Commander Keen Help

This page lists questions and links to solutions for various problems we've encountered for our Commander Keen games.

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History of Commander Keen

Joe Siegler's explanation of the history of the Keen series:

The seven Commander Keen games were all written by id Software. They are:

  1) Marooned on Mars    ---\
  2) The Earth Explodes     | ---> Invasion of the Vorticons
  3) Keen Must Die       ---/
3.5) Keen Dreams
  4) Secret of the Oracle    --\__  Goodbye Galaxy
  5) The Armageddon Machine  --/
  6) Aliens Ate My Babysitter

Episodes 1-3 are collectively called "Invasion of the Vorticons," and are published by Apogee Software. This series of Commander Keen was released on December 14th, 1990, according to Tom Hall, then Creative Director for id Software.

Episodes 4-5 are collectively called "Goodbye Galaxy!" and are also published by Apogee Software. This series of Commander Keen was released somewhere around June of 1991. There was also a special CGA edition of Keens 4-5. The CGA version is functionally identical to the standard EGA version of the game, but with CGA graphics. Apogee discontinued the CGA version in November 1997.

In April 1998, episodes 1-5 were bundled together on a single CD and sold as a unit for $49.95. This is now the only way any of these Keen episodes may be purchased.

Episode 6 is a stand-alone game which uses the Keen 4-5 engine and is entitled "Aliens Ate My Babysitter." From its creation in 1991 until 1996, it was distributed by FormGen, and Apogee merely resold it, like any other retailer would. In 1996, FormGen was bought by GT Interactive and did not continue to distribute the game. Therefore, Apogee was left with what stock they had at the time. In August 1997, that stock ran out. As of now, the only way to get Keen 6 is as a part of "The id Anthology" package, but that CD, for some reason, only has the CGA version of the game. There was a playable demo of Keen 6 that FormGen distributed at one point. It was released to various online services as and; it may or may not still exist in some remote part of the Internet.

Keen Dreams has an interesting story. This is referred to as the "Lost Episode" of Commander Keen. I like to think of it as "Keen Episode 3.5." The reason is that Keen Dreams falls in between Vorticons and Galaxy both in terms of technology and story line. Before the id guys actually formed id, the majority of them worked at Softdisk, a computer software publisher in Shreveport, LA. The founding members of id Software left Softdisk to do the Vorticons series of Keen for Apogee Software. However, they were contractually obligated to deliver another game to Softdisk, and since development had started on the Galaxy series, they threw together a Keen game for Softdisk, and Keen Dreams was born. This game is not sold by Apogee Software, nor does Apogee have anything at all to do with it. You'd need to contact Softdisk for any further information regarding Keen Dreams.

Episodes 1, 3.5, 4, and the three level demo for episode 6 are the only ones that you are legally allowed to upload and download anywhere. Episodes 2, 3, 5, and the full version of episode 6 are commercial software, and should not appear on the Internet or any other online service, or should otherwise be sold except for authorized sellers of the games.

In December 1996, id Software published a package called "The id Anthology". This product contains every single game that id Software ever made, as well as some others that were made by id people for other companies like Softdisk. Included in this package are all seven Commander Keen games. As a side note, for some reason, the person at id Software who put the package together put in only the CGA version of Keen 6. For more information on the id Anthology, contact id Software (Apogee has nothing to do with the id Anthology).

Here are the online filenames as currently available from Apogee for the various Keen games from Apogee. Some forums may have a '#' appended onto the filename.

Keen 1 -> 1KEEN.ZIP 
Keen 4 -> 4KEEN.ZIP 
Keen 4 -> 4KEENC.ZIP (CGA Version)

I've seen the 3 level Aliens Demo available with the filename #6K-DEMO.ZIP and K6DEMO.ZIP. I've seen Keen Dreams available with the filename KDREAMS.ZIP. However, neither of these are Apogee products, and I cannot vouch for the files' names.

If you played Keen 5, you may have noticed a screen that said something to the effect of, "Join us in December 1992 for the greatest Keen adventure yet." There was a picture of Keen smiling, with a Santa Claus hat on. At the time, id Software was intending to do a third series of Commander Keen, tentatively entitled "Commander Keen: The Universe is Toast." However, other projects came up (Wolfenstein 3D, Spear of Destiny, and later, Doom). There are no serious plans now to do more Keen. The main reason for this is that id Software owns the rights to Commander Keen, and any new project would have to be either done by them (extremely unlikely), or at least approved by them. At this time, there are no Keen games under development by either Apogee, id, or Ion Storm (where Tom Hall and John Romero now work as of 1997), and if and when there ever is more Keen, it will be state of the art of whatever technology is current at the time.

