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Overview  

Commander Keen is a series of video games developed by id Software in the early 1990s. The series follows Billy Blaze as he assumes the persona of Commander Keen and travels the universe.
The series was recognized for replicating the side scrolling style of games out on the NES in the DOS format. The games were also recognized for pioneering the use of EGA graphics and their use of shareware for distribution purposes.  
The Commander Keen universe was designed and written by Tom Hall
 

Story  

Billy Blaze, an 8 year old genius, designed and built a spaceship from cans, jars and other household rubbish in his back garden, dubbing it the "Beans with Bacon Megarocket". Whenever his parents were out and his babysitter had fallen asleep, he would don his older brother's Packers helmet and became Commander Keen, defender of Earth!  
 
The first three games are a series called "The Invasion of the Vorticons."
 
In the first game, "Marooned on Mars", Keen is exploring Mars when aliens steal four components of his rocket. The culprits are the Vorticons, an evil dog-faced race who have an out post on Mars. Keen travels through each Martian city and recovers all four parts of his space ship and returns home. 
 
In the second game, "The Earth Explodes", Keen has arrived home to find the Vorticon mothership looming over earth ready to strike. Keen infiltrates the mothership and has to disable each of the cannons which are targeting different Earth cities: London, Cairo, Moscow, Sydney, New York, Rome, Paris, and Washington D.C. During his time on the ship Keen discovers that the Vorticons used to be a peaceful race but where enslaved by a mysterious higher intellect. 
 
In the third game, "Commander Keen Must Die", Keen travels to the Vorticon homeworld where he fights through Vorticon cities and military installations full of Vorticons ready to kill him. Eventually Keen fights his way to the location of the grand intellect who turns out to be Mortimer McMire. In the final level Keen has to defeat the "mangling machine" which he does and frees the Vorticans.  
 
The fourth and fifth episodes are two parts to a story called "Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy"
 
Unknown to Keen the Mortimer he defeated was actually an android double. The real Mortimer has ensnared the Shikadi and is attempting to destroy the galaxy with the Omegamatic, a Death Star-like ship which is more than capable of destroying the galaxy.  
 
In the fourth game, "Secret of the Oracle", Keen stumbles upon a radio signal that reveals Mortimer's plans and he travels to Gnosticus IV to learn about the Shikadi from the Oracle. When he arrives he realizes that the guardians have been captured by the Shikadi and are imprisoned in the Shadowlands. Keen fights his way through forests, outposts, caves and islands releasing all of the guardians. The guardians activate the Oracle who tells Keen that the Omegamatic is near completion and reveals its location, Korath system. 
 
In the fifth game, "The Armageddon Machine", Keen travels to the Korath III and enters the Omegamatic with the hope of destroying its core. He fights his way through the ship avoiding many traps and enemies and eventually succeeds in destroying the ship. 
 
In the sixth game, "Aliens Ate my Babysitter", Mortimer captures Keen's baby sitter, who is Mortimer's older sister, and imprisons her on the home world of the Bloogs. Keen fights his way through the cities of the Bloogs and saves his baby sitter. 
 

Characters

William Joseph "Billy Blaze" Blazkowicz: An 8 year old genius with an I.Q of 314, who takes on the persona of Commander Keen. He is the grand son of William Joseph "B.J." Blazkowicz the war hero from the Wolfenstein 3D games. Keen's farther Arthour is a talk show host and changed his last name to Blaze for show-biz reasons. 
 
Spot: A green one eyed alien that sneaked onto Keen's spaceship in the first episode, was adopted by Keen. 
 
Mortimer McMire: The main antagonist of the story, he is also 8 years old and has an I.Q. of 315. He was a bully to Keen in school giving him swirlies and beating him up due to his "inferior" I.Q. Mortimer's older sister, Molly, is Keen's babysitter. 
 

Gameplay

 
Keen can be moved left or right and can jump to get onto higher ledges. In the first game Keen finds a pogo stick which when equipped allows him to jump twice as high but makes him hard to control due to the constant jumping state. 
 
Keen also finds a ray gun which fires a slow moving projectile left or right to kill an enemy. Some die with one hit others take more shots and some are unaffected by the ray gun. Keen keeps both the pogo stick and the ray gun for the rest of the games. 
 
Keen doesn't have health instead you die instantly and lose a life if you touch an enemy. 
 
There are a number of collectables in the games, some are extra ammo others such as key cards give the player access to areas which were previously locked off. One power up added in the third episode activates god mode for a few seconds. 
 
In later installments of the game the player is able to look up and down and enter buildings. An important addition to the gameplay was the ability to grab ledges if you narrowly missed a jump.  
 
Another addition in later games is the Neural Stunner which replaces the ray gun. The player can now fire this up and down as well as left and right. 
 
Humor was an important part of the series as it fit in well with the cartoony look of the graphics. Tom Hall said that they took a lot of inspiration from Looney Toons and in a number of places, for instance outside the oracles house, you can see tributes to the "Acme" company from Looney Toons.  Another example of the humor is in one instance Keen has to collect 12 1-inch worms and when he does a giant foot appears, due to 12 inches equaling one foot. 
 

The Standard Galactic Alphabet

During the course of the Keen games, the player will encounter several signs with odd symbols printed on them. This is in fact The Standard Galactic Alphabet (SGA), which serves as the alien language in the series.

 "Hi" written in SGA letters

The SGA was created by Tom Hall. While making exit signs for the first Keen game, Tom wanted to make the letters seem more alien like, so he altered some Latin letters. This idea evolved and by Keen 3 he had made a full blown 26 character alphabet. The messages vary from helpful hints to messages from the developer. Keen 3 even contain a hidden curse word written with the SGA.

The Complete Standard Galactic Alphabet



Translating

The SGA is really just a substitution cipher, where each symbol matches a letter in the English alphabet. A complete translation alphabet can be found in a hidden level in Keen 3. Another one can be found in Keen 6.  

Development

John Carmack was a programmer at Softdisk and discovered a way to make smooth scrolling graphics using the EGA graphics card. He shared his discovery with his friend and co-worker Tom Hall. They kept their discovery from Softdisk and instead spent some time building a clone of the first level of Super Mario Bros. 3. They showed this game to John Romero and he said they should finish it; over the next week they built a complete clone of Mario Bros. 3 and showed it to Nintendo. Nintendo declined their offer to help get them into the PC market. 
 
John Romero was contacted by Apogee's Scott Miller who gave them $2000 to develop the Commander Keen series. 
 

Reception  

Commander Keen was reviewed by Sandy Petersen from Dragon who game the game 4 out of 5 stars.

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