Other Stuff

Standard Galactic Alphabet

Shown here, this is an alphabet that was created for the Keen games.  As you play through the games, you'll see messages written all over the walls in this language.  This translation you see here appears in two levels in the series.  This particular image is from the secret level in Episode 6, and there is another translation in the secret level in Episode 3.  Actually, Tom Hall used to have a piece of paper hanging on his wall with the SGA on it - if you want to, you can see a scan of that paper here!  Tom's picture actually has a character that doesn't appear in either of the in game translations.  One other thing about the SGA that Tom Hall recounted for this article...

"Big secret: now it can be revealed! There is actually a filthy word somewhere in Keen 1-3, spelled in the Standard Galactic Alphabet, made of yellow platforms inside a field of red platforms. I won't say where, but the dedicated can find it... :) Hee!"

Also, there's much larger uses of SGA, too.  At the end of Keen 5, Billy Blaze runs into a message left on the desk of McMire, and it was up to you to translate it to find out what happens next in the storyline!  Check it out.  Also, you can download a Windows TTF font of the Standard Galactic Alphabet.  We're not sure who originally made it, but it's pretty cool!  :)

 Quake: The Fight For Justice

Back in 1990, when Keen 3 was put out, it contained the genesis of an idea that would manifest itself many years later, and that was Quake.  In the previews area in Keen 3 is the text below, which describes what the original game concept for Quake was.  The game changed, obviously, but the idea had been planted long ago.  Check it out!


As our follow-up to the Commander Keen trilogy, id Software is working on 'The Fight for Justice', a completely new approach to fantasy gaming. You start not as a weakling with no food--you start as Quake, the strongest, most dangerous person on the continent. You start off with a Hammer of Thunderbolts, a Ring of Regeneration, and a trans-dimensional artifact. Here the fun begins. You fight for Justice, a secret organization devoted to vanquishing evil from the land! This is role-playing excitement.

And you don't chunk around the screen. 'The Fight for Justice' contains fully animated scrolling backgrounds. All the people you meet have their own lives, personalities, and objectives. A 256-color VGA version will be available (smooth scrolling 256-color screens --fancy that)!

And the depth of play will be intense. No more "whack whack here's some gold." There will be interesting puzzles and decisions won't be "yes/no" but complex correlations of people and events. 'The Fight for Justice' will be the finest PC game yet.

 Keen's moon

One of the more amusing cute things in the game comes in the Keen 4 level "Pyramid of the Moons".  Normally, when you do nothing in the game, Keen will stand there, look at you, shrug his shoulders, and then sit down and read a book (as is seen here).  However, in the Pyramid of the Moons level, if you stand on any of the crescent moons that are on the floor, and do nothing - you get something a little different the first time Keen gets bored with you.  You can check out this moon view to your right by hovering your mouse over the picture.  :)


Keens 4-6 also had a built in game - you could play Pong in the game menus.  The storyline said something about Keen being bored during spaceflight and creating Paddle War for him to play.  It's a pretty interesting add-on, even if the AI for the machine is pretty easy to fool.  :)

 Song lyrics

When id did Keen Dreams for Softdisk, they had musician Bobby Prince create some music for it.  He created a tune called "Eat your Vegetables" - it fit in with the food related theme of Keen Dreams.  However, Softdisk didn't want to use it, as it would have made the game not fit on a 360k disk (huge stuff in those days).  Anyway, the lyrics to "Eat Your Veggies" appear over on the Dopefish Home Page.  If you check out the lyrics page, you can read the lyrics, as well as download a Real Video file of Bobby Prince singing the lyrics!

Also, some lyrics have turned up for the theme song for Keen 6, "Aliens Ate My Babysitter".  Check 'em out:

Aliens ate my babysitter 
Ate her right down to her toes 
Worse, they still look hungry 
And are trying now to bite off my nose. 

My babysitter might have deserved it 
Of that, a Judge I'll not be 
But I am a different story 
The Universe dies without me!"

During the break part of the song, Keen does some rap: 

My name is Keen
A fighting machine
Helmet on head (except when in bed)
A pogo for height
A ray gun for might

The Bacon 'n Bean's my flying machine
I never fear whenever I'm near some critter from space
Who's not in his place I'll leave them to feed on whatever they need
I'll fill them with lead after they're fed

My Mom and my Dad don't know I'm this BAD
But when my story's told
All kids will be bold.

(Thanks to Bobby Prince for these things)

 More Cool Stuff

This section will be updated from time to time to add more cool things in the Keen games.  Got an idea for something cool from the Keen games?  Drop us an email.



The popularity of Keen has shown up in other games, too.  Keen has been referenced and appears as a cameo in a few games, some from Apogee, some from others.

  • In Paganitzu, Keen's helmet makes an appearance in a hidden area.

