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20 Years of Commander Keen 152

angry tapir writes "This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Commander Keen game. For those too young to remember, Commander Keen was a series of shareware 2D platform games for the PC released by Apogee Software (aka 3D Realms) developed by no less than id Software — the developers of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake."
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20 Years of Commander Keen

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  • DooM was only released 3 years after Commander Keen. I'm honestly a bit surprised that DooM didnt get an article celebrating its awesomeness...
    • by JavaBear ( 9872 )

      Maybe 3 years from now, when it turns 20...

      • Re:And to think... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MistrX ( 1566617 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @05:46AM (#34558404)

        Doom doesn't need a special age for celebration. It's just too awesome for that.

        • Every year on Doom's birthday John Carmack throws a Chuck Norris in to the sun.
      • Dunno, it seems to me DOOM should do the same as everyone else celebrate 18 when it can go get drunk and laid. Well, at least drunk anyway. But laid is right next, as soon as it can get a girl into its mom's basement that is totally awed by its grenade jumping skills. Any day now ;)

    • Maybe someone here can explain to me what is so "awesome" about Keen other than it being made by Id? Not trying to troll, I just don't get it. I mean sure, it was a decent platformer, but platformers were a dime a dozen then and really weren't a big whoop.

      Now Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake? Yes I can understand the big whoop over those since they brought innovations and sparked not only a host of imitators but an entirely new genre in gaming. With Wolfenstein you had the first real home game that brought the

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        If I recall, it was the smooth side scrolling animation which made Keen legendary, before then side scrollers hadn't been done all that well on the PC
        • Re:And to think... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @09:57AM (#34559894)

          Yes. It was the first publicly released PC game that replicated the side-scrolling technique used to make smooth scrolling in 8-bit consoles.

          Strangely, the first one *could* have been a port of Super Mario Bros. 3, because the technique was designed to replicate that game (iD actually shopped a fully complete clone to Nintendo, who turned them down on the idea).

      • I've always loved Commander Keen.

        It reminded me a lot of Spaceman Spiff from Calvin and Hobbs, that this was all a boy's imagination.

        The levels were challenging without being impossible. And then there was the pogo stick.

      • For one it was Shareware.
        Shareware at the time was actually Really Crappy games and applications. Commander-Keen was one of the first shareware title games that was of a "professional" quality. Good Graphics (for 320x200x16 colors) good game play... This was one of the first games that came out that was shareware and worth expanding.

        Secondly platform games were new back then. Sure some were out but mostly for consoles. There were some for the PC. But at the time the IBM PC just introduced the EGA graphics.

  • by Haedrian ( 1676506 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @05:01AM (#34558162)

    I wonder why they don't just release the source/game to celebrate or something. Its not like they're going to make any more money off it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You'd be surprised... I paid $5 (I think) on steam for the whole series a few months ago.

      Half out of guilt for all the time I spent playing a pirated game, but still.

    • I bought it on steam a while back as well so they're still making money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ndymium ( 1282596 )
      Commander Keen pack on Steam: []
    • by lxs ( 131946 )

      What? And violate the holy Ai Pee? Think of that poor endangered ai [], who peed for you.

    • by MrZilla ( 682337 )

      It's probably because iD don't have the rights to the game. They have, after all, released the source for most of their other games.

    • by Puff_Of_Hot_Air ( 995689 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @08:15AM (#34559184)

      .I can speak somewhat authoritatively on this issue. A long long time ago, I emailed John Carmack about releasing the Commander Keen 4 source code. He replied saying he did not know what happened to it. Later a friend of mine and I attempted to clone Commander Keen 4 from a disassembly. It turns out that the codebase is very very *very* similar to the released Wolfenstein 3D source, which made things a little easier. We eventually gave up, but our work provided the information and impetus to help the community in making original Keen 4 maps, which has now been refined into a fairly easy process, I am told. While all this was happening, John Romero made a post on the 3D Realms forums indicating that he had all of the source code to the Commander Keen games. I promptly emailed Romero asking him if he would release the source. He stated that he would love to release the source, but he would not do so without Carmack's blessing. I periodically prodded him about it, but with starting his own company and things, apparently the idea got lost in the shuffle. As far as id offering these games on their website, this is no big deal. All the Keen games (except for Aliens ate my Babysitter and maybe Keen Dreams) have been available on the 3D Realms webstore for a very long time.