On a different note, Commander Keen, and artifacts from the Keen games have found their way into other games. Commander Keen is listed in the default scoreboards of a handful of Apogee games, mentioned in the instructions of one, and has made a few more prominent appearances, which are listed under the "Cameos" section of this FAQ. Also, see the section on "What's B. J. Blazkowicz's relationship with Commander Keen?" for information on that.

Finally, you can visit the Keen: Vorticons page of the Apogee WWW pages to see the original, rejected title screen for Keen I. The direct URL for this is

For Jerky Motion / Video Problems (Keens 4-6)

The problem that you are having can be solved by first going to the configuration menu from the main menu. From the configuration menu goto the options menu. In the options menu there is an option that states SVGA Compatibility Mode. Select this option, and it should solve your problem. If it does not then in the same menu there is another one that is "Fix Jerky Motion" Please turn that one on.

If you cannot solve the problem after using both of these options, it means your video card is not compatible with the game, and you'll need to contact your video card manufacturer for a possible update for EGA video modes.  If your game does not have "Fix Jerky Motion", please contact us for an update.

Lock ups in Keen 1 - 3

The problem that you are having is most likely caused by a conflict between the game and a TSR or device driver that you have loaded into memory.

The easiest way to solve this problem is to boot your system clean or boot from a system diskette. If you have MS-Dos version 6.0 or greater you can boot your system clean by hitting the 'F5' as soon as "Starting MS-Dos" appears on the screen when you are booting.

If you have MS-Dos version 5.0 or earlier you can create a system diskette by create a system diskette and solve you problem by following the steps below:

1. Place a blank diskette in the "A" drive. If you have high density disk drives, you will need to use a high density diskette.

2. At the dos prompt (c:\) type in format a: /s.

3. The computer will then say "Insert new disk in drive A" and "Press any key to continue." Verify that you do have a blank diskette in drive A, and hit a key.

4. The computer will then format the disk, and transfer the necessary system files over to the floppy diskette that will allow you to boot from that diskette.

5. After the disk is formatted it may ask you for a volume label. If it does just hit enter to continue.

6. When the computer asks you if you would like to format another diskette answer N for no.

7. When you return to the dos prompt reboot your computer, and leave the disk that you made in the drive.

8. After the system boots, the system will ask you for the current date and time. Just hit enter for these questions, and you will be at the a>.

9. Change to the drive that you have the game installed to (usually C:).

10. Change to the directory that the game is installed to and then run the game.

To restore your computer to its original settings after you have finished the game, take the diskette out of the drive and reboot your computer.

If the above solutions do not work, you can try a couple of command line parameters that may allow you to run the game. When you type in the command keen1 to run the game add a space and type in the command line parameter before pressing enter. The command line parameters for Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons are:

/K Forces Keyboard Mode for Joystick misdetection/incompatibilities. NOBIOS Disable bios usage for systems with incompatible bioses.

Following the instructions above should allow you access to the game.

Help with the Gravis Joystick in Keen 4&5

To get the Gravis Gamepad to fire within Commander Keen: Episodes 4-6, you must first configure your joystick to four button operation (please see joystick manual for details). Then from the configure menu, go to the options menu. Within this menu there will be an option for "Two-Button" firing. Make sure that this option is turned off. Then, from the configuration menu select Use Joystick 1, then Use Gravis Gamepad. After selecting Use Gravis Gamepad, the game will ask you to hit the button the Gamepad for each function of the game.

Help with doors in Keen

The problem that you are having with Commander Keen, is in understanding how to open doors. The doors that you open with the up arrow, or pressing up on the joystick, are doors that appear flush against the background of the level. These doors teleport you to another area of the level. The other type of doors require that you have a gem to get through these doors will have a gem holder in front of them that matches the color of the gem that you need to pass through the door. These doors block passage ways until they are opened. Once opened they will allow you to pass, and you will not be able to close them.

How to get to the secret level in Episode 1

You need to go to the "east" side of the planet. After coming out of the transporter you will see an ice city. Pass that city and go downwards. As you move downwards, you will pas one dome and then a second one. Below and to the right of that second dome is a white city. Enter that city. Near the very end of the level, where you see the four doors (each door requiring a key card), where are two corridors directly below that area with the doors. One corridor contains the red keycard, and the other contains the yellow key card. Go to the corridor containing the yellow key card. As you enter that corridor, you're going to see a hole in the floor, and below that floor are two braziers on either side. Jump down that hole, and be certain to veer either to your left or to your right so that you do not land in the brazier below you! Use your pogo stick to jump the wall to your right, and will be find yourself in an area where there is a cannon shooting ice cubes: Use your pogo stick and jump into the path of the cannon and if you do things correctly you will be encased in ice and land on the other side of the wall to your right. Be quick, though, so that the robot doesn't get you! Get clear, and move to the transporter to your right. That transporter will take you to the hidden city.