  • Also in Paganitzu, a Yorp appears in an Episode 2 level.

  • In the "Trash Dump" level of Bio Menace Episode 2, Keen appears as one of the hostages you need to rescue. Check out this picture of it.

  • Also, in Bio Menace, there is a secret room called "The Apogee Room" where artifacts from a few of our games are in.  There's various objects from Keen in here, such as Yorps, Boobus Bombs, along with other items from Duke Nukem & Bio Menace.

  • Commander Keen's helmet made an apperance in a level of Crystal Caves.

  • Dr. Proton mentions Commander Keen in the first episode of Duke Nukem.  Check it out.

  • The kids game Pickle Wars has several references to Commander Keen in it.

  • The Apogee game Secret Agent refers to Commander Keen's Teddy Bear.  Check out this picture of it.

  • The old Epic Games "Jill of the Jungle" game has a 'swipe' at Commander Keen in it.  Probably the least cool of the references.  Check it out.

  • Also, Keen makes numerous appearances in the default high score tables in several Apogee games.

Finally, four Keens made an appearance in a secret level of id's Doom II.  You can kill the Keens - in fact, you have to in order to get out of the level.  Some have said this was id's final statement on Keen - that they never intend on doing anything with it ever again.

Do you have screen captures of the ones above that don't have a picture?  If so, let us know - we'll be updating this section with screen captures as we get them.



The Commander Keen universe came from the mind of Tom Hall.  People wonder what Tom Hall goes through to come up with all this goofball stuff that has appeared in the Keen games.  Well, Tom had a lot to say about the creation of Keen.  Check it out:

"I think the things that influenced me were numerous. There was Chuck Jones' "Duck Dodgers in the 24-1/2 Century". And a short story called something like "A Study of the Worp Reaction", in which an autistic kid goes out to the junkyard behind his parent's house, and keeps bringing back pieces of stuff, each seemingly perfectly fitting with each other. One day he gets up on top of the pile of garbage, gets inside it. It rises off the ground, with a glow underneath, then settles to the ground. Then he slowly takes it apart day-by-day. That was cool. The "Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket" comes from a George Carlin routine about instead of deodorant, people could put bay leaves under each arm-doesn't stop the sweating, but you smell like soup. Someone smells a soup smell, and the other person goes, "No, I'm 'Bean-with-Bacon'." Obscure reference, to be sure.  The style of the paragraph was based on the 30s and 40s serial shorts, like Buck Rogers. Keen grew more and more a combination of my childhood, and Chuck Jones' amazing visual style.

Keen was basically me as a kid. Not that I had an IQ of 314, but I was sorta one of the smart 'n' geeky kids, and kinda ostracized because of that. So I drew a lot, wrote stories and stuff, and sort of escaped into science fiction, into my own little worlds. Keen is sort of who I wanted to be as a kid: brave, not scared. Confident, not awkward. And he wears what I wore and had as a kid: red Converse hi-tops, jeans, Packers helmet...except his shirt was purple, 'cause that was the color left over in EGA. The Packers helmet was a Christmas present from my folks. In Keen, it was his brother's Christmas helmet, 'cause my older brother was much older (11 years), so I looked up to him, emulated him. Of course, now grown up, I realize what a goon he was... (Kidding, Bob! No, I'm not. Yes, I am. Not.)

Keen also came out of my childhood entertainment--the series was totally inspired by Warner Bros. cartoons, but most specifically those directed by Chuck Jones. The takes with the eyes, the look of the characters, the bold color choices and crazy devices...all of that was in great service to the master."

 Some more random thoughts of Tom's about Keen...

I remember Carmack making the Yorps hop...giving them that little extra happy personality.

I remember Adrian doing the enemies for Keen 3...and suddenly seeing what actual ART in a game looked like.

I remember Romero and I making sixteen Keen 2/3 maps in like 2 days."

Adrian Carmack too remembers some of the wackiness that went on behind the scenes during Keen's development, as well as some of his early days with id:

Adrian Carmack"John Carmack asked me at Softdisk one day if I wanted to draw a few illustrations for a side project he was working on. He gave me his address, phone number, and directions. I'll never forget him saying "It's the house with the big satellite dish in the front yard." Every other house had a satellite dish in front. The address he gave me didn't exist and neither did the phone number! Ooooooooooo!!! I was steamin'!!!!!! I thought they were tricking me or something. Nope. He's just a genius who can't remember his phone number and address! I think he added his phone number and address together, took the square root dived by Pi, then Deltafraced the whole thing. That's where the confusion came in. He forgot to give me the formula. Anyway that's where the feud began!!!! MUUUUUHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!

We haven't said a word to each other since. We just give the "Nod of Knowing" as we pass through the halls of id.

