The Ian Burton Adventure: A Brief History
Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 1:03
(tl;dr check the bottom for the last unfinished build)
Some of you who have been around since around 2005 or so may recall seeing a mod that many seemed to think looked very promising called "The Ian Burton Adventure," based off of Marooned on Mars and supposedly to feature a brand new cast of original characters and all new art and any other number of things. However, despite a handful of years being supposedly spent on it, nothing ever came of it, and it's now faded enough into obscurity that there isn't even a page mentioning it on the Commander Keen Wiki. What follows is a brief history of the concept and what exactly went wrong that caused the whole thing to come tumbling down in total ruination.
As a child, my parents didn't let me have any consoles, their reasoning being that I had a computer and that could play games so that was good enough. Therefore for me, Super Mario Bros. and the like were a rare treat to be enjoyed at relatives' houses, and the games that I got to play every day were the DOS classics, particularly the works of iD and Apogee Software. It comes then as no surprise that Commander Keen, the first smooth scrolling platformer for the IBM compatible PC, really resonated with me. After all, it had everything: colorful graphics, interesting enemies, a silly story and plenty of action.
So after years of dreaming about making my own games, scribbling down my unfeasible game design dreams in school notebooks and what have you, in late high school I finally started really looking into the modding scene. Many doors were closed to me because of my lack of skills at the time and also the lack of easily usable tools for many of the things I wanted to do, but Commander Keen was exactly in my wheelhouse at the time, featuring smallish, low-color graphics and pretty simple utilities for most things. I then set out to create a silly little game starring myself and featuring characters I'd doodled in my free time at school.
Perhaps it was foolish, but I quickly started a thread on the old PCKF to announce my project despite having barely started on things. At the time it was just exciting on its own to be able to tell a group of fellow fans that I was making something cool and that they'd be able to play a video game starring me. Work began and progress was made, slowly but surely, growing in complexity and moving away from edited assets and towards fully original content. There was even a storyline and lore created for the characters involved.
Playing as a fictionalized version of myself, the player would learn that aliens had invaded the Earth (or, well, the small, rural community he lived in) while Ian was out and about, and that they broke into his home and stole his prized possessions. Stealing a shotgun from his dad's gun cabinet, Ian would set out to track down his stuff and stop the moronic Zax space pirates from spreading their invasion any further. Simple fare, and pretty much just written to match the "find the BWB parts" gameplay of CK1, but it worked.
With all this in mind, all that had to be done was to finish the art, patch the features, and make the maps.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Two words: conceptual grandeur.
Work was already fairly slow due to then unmedicated ADHD, but the influx of ideas proved to be more of a burden than a boon. Between what homework I actually did, the drama club, my many other projects, and just enjoying myself with other games and TV and whatnot, less and less work was actually being done while more and more concepts began to stack up on the back burner.
The sequel concept came first: following the retrieval of his stuff, Ian would have encountered the insidious Dr. Rock, the insidious Dr. Sideburns, and the not-so-bad Dr. Skull, who would inform him that the late Dr. Dead had been kidnapped by the Intergalactic Broadcast Company while Ian was busy with the Zax, along with a number of his own friends. Their fate: to be humiliated on intergalactic TV on "Galaxy Tonite! with Johnny Rocket" in a segment called "Stupid Humanoid Tricks." Setting out in an experimental rocket, you'd have to head to the IBC's extrasolar satellite to rescue them.
But that's not all! There would follow a third game in which you'd be arrested by the Sector Police for your attack on IBC's space station and you'd have to escape from the IBC homeworld, a planet once rich in wisdom and culture that's been all but forgotten in favor of cheap TV. You'd fight your way to freedom and defeat the morbidly obese head of the network and escape in a shuttle!
Oh, but then! THEN! The shuttle malfunctions and Ian is lost in space, unable to find his way back to Earth! He is visited by an all-powerful Q-like entity called Seven who offers to send his ship home, but only if he goes to a planet of ancient evil and exterminates the Space Reapers, a race of giant, floating skeletal humanoids in long, black robes.
That on its own isn't enough, though! No sir, this one? DO IT IN CLAYMATION! Think of how COOL that would look, dude! And you can have cutscenes and do crazy stuff like having Ian clones made from evil, green slime as enemies and...
Needless to say, by the time that the "claymation" idea rolled around, this mod had gone from something that I could have easily done on my own to something that would require me to learn how to program my own engine and also get good enough at sculpting to create models for all the characters involved, and all of this would come after I churned out three other games, all entirely from scratch in all aspects but the engine itself. I no longer was interested in making the first game because it wasn't NEARLY as cool as the last one, but the last one wouldn't make sense without the first one. And at this point, that's when the reality of what I'd done set in, and all the weight of all these REALLY COOL IDEAS came crashing down on my head like a ton of bricks.
Despite having produced a relatively small amount of art and having barely touched level design at all, I was totally burnt out on the whole idea. There was no longer any motivation to keep working on the project because now I'd gone and given myself so much work that it now seemed impossible to achieve what I wanted to, and without having the ENTIRE VISION come to fruition it simply felt like there was no point. And so, without another word to anybody about it, the project was shelved and never spoken of again.
Idiot kid makes vanity project, comes up with too many ideas, realizes there are now too many good ideas to achieve in any reasonable amount of time, fails miserably to create anything.
However, as somebody who is passionate about media preservation, I've decided to release the woefully unfinished build to the public in hopes that perhaps it may be of inspiration to somebody else who's interested in Keen modding, or perhaps as a warning not to fly too close to the sun or whatever the hell. Anyhow, here you go:
The Ian Burton Adventure (unfinished)