      Quote from AlternateSyndicate (644818) on Sunday March 16 2003, @03:19PM (#5524737) I'm guessing exactly nothing has changed since then.

  • God, I'm old. :P
    I still remember getting the shareware version on floppy from a games magazine. Great game, lots of fun. Then came Doom and switched cable two player Doom... ahhhhhhhh
    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      Get off my lawn!

      I was 33. I started working at Johns Hopkins APL which was my first taste of the Internet. I ftp'd the games but now I can't recall the site. It had loads of shareware games though.


    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      God, I'm old. :P

      No you're not. I was about your age when Keen came out. There was a shop in town that sold shareware floppies for $5 each.

      Keen was great, but his son, Duke Nukem, was funner and funny (loved shooting the Energizer Bunny).

      • Keen was great, but his son, Duke Nukem, was funner and funny...

        Keen came out on 14 December, 1990; Duke Nukem came out on July 1, 1991. Thats 7 months later. Furthermore; Keen is 8 years old in his first adventure; whereas Duke is fully grown (can't say he's "mature" though).

        Lets face facts and admit that Duke Nukem is Keen's late-blossoming older brother.

      • Fuck, I miss shareware. Today a major game titel 'demo' download is 1.2gb and gives you 10 mins of buggy gameplay. *snif*
  • Along with Civilization I, Dune I and Wolfenstein, it was one of the reasons I could thrive with my old 286 until 1998.

    And the lack of money to buy anything else, of course.

    • Hey, you could also run Dune II on a 286. With it you could get most of the fun of Command & Conquer (which required a 386 instead).
      • by anss123 ( 985305 )
        That must have been painful. Played Dune 2 on a 386sx 16Mhz and the last mission ran like an old grandma with arthritis.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Dune 1 as the adventure game or 2 as RTS?

  • I loved the afk yo-yo!
  • Remembering Keen (Score:4, Informative)

    by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @05:26AM (#34558312) Journal

    Oh, god, I remember the Commander Keen games. I was a purely PC gamer back in the early 90s; the parents wouldn't have a console in the house at the time. To be honest, I don't remember the original Commander Keen being particularly great. It was one of those EGA platformers with very sparse graphics that seemed to be everywhere on the PC at the time. I think of it like the original Duke Nukem platformers; games which are remembered not in their own right, but for what they went on to spawn.

    What did blow me away, however, was Keen 4 (Secret of the Oracle), which came out a year later. This was a huge leap forwards in terms of graphics and sound. The sad thing is that I can still hum some of the pieces of background music from that game. The gameplay was also much improved, with Keen's movement feeling much more natural, and some really great level design. It actually gave PC gamers of the time a game that they could pretend was almost as good as the likes of Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog. I don't think I saw a better platformer on the PC until Jazz Jackrabbit, which I'm fairly sure was a few years later.

    Actually, isn't the Keen series available on Steam these days? I must pick that up this evening. Take a look at the episodes from the "full" version that I never saw in my youth.

    • Keen 4-6 and Duke Nukem 2 are still awesome. The earlier games aren't bad but I can see why someone who didn't grow up with them wouldn't be able to "get" it--the later games should be enjoyable to anyone who likes the genres (platformer and platform shooter, respectively), regardless of what they grew up playing.

      Steam does have Keen; I got it when the complete id collection went on sale a year or so ago. The pack doesn't include episode 6 or Keen Dreams, though, so it's not all the games.

    • by anss123 ( 985305 )

      What did blow me away, however, was Keen 4 (Secret of the Oracle), which came out a year later. This was a huge leap forwards in terms of graphics and sound.

      Yeah. It wasn't quite as good or pretty as Super Mario World (had a SNES) but close enough. Jazz Jackrabbit was another good one, though I've only played the demo.

      Take a look at the episodes from the "full" version that I never saw in my youth.

      Don't. Haven't played them myself but the consensus seems to be that they're not as good.

    • Apogee was built on Commander Keen and the Shareware model, especially theirs where you got part 1 of 3 free.

