "responsible" (no one got hurt I suppose). In addition there are some other bugs which may require you to restore an earlier save, but they are quite obvious. So save often.

So if anyone found the game disappointing during ParserComp I understand.

I just think that this game is a real challenge: You start out with some rather easy puzzles and they gradually get harder, really hard. The hard ones are only very subtly clued but they are clued. But if you do not notice the clue you may have to start over to realize it - not sure, didn't investigate that issue.

Unless you are in a hurry, you might as well wait for the third version which hopefully takes care of those bugs and you will be playing an excellent parser comedy, assuming you love hard puzzles. However, knowing that there are bugs will probably make you notice it and quickly experiment to see what is triggering that bug. To me, the puzzles were great and the humor very funny so it was worth it to work around that bug.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Nasty, with bugs that make it Cruel, July 11, 2022

The object of this one-room game is to open a safe in the center of the room. The safe has a large red button. Here's what it says when you push it:

If it were as easy as that, the bank probably wouldnít have needed to call a superhero, donít you think?

That sounds like "you can't push this button" to me. But, instead, you're just supposed to "push the button" again. At that point, the safe asks for a password, on a countdown timer. If you don't have the password (or the (Spoiler - click to show)companion you need to get the password), there's no way to discover and use the password before the timer runs out.

This puzzle is "Nasty" on the Zarfian cruelty scale. The game doesn't benefit from a countdown timer at all, and there are multiple puzzles where you have to just do the same action repeatedly to get a surprisingly different result.

Furthermore, the game is buggy.

(Spoiler - click to show)
  • If you ask Pastiche to unlock the safe before you've solved the password puzzle, the game deposits an "invisible force field" in the room, which never goes away.
  • If you tape anything to anything that you're not supposed to, e.g. if you "TAPE THE CLIP TO THE PEN," you can never unstick them; you're walking dead at that point.
  • You can't call the office until you examine the pen. ("Which number would that be, then?") But when you do examine the pen and call the number, the game says, "Fortunately, part of your Ingenuity training is that you can memorize phone numbers at a glance. Not that you needed to here, since you have the number written on that ballpoint pen, but itís a nice trick to show off at superparties."
  • Conversation topics with NPCs are very specific. You can "ASK LEXICON ABOUT WORD" but not about "THE WORD".
  • When you "ASK CLAPPER FOR PASSWORD" she claps and Clapper herself beeps. (This makes no sense, because she's not a password of any kind.)
  • The Safe has a password, and a lock, and it's hard to open when unlocked. But there's nothing telling you whether the safe is closed and locked or closed and unlocked.
  • After opening the security box, it's not described when you "LOOK."

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Improv: Origins on IFDB

Recommended Lists

Improv: Origins appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Best superhero games by MathBrush
These are games featuring superheros, with my thoughts on them. I haven't tried the Frenetic Five games yet.


The following polls include votes for Improv: Origins:

Games with NPC dialogue that gives strong yet mimesis-keeping hints by Andrew Schultz
In IFComp 2022, it struck me how your partner Alex, in A Walk Around the Neighborhood and your father in The Last Christmas Present did a really good job of providing an NPC that gave hints without outright spoilers. This was to help you...

Outstanding Inform 7 Game of 2022 - Player's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best Inform 7 game of 2022. Voting is open to all IFDB members. Eligible...

Outstanding Game over 2 hours in 2022 - Author's Choice by MathBrush
This poll is part of the 2022 IFDB Awards. The rules for the competition can be found here, and a list of all categories can be found here. This award is for the best game of 2022 with over 2 hours of gameplay (as judged by the voter)....

See all polls with votes for this game

This is version 7 of this page, edited by Denk on 31 January 2023 at 11:22pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page