How to get to the secret level in Episode 4

What you need to do to get to the Pyramid of the Forbidden (The Hidden Pyramid, the one with the hand on it) is this. Go to the room that has 12 inchworms in it and make sure you have the yellow crystal with you. You'll need it. Over to the left, is an open passageway with some inchworms to the left of it. All the way to the right of this bottom room is a door that needs the yellow crystal. Behind this door is a switch. Flip this switch, and the door all the way to the left will close over, allowing all the inchworms to gather together.

You'll need to get all 12 inchworms together in one spot (it doesn't matter where). When you get near them, they will follow you wherever you go. However, don't let them get offscreen, or they'll lose track of you. Move slowly. When you do get them all together, a foot will form above your head. Jump on the foot, and it will take you to the hidden pyramid. It is necessary to flip that switch behind the door because if you don't, you can't get all 12 inchworms together, as a couple of them will be trapped to the left of that open trap door.

I'll also mention that while you're in the hidden pyramid, you won't be allowed to play any other levels until you finish that one. When you finish the hidden pyramid, the foot will be there again. Jump on it, and you'll be transported to the outside of the Pyramid of the Moons again, and you can continue with your game.

To get outside the pyramid of the Moons, you need to go all the way to the left of the room where the inchworms are. There will be four guns in the ceiling shooting down. To the left of them is a hole in the ceiling you can jump into. DO that, and there is a pole in there (that you can't see) that you can grab onto. Save your game, since it's easy to die in here. Follow the passageway and you'll see a door. You can go into that door if you want, it's a free Keen. Come back through, and jump into the ceiling above that door, and follow a passageway in the wall, and you'll come out to a doorway with a bunch of ice cream cones in front of it. Go through that door, and you're outside the pyramid.

However, if you exit this level before going to the hidden pyramid, you won't be able to get to the hidden pyramid, since this level (Pyramid of the Moons) will be considered finished, and you need it to get to the hidden pyramid. It is possible to get back inside the pyramid once you go outside, but be careful where you go.

How to get to the secret level in Episode 5

Stand in the archway near the end of the level in the "Gravitational Dampening Hub". You will not be able to see yourself in there. You'll need to do the down jump maneuver, which is holding the down arrow, and pressing jump. You will fall into the floor below you here. You will then need to walk to the left, all the way as far as you can go. Since you will not be able to see yourself, the only way to know it's working is if the screen starts moving. If, when you start moving left, you appear again next to the arch, you didn't do the down jump maneuver right.

Anyway, once you walk to the leftmost part of the level, you'll fall all the way to the bottom of the level. Once you stop falling, walk to the right, and you'll appear again. SAVE YOUR GAME HERE! The passageway that you're in leads to a teleporter, which will take you to the secret level. There's no more secrets along the way here, but there is a LOT of stuff that will kill you, which is why I say to save your game.

Also, there is a bug with something in the secret level of Keen V. Once you get there, if you look around hard enough, you'll find a transistor that you're supposed to pogo on and break. Sometimes you'll not be able to break it. We've never found why this happens. Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won't. The only different thing that happens if you break it is that one of the end game story screens changes. Depending on whether you break it or not, one screen at the end will either say the Shikadi ship either got away or blew up depending on whether or not you blew it up.

How to get to the secret level in Episode 6

This is the easiest one of them all. Right before the final level of the game, when you're on the world map, you'll see a somewhat large blue towering looking thing that looks like a cross between a hut and a mouth. Anyway, if you look beyond it, you'll see a yellow fence. If you walk through the mouth, and out the other side, you'll come to the fence (don't enter the level. Going in the mouth and pressing space will put you into the level). Stay on the world map, and wait there a minute or two. A spaceship will come around, pick you up, and will take you to the secret level. When you're done with the secret level, wait for the ship again, and it will take you back. Also, an english translation of the Galactic Alphabet is in a hidden area in this level.

Keen 3 Boss

To beat the Mangling machine, you must shoot all 6 space amoebas (spinning purple things) to zap the arms, then shoot the machine's heart. Watch out for the lasers and the meeps! On the floor, you will see 3 bricks that aren't like the others. These are places you can stand and not get crushed by the arms/legs. You must use them all and this requires good timing. Don't try to cross the entire floor without waiting.

How to finish Keen 5

To solve the last level of the game, The Explosion Dynamo, you first have to find the large machine with a glass ball in the center. This is the actual Explosion Dynamo (aka QED), and your goal throughout the game has been to destroy it. Just like the other machines located within the game, you accomplish this by destroying the glass ball in the center of the machine. However, you cannot destroy it by pogoing on the top of the ball. To destroy the machine you must go to the upper right hand corner of the level and get an exploding cube to follow you. You must lure the cube near the ball, and get it to explode. If the fragments from the cube hit the ball, they will destroy the ball, and you will end the game.