I remember Mitsy the cat and her shit-box (may her soul rest in peace), the great flood, unusual videos, the beer fridge, ripathons, the lake, "the random stylings of John Romero".....oh yes!!...THE INCREDIBLE HOT SEX PIZZA ORGIES!!!!! hmm. That might have been "Keen Dreams". whatever.."

John Romero clues us in to some of his thoughts about the early days of Keen development:

"I remember quite well the days of Keen development... ah, the memories of our brand-new company coming together and creating some of the most fun games we've ever played. Even today, the Keen series is still a challenge to play through, even if you have decades of game-playing experience, the seven sacred Keen games still stand the test of time.

John RomeroKeen had pretty humble beginnings... we started developing Keen out of a lakehouse in Shreveport, Louisiana in our after-work hours using computers from work (oops!) It was a blast. We were working as fast as we could and it was mainly myself, John Carmack and Tom Hall who created the first trilogy of Keen, but it was Tom Hall's entire concept. Adrian Carmack came in during the last two weeks to help us with the more intricate art that was a little beyond Tom's art abilities (he created the VortiNinja for Keen3 and the pictures of the cities for Keen2, among a few other tidbits.)

Things I remember during Keen Vorticons development from ten years ago...

* Lugging all the computer systems (3 of them, 386-33mhz, 32mb RAM, VGA!) up to the lakehouse on the weekends and bringing them all back early Monday morning before work started

* Working late into the night at Softdisk because after 5pm, we stopped working on work stuff and did Keen stuff... during Keen development we were working on Slordax and Shadow Knights for Softdisk

* When I was trying to fit all the data for Keen2 and Keen3 on a 360K floppy and all the files wouldn't fit, I had to convert a bunch of files to .OBJ files (using a utility I developed), change the code to forgo the loading process for those files, then I had to link them into the KEEN EXE file, then finally I had to LZEXE the EXE file so it was much smaller -- that was the only way that Keen2 and 3 would fit on a 360K floppy.

* How fun it was to get Messie, the mysterious Vorticon sea monster, to pick up Keen and transport him around the world map

* Figuring out the Impossible Pogo Jump trick that was a byproduct of the way Carmack codes, which makes for some awesome easter eggs and secrets in all of id's games

* Trying to get a little networking system going with Carmack using a parallel printer cable, but it turned out to be slower than copying the files to floppy disk

* Drawing neat little pictures on each of the team's COPY disks which were the disks that we would pass around with our latest stuff on them so we could all have a final build on our systems.... we called it SneakerNet

* John C.'s cat, Mitsy (R.I.P.), who used to lay on top of John's VGA monitor until it overheated and the screen started changing colors! Scat, Mitsy!

* Adrian hating to work down near Mitsy's catbox, so he quickly moved up into the area next to Tom -- then Tom would always move the table around with his knees. Adrian was in constant turmoil!

* Scott Miller sending us weekly Pizza Money checks of about $100 (lots of pizza!) throughout the development of the trilogy

* John C. having some trouble getting the little Scrub in Keen2 to carry the player on its back and, as always, The Carmack figures the shit out and gets it done

* John's cool Adaptive Tile Refresh trick that made the scrolling even faster than redrawing the entire screen (this is not the Virtual Screen Tile Refresh trick he created for Keen4-6)

* Jay Wilbur being addicted to Wing Commander and playing it on a nightly basis for months on end, yanking his suctioned-down joystick around until it almost tipped his huge computer desk over on him

* Jay Wilbur bringing in some hardcore hermaphrodite pr0n and putting it on while we were developing, just to see if we could get John C. to actually interrupt his coding to look at the source of all the noise

* Working on the final maps in Keen3 with Tom, just trying to finish the whole game before Christmas and finally reaching our goal with a total of 3 month's development time for the trilogy of games

Those were some great times... nothing can come close to my memories of our little tight-knit team working furiously with a single goal in sight and having plenty of talent to achieve that goal in record time. It was the beginning of a new age, for us... and the entire industry."

And finally, John Carmack recalls Keen, the game that really got him rolling in the industry (well, at least in the big time.  :)

We didn't know it at the time, but Id Software was effectively founded the night that Tom and I stayed overnight at the Softdisk offices to work on a demo of the new smooth scrolling technology I had just gotten working. The response that we got from John Romero and Jay Wilbur the next day set the stage for where things were going.

That demo made its way to Scott Miller at Apogee, and he moved fast to get us working on a stand alone project. Three months later, Commander Keen had its shareware release.

It is almost unbelievable how much things have changed since then. Games schedule slip many times the entire development of Keen, and the entire data set for Keen would fit in the space of a single modern texture.

I'm wouldn't trade my ghz cpus and 64mb graphics cards for the Good Old Days, but they were still a lot of fun!

-- John Carmack

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