Commander Keen++

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.


  1. robrob says:

    Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy was pretty much my first PC game, certainly the first one I put a lot of time into. I don’t really remember it that fondly. I do remember being terrified of the Dope Fish though.

    • Lambchops says:

      Haha, I remember the Dopefish. Engendring the response of “quick, quick get away!”

      Another reason I loved the Keen games was the pogo stick,. More games should feature pogo sticks. Imagine a game witha pogo stick and a grappling hook. Wouldn’t that just be one of the best things ever? I demand a Just Cause 2 pogo stick mod – you hear me internet!

    • jalf says:

      pogo stick, grappling hook and jetpack, you mean.

      A game like that would destroy the games industry. No one would ever need to buy another game!

  2. Auspex says:

    You’re not Kieron!
    What on earth is going on?!

  3. James G says:

    I was vastly too late to the PC scene to have Keen myself, jumping on board in 1995, however I remember playing it (The fourth one) on a friends computer. I always wanted to go in the crystal city, but my friend insisted it was a crap level and I shouldn’t bother. Did get to see the dopefish though, a very important part of my gaming cultural education.

  4. Lambchops says:

    I like the old Keen games – i just find them bloody hard.

    The one I’m most nostalgic about though is the often forgotten Commander Keen Dreams. Set in the lad’s dreams and featuring fruit and veg as enemies (with level’s given delightful names like Grape Grove) along with Privateer it is one of the first games I remember playing (or more accurately, watching my Dad play and then having a go and dying a lot). I played it again a couple of years ago. I was a bit better but with my ham fisted platformer skills I still died a lot and never actually completed it! It was a great nostalgia trip though.

  5. Schaulustiger says:

    Goddamn Commander Keen games. I never even came close to finishing one of them despite putting a countless amount of time into it. It was an absolute blast, though, it’s probably the only jump’n’run I’ve ever liked.

  6. Mr_Day says:

    The Keen games are momentously difficult – but I don’t regret getting the whole series for a couple of quid off Valve’s Locomotion Argument Generator.

    I might try to memorise Galactic Standard again.

  7. Wulf says:


    I must run and deal with the toils and tribulations of life for the moment, things to see, people to do and all that, but when I return I’m going to poke at this as I always did really enjoy the Keen games.

  8. Andy says:

    Wow! Commander Keen was probably my “first love” as far as games go, along with something just called “Secret Agent”. I was expecting some 21st century 3d-jiggery but this doesn’t look much different tbh, I already have them on Steam (which runs through DosBox i think)…..will give it a go though. Nice to see there is still love for Mr Keen

  9. Risingson says:

    I prefered Secret Agent. Don’t ask me why.

    • Andy says:

      Yes! now where is our secret agent remake? I hate calling it that its burned into my mind as “secagent” as that was the exe filename and you were only allowed 8 characters in those days……ahhh the old days.

      Also as a footnote I’m dissapointed to discover that this only covers episodes 1-3, not 4 which was obviously THE BEST

    • RedFred says:

      Talking about difficulty, Secret Agent was soo hard. My sister preferred that game where as I preferred Commander Keen.

      And yes Goodbye Galaxy was the best!

  10. Alex F says:

    Commander Keen (the shareware first episode) may be the first game I ever downloaded, around ’91 or thereabouts. It took us a long time to figure out how to unzip a file–ah, but the rewards when we finally did.

    Oddly, I never did end up buying the original Keen trilogy, despite buying “Goodbye Galaxy” and “Aliens Ate My Babysitter.” I’m still saddened that Galaxy’s cliffhanger ending has never been resolved…

  11. Roger C says:

    I spent a lot of time when I was younger translating the standard galactic alphabet. I even made a windows font for it.

  12. Helm says:

    As usual, the 256 color version looks worse than the 16 color ega version. People misunderstand the aesthetics of 8-bit art styles and think more gradients and straight ramps make it better. They don’t.

  13. Scypher says:

    Oh shit. I almost forgot about Commander Keen. I haven’t touched a bit of Commander Keen since I was probably five. And now all these memories come flooding back.

  14. aaronaaron says:

    Hold down G, O and D for god Mode!

  15. Eddie says:

    Wow. This is amazing. I still occasionally go back and beat (via steam now) 1-5 every few years haha. Sad thing is that they are so very hard now and I remember waltzing through them as a kid.
    Goodbye Galaxy was great (4 & 5) but my favorite was actually Keen Must Die (3).

    Oh man. I loved these games.

    Wait “loved”? Who am I kidding, I am going home to play them tonight! Screw Bad Company 2!

  16. ArtyFishal says:

    Yes! My most fondly remembered game. I think I’ve probably played a little Keen every year since I was six or so. that’s nearly two decades! My favorite was episode: The Earth Explodes. Awesome! I can’t imagine PC gaming without it.

  17. Razor says:

    One of my favourite game series of all time. I can’t wait til Genius adds episodes 4-6 =)

  18. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I love Commander Keen. I played all the episodes to death (and then some more).

    There’s still an active fanbase at The Public Commander Keen Forum, and a small corps of mod-makers who have made numerous mods and total conversions at Keen:Modding.

    (Full disclosure: I hosts both sites, though I am not otherwise much involved anymore.)

  19. Hidden_7 says:

    Commander Keen 1 was among the first games I ever played. I remember my dad downloading the demo and showing it to me, so impressed by all the colours and the smooth scrolling. This was probably when I was about four or five; ruined forever, thanks Dad!

    To this day my dad will be watching me or my brother playing one of the latest 3D, HD, anti-aliased, pixel-shaded etc etc. games and comment that nothing has really changed since Commander Keen. As far as he’s concerned that was the last big jump in games graphics, and everything since then has just been a subtle evolution.

  20. Thelonious says:

    Like many here Commander Keen is my earliest gaming memory- it’s nice to see i’m not the only one who remembers it. For my money Goodbye, Galaxy was the best (and hardest) instalment of the series. My early PC years were fully occupied with Apogee’s shareware beauties. Keen, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure, Duke Nukem, Secret Agent, Crystal Caves, Jill of the Jungle… stuff Mario!

  21. CharlO says:

    Man!! I’m so happy, I played this game when I was two years old, now i’m about to 21 but it’s like I’m killing alliens, rescuing my babysiter and pooping in diapers all over again

  22. MD says:

    Hooray! Can’t check it out just yet, but an excuse to go back to Keen 1-3 is always welcome.

  23. bill says:

    I loved the later keen games back in the day, though trying to play number 1 again was hard as it was a lot less polished and the physics/controls/mechanics could be frustrating at times.

    It always felt like it was the closest we ever came to a Calvin (without hobbes) video game, and had some of the same childish imagination.

  24. Valentin Galea says:

    We all know Dangerous Dave is the better man!

  25. JuJuCam says:

    Commander Keen was the first game I ever cheated on. Don’t remember the code anymore, but I distinctly remember the infinite pogo jump that sailed me clear across every level.

  26. Erwie says:

    if i’m not mistaken, the .exe of Secret Agent was Sam.exe ; I always used to call the game Sam, never realized it was named Secret Agent until much later.

  27. Jacob says:

    how do u pull out the gun and shoot it??