Please note that if you explode all the bombs without destroying the QED, you will be stuck, and will be unable to finish the game if you did not save your game at a point before this.

General Hints on Keen 4 & 5

Episode 4: Secret of the Oracle

Border Village: Getting to the free Keens in level 1: Go into one of the houses that has a pole going underground. Go underground to where the statue of the giant slug is. On the right and left of the slug statue, there are slim pools and torches. Just above the left torch, there is a hole in the ceiling. To get up and into that hole, you must stand on the left edge of the left slime pool, and do the impossible pogo trick up and to the right. Once you are in the hidden area, you will see a platform that you will be able to pogo off of and get the free Keens.

Pyramid of the Moons: Getting to the platform in the middle of the pyramid in the middle of the room and to the outside of the pyramid: Go to the room that has twelve inch worms in it. On the left side of that room there are four guns that are shooting straight down. Just to the left of those guns their is a hole in the ceiling. Pogo up into that hole and grab unto a pole that is hiding in the middle of the hole by pushing the up arrow key. This will bring you to a room that has a door that leads to the door in the middle of the pyramid. Above that door there is another hole in the ceiling with a ledge on the left. Jump up and grab the ledge and that passage will take you to a small room with a door in it. That door will take you outside of the pyramid.

Getting to the Forbidden pyramid: Find the room a lot of inch worms in it. There are twelve inch worms in that room. To get to the forbidden pyramid you must get all twelve of the inch worms to follow you to one place within that room. When all twelve inch worms get together a giant foot will appear. (twelve inches make a foot) Jump onto the foot and it will take you to the hidden pyramid.

Chasm of Chills: The slug that hold a secret is the slug in the second hole. On the right side of the hole there is a secret passage.

Hillville: Getting the hidden items. If you look at the background of Hillville, you will notice a little sparkle of light that occur every so often. These lights are called the "flashes of insight". These flashes are actually platforms that you can stand on and follow to different hidden items.

Pyramid of the Shadows Getting the seven free Keens. Right above the Oracle member that you save, there is a secret passage way. The only way to get into the passage way is from the right side of the pit that contains the oracle member, you must do the impossible pogo trick up and to the left, and go into the hole that is in the ceiling. On the left edge of the hole there is a ledge that you can grab a hold of and pull yourself up. Now just keep walking to your left and you will fall down to another area, where the free keens are. Getting out of this area alive is next to impossible, but to do so you must get to the far left side of the hidden room, and jump up and to the left when you see the platform move into the secret passage. If you successfully land on the platform, you must then immediately look down so that you will not get knock off the platform.

Episode 5: The Armageddon Machine 

To get the nine free Keens in level 1, go to the upper left hand side of the level. In the upper left hand side, there is a gun that is shooting straight down. Below the gun there is a moving platform. You do the impossible pogo trick from that platform, and jump up and to the left into a hole in the ceiling next to the gun. Once you are inside the secret area, you will need to do the impossible pogo trick again up and to the right, grab a hold of a ledge that is up there, pull yourself up, and walk to the right. Although you will not be able to see yourself, you will know that you are successful when the screen starts scrolling to the right. If you keep walking to the right you will fall through a chute that will take you outside of the space station. Once there, leap off of the edge, and you can get up to nine free lives.

To get to the secret level from within the gravitational damping hub you must go to where the exit door is for the level. In between the exit door and the sign that says EXIT there is an archway. In the middle of the archway where you cannot see, there is a hole in the ground. Stand in the middle of the archway and look down and jump. This will lead you to a secret passageway that will eventually take you to the secret pyramid.

The symbols that are spread trough out the Commander Keen games is the Galactic Alphabet. The translations of the alphabet can be found in Commander Keen game 3 and 6. The sign tell some hints, but most are just there for looks.

The Life Water Oasis

Once you start the level called Lifewater Oasis, you might find the reason that it was called that. In the lower areas you will see a lot of water bottles, or the lifewater oasis.

There is no way to get to the lifewater oasis. It's unreachable via normal gameplay. IE: without cheating.

It wasn't supposed to be that way, though. After the game had been out for some time, it was discovered that this area is unreachable.

Problem with sound in Keens 1-3

That's because there isn't any!  All the sound in Keens 1-3 is PC Speaker sound.  Keens 1-3 were written in 1990, back when most games didn't have any sound card support at all.

Cast of Characters for Keen 6

When you start Keen 6, it presents you with a game character and asks for the name.  Here are the "answers" for that section.
Bloog Bip Babobba Blorb Gik

Ceilick Blooglet Blooguard Flect Bobba

Viva Molly Nospike Orbatrix Fleex