      I ran a BBS back then that became one of the first Apogee Distribution sites, another innovation attributed to Apogee was getting thousands of BBS's across the country to essentially be mirror sites for their games. The system worked great because Apogee got the word out, and BBS SysOp's got cool games in their file transfer sections. I know all this seems like a moot point now with the Internet, b

    • Man, I remember being so impressed by the graphics of Secret of the Oracle. Computers make me feel so old, when I hear guys these days talking about graphics I think about Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle and Wolfenstein 3d. Graphics? Fuck that, I just want to kill something.

    • To be honest, I don't remember the original Commander Keen being particularly great. It was one of those EGA platformers with very sparse graphics that seemed to be everywhere on the PC at the time.

      Graphically, the first trilogy wasn't that great. But it was the first ever PC game to feature full-screen smoothly scrolling graphics. Before that, such performance was only possible on consoles.
      PC games just repainted the whole world on each frame, and therefore to save performance, lots of games did only displayed the game world in a small window in the game screen (think like Captain Comic)
      Keen was the first game to make popular the hardware trick enabling smooth scrolling.

      Luckily by the time of the sec

  • I was grinning like and idiot all the way through the whole set of screenshots. Great memories.
  • Keen was a fantastic 2D platformer. Why hasn't anyone ported it to the DS, PSP, iPhone, etc. ?

    • Because the Gameboy Color remake sucked.

    • I have it installed on my Nintendo Wii. You can read about and acquire the port here [].

      They apparently used the source of a DS port as a starting point.

      All of these require homebrew enablement hacks.

  • Secret of the Oracle. The one with the infamous fish. Only actually finished it in 2008, for that matter (I first played it around 1994, but never finished until rediscovering it a long time later).


  • Dopefish Lives!

  • Nostalgia (Score:5, Funny)

    by peppepz ( 1311345 ) on Wednesday December 15, 2010 @05:47AM (#34558410)
    I remember I had to fix my uncle's computer because he had deleted COMMAND.COM thinking it was part of Commander Keen.
  • To be honest, I didn't find it all that great. I guess you had to be there.

    • The original trilogy hasn't aged well. The controls suck balls (and did even back then) and the graphics are horrid.

      4, 5, and the elusive 6 are still excellent.

      The controls are improved, the play is smooth, and they're pretty enough to be visually interesting most of the time. The graphics are in that "good enough" sweet spot where, though they may not look modern exactly, they aren't so far behind that they're a shock.

  • If you're gonna go back to that era, someone needs to mention the great shareware FTP archives of the pre-Web internet:,, simpnet (? it's been too long).

    Am I the only one who kept checking the READMEs for new pointers by the maintainers? I probably downloaded way too many games on the recommendation of obscure Finnish professors :-)

    • by Hobart ( 32767 )

      the great shareware FTP archives of the pre-Web internet:,, simpnet (? it's been too long).

      SIMTEL []. Keith Peterson was a customer of the ISP I worked at in Metro Detroit back in 1994, and when he called in and I fanboy'ed him he was pretty surprised. :-)

      • Ah yes, and before that, we used to buy CD's chock full of those games, loaded with files.bbs indexing, to put on the BBS. Nothing beats the satisfaction of your first color game download over a 2400 or 14.4k modem.


      never forget
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Man it would be great if these sites would make it into an archive and onto a torrent tracker somewhere.

  • This game was great, it kept my kids off the lawn when it came out.
  • on a 16 MHz 386SX cpu. At least, that's how I remember it. Time to go dust mine off. Now get the hell off my lawn!
    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      As an aside, last time I pulled out an old PC and plugged it in out of curiosity, a 486 DX2-66, I found a copy of Quake on it. When I tried to run it it ran at about 3 fps, and Doom didn't break much over 15fps.

      Did we really used to put up with that kind of shitty frame rate back then, or has, despite having not been touched for about 15 years, this system mysteriously slowed down? There didn't seem to be any problems with the hard drive or anything, can a processor even "just slow down"? I figured it'd jus

      • Did the machine have a turbo button and if so did you make sure it was turned on?

        • Also what resoloution were things set to, early 3D games got much slower if you tried to crank up the resoloution from the default 320x200 to say 640x480.

        • by Xest ( 935314 )

          No, it didn't have one, I think it was a 486 SX33 originally, so was really at the point where turbo buttons were starting to dissapear from cases.

      • No... on such machine, Quake should be somewhat choppy (10-15 fps) and Doom would run at "full speed", which is maybe 25-30 fps.
      • by drsmithy ( 35869 )

        Did we really used to put up with that kind of shitty frame rate back then, or has, despite having not been touched for about 15 years, this system mysteriously slowed down?

