Two dimensions good! Three dimensions bad! It’s retro-pixel-time day on RPS, entirely by mistake. If you’ve had enough absurdist time travel and Jesusosity, perhaps now you’d like to turn your 256-colour attention to id’s ancient history. Woah there, hoss – you’re totally about to comment that olden PC platformer Commander Keen was only 16 colours, aren’t you? I know the way your type thinks. Recently-released fan project Commander Genius does a whole bunch of things to first three episodes of the old jumpy-shooty series, but one option is to add a VGA tileset to it. Better still, this new engine allows nice enough upscaling and edge-smoothing that your gigantic modern monitor no longer makes the game look like it’s made out of sticklebricks. I had it running at 1920×1200, and while it didn’t quite fill the screen, it looked crisp and native-res rather than blurrily stretched to fill all those pixels.
To be honest, I don’t know Keen anywhere near well enough to have a good sense of everything that’s different (I was still a year and a bit off owning a PC when the first game was released, and had moved onto big-boy stuff like X-COM and Syndicate by the time I did, so there), but apparently music support in games 1 and 3 and remapabble controls make Genius a big fat step above running the thing in DOSbox. It also offers mod support, an extra difficulty level and a prototype two-player mode. I can confirm that it works just fine with 2007’s Steam re-release, but you’ll have to copy the data files over yourself. If you don’t own Keen in any form, you can at least grab the demo version of the first game. If you want the 256-colour tileset as well as the new engine, head over here.
Here’s some footage of an earlier version, nostalgiaheads:
Keen memories, then? Again, I have a little less than zero knowledge of this particular series, but friend-of-RPS Mike Channell from Official Xbox Mag UK is a big fan, despite only being 12 years old. He describes its import thusly:
I think ultimately it was the first platformer on the pc that felt like it genuinely rivalled Mario and Sonic on the consoles and it was absolutely rammed with variety, particularly CK4. If you compare the animation and level of control to something like the original Duke Nukem [i.e. the original platformer, not Duke 3D] they are worlds apart.
Thanks, Mike. Thike.