Tom Hall, the man behind the fictional world of Commander Keen, came up
with the idea in 1990, after John Carmack, one of his co-workers at
Softdisk ltd, devised a revolutionary smooth-scrolling technique for
platform games. With this piece of ground-breaking software on their
hands after Nintendo had rejected it, they decided to create their own
original platform game. After a brief brainstorming session, Tom Hall
produced the scenario for Commander Keen: An eight-year-old boy genius
builds an interstellar ship from junk around his backyard, dons his
brother's football helmet and embarks on a mission to save the Earth
from galactic injustice with the aid of his trusty pogo stick!
These days, Tom Hall no longer works for id Software, the company
that arose on the wave of success that Commander Keen created, but for
his own breakaway group of rebels, "Monkeystone".
Here's what Tom Hall, president of Monkeystone, had to say when we
asked him about Commander Keen's origins:
So we went right to the next best source:
John Carmack himself.
"After I had given Tom a few ideas, he
came up with the whole scenario for Cap- er, Commander Keen, and we got
the game underway. But since none of us were terribly skilled with
graphics, we decided to actually use photographs of a real life actor to
make the graphics of Keen running and jumping and shooting and so on."
"Well, Tom and I contacted various people
about kid actors and whatnot, but nobody seemed interested. It wasn't
until we were passing through Milwaukee after a cross-country trip to
meet with some other people that we actually found Billy Blaze. Yeah, we
were in this computer store, looking at magazines and stuff, when this
kid wearing a huge, yellow football helmet comes bouncing in on a pogo
stick. Tom and I just looked at each other for a few seconds, like we
thought we were hallucinating - here was our computer game concept, come
to life! So we got in touch with the kid's parents, with Billy's parents
Arthur and Susan Blaze, and, before you know it, we had graphics. It was
just so unlikely."
With the release of "Marooned on Mars",
episode one of Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons on
December 14, 1990, the PC gaming world was taken by storm. Nobody had
seen so sophisticated - or enjoyable - a game on a PC before. Commander
Keen, and his real-life representative Billy Blaze, whose name was also
given to the fictitious Commander Keen, became stars, literally
Less than two months following the
emergence of Commander Keen, id Software was formed by a
number of Softdisk employees, who, having completed the Vorticons
series had plans to continue Keen in another series. However, due to
contractual obligations, another Commander Keen game had to be produced
for Softdisk. It was called Keen Dreams.
With greatly improved graphics and
overall gameplay, Keen Dreams was an instant hit. The absence of Keen's
pogo stick was largely ignored by Keen's loyal legions of fans,
initially. But soon, the dream began to fade. id Software was forced to
wake up to reality.
So they created a new series of Commander
Keen and released it in February, 1992. It was called Goodbye,
Where the release of the Vorticons
series had taken the world by storm, Goodbye, Galaxy took the
world by hurricane.