Slideshow

Celebrating Commander Keen's 20th anniversary

After 20 years of Commander Keen, we look back at the history of id Software's classic series

  • It's the 20th anniversary of the release of the first Commander Keen game. We thought about sending some fine china to Apogee and id Software, but decided that a tribute slideshow would probably be a better idea. We've rounded up a few pictures of each Keen game as a fitting homage to the boy wonder Billy Blaze and his intergalactic adventures.

    If this slideshow whets your appetite, check out the [[xref: http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page |Commander Keen wiki]] for more details about this much-loved shareware series.

  • For those who came in late, the Commander Keen series of side-scrolling games were created by id Software in the early 1990s. A regular eight-year-old boy, Billy Blaze, has been building a spaceship from old soup cans and household junk in his backyard. When his parents are out and the babysitter falls asleep, he pulls on a gridiron helmet, jumps in his spaceship and becomes Commander Keen, defender of Earth.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons was the first Keen trilogy, with the first episode released on December 14th, 1990. The game's difficult birth is chronicled on the [[xref:http://www.3drealms.com/keenhistory/|3D Realms Web site]] — complete with the first meeting of John Carmack and John Romero, two of the video games industry's most well-known figures and the co-creators of games like [[xref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfenstein_3D|Wolfenstein 3D]], the [[xref:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doom_%28video_game%29|Doom series]] and the [[xref:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quake_%28series%29|Quake series]].

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].
  • The first episode of Invasion of the Vorticons, titled Marooned on Mars, saw four vital components of Commander Keen's spaceship stolen by Vorticons and hidden in different Martian cities. Keen's mission is to find each component, rebuild his spaceship and get home before his parents.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • The shareware model meant that while Marooned on Mars was free to play, the second and third episodes had to be purchased by gamers wanting to finish the storyline. Episode two was titled The Earth Explodes.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • Episode Two: The Earth Explodes featured the valiant Commander Keen battling aliens on the Vorticon mothership orbiting Earth, fighting to stop the eight Tantalus X-14 death rays from destroying the planet while his parents are asleep.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].
  • The third episode of the Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons trilogy was Keen Must Die! Its January 1991 release came as Romero, Carmack and the rest of the Keen team split from their software developer employer Softdisk to form id Software.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • With the Vorticon mothership defeated at the end of The Earth Explodes, Commander Keen returns to Earth and gets a good night's sleep. The next morning, a chance downfall of snow means that school is cancelled — so Keen seizes the opportunity to travel in his spaceship to Vorticon VI and destroy the Vorticons for good in Episode Three: Keen Must Die!

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • In between the two Commander Keen trilogies, a standalone game was released. Keen Dreams was published by the developers' original employer Softdisk, and is often referred to as the 'lost episode' — it was developed before the Goodbye Galaxy series, but was released some time afterwards.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • After being sent to bed for not eating his greens, the dashing Commander Keen falls asleep. He wakes up in a vegetable kingdom ruled by the evil Boobus Tuber, who he must defeat to free the other sleeping children who are imprisoned there.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • The second Commander Keen trilogy was Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy!. With Keen battling the evil Shikadi and rescuing the eight members of the High Council of Gnosticus IV, it was split into two episodes. The first episode was called Secret of the Oracle.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • Keen 4: Secret of the Oracle saw Commander Keen travelling through the dangerous Shadowlands of Gnosticus IV to rescue the council members. It's also notable as the first appearance of the [[xref:http://dopefish.com/|Dopefish]] — the second dumbest creature in the universe.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].
  • The second episode of Goodbye Galaxy! was the fifth Commander Keen title. Called The Armageddon Machine, Keen 5 was released almost a year to the day after the original Marooned on Mars. Just quietly, it's our favourite Keen title of all time.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • In this fifth instalment Keen is fighting the Shikadi aboard the Omegamatic — a giant doomsday device that, according to an in-game poster, "causes a 100,000 light year-diameter quantum explosion!" The brave Commander Keen crusades his way to the Quantum Explosion Dynamo and destroys it.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • Keen 6: Aliens Ate My Babysitter was released in November 1991, in between Secret of the Oracle and The Armageddon Machine. The storyline is separate — as the title suggests, Commander Keen is rescuing his babysitter Molly from the clutches of the Bloogs.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].
  • Unfortunately, it's impossible to purchase or download a full version of Keen 6. A shareware demo is available from 3DRealms, but an enterprising buyer might be able to find a copy or two secondhand on eBay.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • At the end screen of Keen 6, players were invited to expect a new Keen trilogy in the coming months. [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/The_Universe_Is_Toast|The Universe is Toast]] unfortunately never eventuated, with developers focusing on other titles like Wolfenstein 3D.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • We don't enjoy speaking about this, but there was a seventh Commander Keen title. It was released exclusively for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, but none of the original Keen developers worked on it and it was panned by critics.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

  • Despite this rather anticlimactic bookend, the Commander Keen series remains pure in our hearts as one of the best video game experiences we've ever had. You can buy most of the titles in [[xref:http://store.steampowered.com/app/9180/|a pack on Steam for US$5]] — if you haven't played them before, you owe it to yourself to give them a go.

    Image credit: [[xref:http://www.shikadi.net/keenwiki/Main_Page|the Commander Keen Wiki at Shikadi.net]].

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