        Quake was one of, if not the, first game to require a decent FPU, something the 486 (even DXs) lacked.

        DOOM should have been "great" on a machine like that, however (ie: as good as it's going to get). When it came out in 1993, a 486DX2/66 was pretty much the fastest machine normal people could buy.

      • I remember playing Doom 1 on a 386 DX-40 with 4MB RAM, and it ran pretty smooth in low graphics mode.

    • Meh, rich kids. I played them up to episode 5 on an Amstrad PC-1640, an 8MHz 8086 with 640KB of RAM and an EGA screen, no need for your new expensive machine. One of the nice features of that machine was a digital joystick connector on the back of the keyboard, which let you connect joysticks compatible with Amstrad 8-bit systems and sent the signals to the computer as some extra keycodes. This meant that you could play any game with a joystick, as long as it supported reconfiguring the keys to arbitrary
  • Commander Keen... What an awesome series of games with tons of personality.

    Having always been more of a PC gamer I felt like the platform was deprived by a distinct lack of good platforming games. Then Commander Keen came along and there was something quite good to point to; the PC can do it too.

    Compared to other platformers of the time it was actually a decent game, especially the later games where the tiling wasn't as simplistic and graphics and gameplay were more robust.

  • There is an open source project for an engine to run the first 3 Keen games: []

    I can't stress enough how much I want a new Keen game. Who owns the rights these days? Atari?

    If I was a small game development company trying to make a name for myself, this would be a perfect project. There are WAY too many shooters, and it is hard to differentiate yourself in that market, especially on a budget.

    But a good platformer can be developed on the cheap. New platformers still find ways to

  • Seeing this makes me miss the Amiga even more. Yes, I know you couldn't get Keen on the Amiga. Ask me if thought that was a great loss.
    • yeah, I just looked at those screenshots, and all I could think was that I was glad i had an Amiga and could play platformers like Zool, Chuck Rock and Superfrog. Granted, those games didn't all come out in 1990, but they ran on 1990 hardware.

  • There was nothing like staying home sick from school, dialing up to one of my favorite local BBS's, and waiting a few hours for the Commander Keen shareware version to download. The game was great and the first episode had some pretty sweet PC speaker sound effects. This was definitely an underrated side scroller. Action packed, challenging, and kept you wanting to play more. It's no Doom, but we're not even comparing the same kind of game here. Simply holding the [G] [O] and [D] keys at the same time enabl
    • Simply holding the [G] [O] and [D] keys at the same time enabled God Mode. Can't beat that. And that super jump that allows you to pretty much float across an entire map was also pretty bad ass.

      I remember one time, after managing to fall into a pit that was too deep for me to get out of but for some reason didn’t have spikes at the bottom, rather than going to the menu and starting the level over I started mashing buttons... and suddenly it says I beat the game and rescued all of the elders (though I didn’t have many points obviously). That was a surprise.

  • For those too young to remember, Commander Keen was a series of shareware 2D platform games for the PC released by Apogee

    ...and for those of you too young to remember when Slashdot celebrated it's 13th birthday []...

  • The early keen games may not be sophisticated by today's standards, but they're still fun. And Apogee had a great marketing plan. They would give away the first full game. Then if you liked it, you could purchase the sequels. Hmm...yes a bit like a dealer. ;-)

    Appropriately enough, here is the Dopefish [], who has a fan page [] and who's midi music theme will get stuck in your head.

  • Think I have them zipped up on a floppy somewhere, probably 2 floppies actually (5 and 6 were WAY larger than the others). Will have to go dig out a drive and see if they rotted too much to recover.

    Ahhh keen.. wasted so much time in the drafting lab in HS playing keen (and then wolfenstein 3d, and Doom) instead of autocad...


  • One of the "hacks" I was most proud of was reverse engineering the level structure for Keen, so I could make my own levels (this was before someone more professional than I released an editor a few years later).

    Not that it was too difficult with a hex editor, and id software didn't try to obfuscate the levels or anything.  But still, a couple weeks well spent!
  • One of the first games my siblings and I ever played on our first family computer. Jump started my love of gaming.

    Remember in the first one (I think), you could stand in certain spots to make the wolves fall off the end of the world near the exits? *sigh* good times.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost