Why do you like Keen?

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Why do you like Keen?

Post by Quillax »

I'm sure we all like Commander Keen (I mean, this is a Keen forum; what did you expect?), but what I've been wondering lately is "Why?" Is it just the nostalgia? Or could it be something more, like the characters, level design, worlds, stories, gameplay, graphics, music, humor, modding community, or even the wonder of the unmade The Universe Is Toast?

Here are the major questions for this discussion:

1) How did you initially get into the Keen games?
(Stuff like: What particular aspect of the series, if you remember, got your attention? Did someone introduce you to the games or did you find them yourself?)

2) What is your favorite part about the Keen games?
(Could be something like graphics, level design, gameplay, characters, etc. Nostalgia can count, but preferably shouldn't be the only answer if possible; do the games have any actual quality?)

3) What makes the Keen games stand out from others?
(Ditto, but instead of your favorite it's more about what separates Keen from non-Keen games, especially among those from the same era like Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog. E.g. if you were to advertise the games, what would you consider to be the selling point that you won't find in any other game?)

4) What is your least favorite part about the Keen games?
(The fact that Tom Hall hasn't made TUIT yet? A particular song or character? A certain gameplay mechanic? Everybody would probably just say "Keen GBC", so it'd be nice and more interesting if your answer has something to do with the Tom Hall-made games.)

5) Are the Keen games really your favorite?
(Do you have a favorite Keen game? Imagine if you had to pick one game series and could only play that for the rest of your life. Would you sacrifice all the other games just for the kid with an IQ of 314? Even if they're not really your favorite, would you still rank them highly?)

At some point I might answer these questions myself -- just need to give myself some time to think.

I hope this will turn out to be a really interesting discussion! It'd be cool to see what you all think! :)
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Nospike »

I originally got into Keen as a 2-3 year old kid when my family had a 486 PC acquired through my older brother, who also had a big box of 3.5" diskettes with games. Among them was the Keen 6 demo and later also Keen Dreams. I don't recall the very first time I played Keen 6 but I remember I fell in love with the artstyle, the music, the monster designs. Seeing the colorful, animated backdrop of Bloogwater Crossing filled me with a sense of wonder. It was such a chill place, I wished I could actually be there. Bloogton Manufacturing was my second favorite level, it seemed so huge back then. :lol And I hardly ever got to even see the topmost part with the hexagonal switch boxes.

I greatly enjoy the gameplay and overall feel of Keen Galaxy. In terms of art, it's as though everything came together in a perfect union. There isn't a single level in any of the Galaxy games where I'd go "these graphics feel out of place" or "this music doesn't fit". The gameplay itself is very smooth, the physics are intuitive and easy to navigate, the pogo is a very nice touch that gives you additional options on how to get through platforming sections.

Admittedly we didn't have all that many other platformers for me to compare Keen to, but it was by far one of my favorite games. Galaxy Keen is relatively slow paced and kid friendly and I was able to actually progress through the game at my own pace. Unlike games such as Prince of Persia, the colorful, imaginative art and the accessible physics kept me motivated to keep on playing. I didn't understand English yet, other than some of the most basic words necessary to navigate a game menu, and I had no clue what the story was about, but this cute Keen character with his funny chalk white complexion, odd yellow-green hat and cool laser gun and pogo was simply fun as hell to play as. The level design with the large isometric platforms was pretty easy to learn and there are other interesting and unique oddities such as the climbing poles. It all carries a charm I've never found in any other game. I'm also very drawn to music and the Keen games excel in that regard as well, it's all very memorable.

Back in the day I wasn't very critical of games. I found a reason to at least try basically every game where I could figure out the controls. For that reason my main criticism of Keen is retrospective based on the first time I got access to the other games, when I was around 9 or so. I gotta say I've never been a fan of Keen Vorticons because of the plain graphics and lacking art in general. The engine has so much more potential than what the games give you, and while that is interestingly minimal in its own right, the games feel clunky in terms of gameplay (largely because of the physics and some difficult enemies and levels) and much less interesting than Galaxy. My favorite part of Vorticons is probably that it makes for an excellent modding platform. I've never had much interest in playing the originals. For a Vorticons-like game that does art and gameplay much better, I like to mention Secret Agent. It came out a bit later (I think 92-93?) but it has so much more to offer in terms of gameplay than Vorticons, and I believe it runs on the same hardware just fine. Knowing what I know about the development of Keen today, it becomes so much more apparent that the entire Vorticons series was still largely a tech demo.

I can't say Keen is at this point my favorite game of all time. I probably couldn't pick one to hold that title at all, I largely enjoy short term infatuations with games after which I move on to something else, and I like to enjoy each game for its strongest points and unique features that other games don't have. Keen is one of the games that have been with me ever since I found out about them and I like to come back to it every now and then, give the base games and UTUIT a replay (thanks so much for that yet again Ceilick & team!) and hang around the community just to absorb some of that positive spirit and enthusiasm for this old gemstone of a game. I like to complain that they just don't make games like they used to nowadays (much like everything else, music, etc...), but the real reason for that is that because of games like Keen, the bar had been set very high since day one.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Ceilick »

I got into Keen sometime around age 5. It all started with hearing the Keen Galaxy pogo stick noise coming from the basement and finding my father playing Border Village.

It's hard to narrow down what exactly is my favorite part of the games. I love the lore: I've always been a scifi fan and Commander Keen has just enough story details spread around to really spark the imagination. I love the visual style of the Galaxy games: the cartoony graphics combined with the simple yet vibrant 16 color palette just does it for me. I love the variety of aliens: again, scifi fan, and alien life in all its forms has fascinated me basically my whole life--actually if I had to guess, this fascination may have even started with Keen.

What separated Keen from other games at the time was playability in terms of gameplay and ease of difficulty, graphics quality, and probably story approachability. I played a lot of shareware games at the time but nothing drew me in like the Commander Keen series. I think in terms of over all quality they are a league ahead of almost everything else available at the time.

Probably my least favorite aspect of Keen, or better stated, of being a fan of Keen, is how obscure it is. I love modding and discussing everything about this game, but there are so few people who even know what Keen is, let alone any desire to participate in a community about it. It's honestly incredible we still have a community going. Honestly, I would love to see more official Commander Keen in any form, even if it's bad, if only for the potential of bringing more interest to the old games.

Commander Keen is my favorite platformer game. I can't think of another that even comes close for me. My favorite game series is probably Mass Effect, but it's for mostly the same reasons that I love Keen; enticing scifi lore and fantastic alien creatures.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Pandakeen »

Least favorite part about the Keen games:
That Keen GBC's music is better than in the original games.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by proYorp »

This is a very neat topic! A lot of great questions here, some I don't think have been asked before. Seems like a really good collection to sort of get an overall "story" from everyone. I expect this to be very interesting to read! I'll definitely have to contribute something, don't know when though. Haven't had time to do much writing or creative stuff lately.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Dave216 »

Lately I've been replaying games that I've played as a kid just to see if they were actually great or was it nostalgia, Keen being one of them. So, I've replayed all the games in the series including the unofficial TUiT and I can honestly say that most of these games really stand the test of time.

That said, I didn't really enjoy the Vorticons trilogy as much I hoped I would(they are still great games). Keen dreams I didn't like much even back then when I was a kid.

And now that I've played a decent number of platformers, I can honestly say that Goodbye Galaxy is a truly remarkable series. It is quite fascinating how such simple and relatively short games have so much replay value.

Possibly my favourite thing about Keen is the soundtrack. To this very day, I still whistle some of the tracks while I am doing things.

Keen 6 is the best imo. The story is a little too goofy for my taste, but overall, it has the best level design, soundtrack and atmosphere.

There is nothing I dislike about Keen, really.

While I love this wacky game with all my heart - Lost Vikings and Rayman series are still my favourite platformers to this very day. As for video games in general - Silent Hill. Nothing beats Silent Hill...
Last edited by Dave216 on Thu Aug 25, 2022 21:06, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Benvolio »

1) How did you initially get into the Keen games?
I found out about Keen games from a PC magazine 5.25" disk on my old Amstrad 8086. I had possessed that PC in my bedroom for probably 6-9 months and had enjoyed a lot of older Ms DOS software i.e. 80s stuff. Having that Amstrad, which had been in my house since before my birth, was already such a positive experience for me. But to suddenly have, in my very possession, a platformer like Keen1, truly grasped my mind like little else ever had. Those first interactions with yorps and patpats, played so awkwardly and without gaming experience, are indelibly etched in my memory.

One further aspect, upon which I haven't really reflected, is that this happened at the end of 2000, just about a month after I lost my grandfather with whom I had had such a good and formative relationship in the first decade of life. A huge influence on my interests in science, culture and nature. There was such a grey void left in my mind after his passing, despite of course having my loving family around including my wonderful granny who is to this day in great form, always coming out for a latte with me in the local café when I get home. Anyway maybe Keen somehow was my first return to feeling a burst of hope as my first christmas approached without my grandad's warm and opulent presence at the head of the banquet. I'm not some sort of freudian expert but there's probably something to this theory.

2) What is your favorite part about the Keen games?
Nostalgia definitely counts as far as those originals goes. My attention to Keen1 was quite pure and focused. By the time I played Keen4 some 5 or 6 months later I was experiencing my first exposure to my other childhood favourite, AOEII, and enjoying bonding with classmates over both AOEII and believe it or not Keen. The Keen games were still recent enough for classmates to take them seriously (even though we were in the era post Half Life and Goldeneye). That was amazing.

3) What makes the Keen games stand out from others?
When I turn from the above subjectivity to the objective, I find myself confident that there is something special about keen: those games are so upfront! There is no trivial rubbish or overflashy graphics or noises. There is just the story... and the adventure to play through. The console games and arcade games, though in many ways great, had a lot more unnecessary swagger than the no nonsense Keen.

4) What is your least favorite part about the Keen games?
Keen3. That disappointed me. I think I had unrealistic expectstions of the complexity of the characters and levels. It was apparent to me right away how rushed the job was.

5) Are the Keen games really your favorite?
They are definitely my favourite first person game (I define that as a single protagonast who is me and where the play ends when I die). This is for the combination of the above. And I haven't mentioned mods... I guess this is the Official Games thread after all.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by XkyRauh »

1) How did you initially get into the Keen games?
My dad subscribed to the "Software of the Month" club, wherein every month we got 2 or 3 3.5" floppies and a little trifold explaining what was on it. Got the Crystal Caves shareware from that, and purchased the full trilogy, which came with a demo of Commander Keen: Marooned on Mars. I didn't like how Billy controlled (very slow to jump, slow to accelerate, compared to Mylo Steamwitz!) Later my dad bought me Commander Keen: Aliens Ate My Babysitter and I absolutely fell in love--Keen jumped quick, had a larger sprite than Mylo, and there was *music*! The only other game I'd played at the time with music was the original Lemmings, which I also loved for other reasons. Eventually I went back and got the Galaxy games, and finally the complete Vorticons trilogy. At the time, Aliens was far and away my favorite Keen, but The Earth Explodes was right behind it because I adored the Scrubs. In 4th grade, another kid in my class tried to tell me about Keen Dreams and I absolutely disbelieved him. That didn't sound ANYTHING like the Keen I knew... and years later, once I got online, it turned out to be true! Sorry, Jesse. You were right. A couple years ago, during COVID quarantine, I tried out the GBA Keen via emulator. Didn't beat it, but got to hear some fun tunes. :)

2) What is your favorite part about the Keen games?
Keen is a child with some larger-than-life insights, much like Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. Keen is 8; I was 8 when Vorticons was released. The idea of a child doing larger-than-life things and having big adventures truly appealed to me, an actual child. I appreciate that Keen doesn't curse, is polite (if impatient at times), and seems genuinely troubled at the idea of having to stun his parents for an evening. He's not malicious, he's not cruel; he's very G-rated and I really think that's what I appreciate most about the series. I don't have to worry about blood and gore; I don't have to worry about harsh language or innuendo. It's just clean, simple fun.

3) What makes the Keen games stand out from others?
To be honest, there isn't a whole lot that Keen does that other platform games don't do better. The pogo stick is largely the defining 'innovation' of the Commander Keen games, and even then it's more of a novelty insofar as the levels are designed to rely on your use of it--you can't really beat any episode without pogoing at least once (despite my previous (incorrect) insistence that Keen1 was possible). If I were to advertise it, I'd lean heavily into the "Earth's toys have been stolen! Why!?" angle of the first episode, and highlight that some of the stolen toys may be useful in your quest (even if the Pogo is really the only one...)

4) What is your least favorite part about the Keen games?
It really bothers me that Vorticons are genuinely the most interesting Keen enemy, with a psuedo-charge if Keen is within eyeshot, multiple jump heights/lengths, and so on. That AI was in the very first game, and nothing more interesting came along in the games that followed!! Why!? Looking at the AI in the Keen:Galaxy enemies, they're all some variation of "move toward Keen" or "move along a path." There isn't any random element to their actions, and most of them cannot even jump or change their situation. If an enemy is on a platform, it will reliably remain on that platform indefinitely... but not Vorticons. :)

5) Are the Keen games really your favorite?
Nostalgia aside, no. They definitely have a safe home in my heart, but I would have a very difficult time settling on a game that is truly my all-time favorite. There are games with great soundtracks, games with great specific levels, games with great overall backgrounds/vistas, games with great concepts and gameplay loops, and there are games with great characters... Keen is a sweet spot in between all of that, with memorable tunes, settings, and characters.
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by Nisaba »

1) How did you initially get into the Keen games?
My dad had a small closet as an office where his 386 machine stood. I vaguely remember PCspeaker sounds catching my attention. The next thing I remember is that I was allowed to "play" Commander Keen 1 alongside with him. Well, actually, I got to mostly watch. In any case, we somehow got stuck in one particular spot for days until we finally discovered the Pogo function (or two button firing?). This is how the trip started.
My friend's older brother then lugged Keen 4 and also later burned a bootleg copy of Keen 5 onto a floppy. I was too young to understand the illegal act, but still felt a great excitement, and the feeling of being part of something special. And then I spent day and night repainting levels on paper and imagining new worlds. By the way, after only a week, my friend's older brother played through Keen 4, which I thought was impossible at the time. This guy was an absolute computer game god! But I also ran away terrified of all enemy types and only timidly ventured through the level. Wonderful! I wish I could slip into that mindset again today....

2) What is your favorite part about the Keen games?
I didn't appreciate the humor of the games until much later. So that probably doesn't count as an answer. I think the charm of the characters captivated me at the time. And, that I was about the same age as Keen and had a similar spirit of adventure. My imagination was triggered by the game series, of course. What else? I think I liked the 90's comic artstyle even then: clear, bold colors, black outlines, exaggerated creatures, and the imaginative richness of an 8 year old. I don't think any other game has picked me up and described me as much as the Keen series did.

3) What makes the Keen games stand out from others?
Back then, the difference was simply whether you had a game console or a PC in the house. Period. Easy as that. And ID Software was a game changer in the most literal sense. There was nothing like Keen on the PC before. Smooth vertical scrolling included.

4) What is your least favorite part about the Keen games?
As a child, honestly, nothing bothered me. I was too entranced to criticize anything. Then there were always waves of nostalgia, where I realized that my memories were more vital than the game itself. Vorticon Saga in particular doesn't come off quite as well in direct comparison. That doesn't seem all that important to me, though, because the games themselves function for me like a time capsule to my younger self. I can still hear my mother calling for dinner, but me and my father are wide-eyed and open-mouthed as we grit our teeth at these scary Vorticons.
Today, I wish the games would feature more music tracks. Bobby Prince is a genius and I'm sure he produced more than was then released.
I love the Keen6 characters, but find the level design comparatively rather weak. Also I miss places to tell of the origins of these alien creatures. What's their lore? A lot of potential was left here in my opinion.
I've always found Keen 5 to be graphically simple and repetitive. Even though the premise is top notch, the hallways and corridors don't feel high-tech enough. (Complaining at a high level!)

Contrary to popular opinion here, I'm glad (Tom Halls) TUIT didn't make it. If there was TUIT I don't think the modding scene would prosper as it has. In fact, compared to the number of community members, we have an outstandingly high output of mods, level packs and fangames! I think the desire for more has driven the creativity so high that even after 30+ years, brand new fan productions are still being built. I love seeing everyone realize (in a sense) their own desires and ideas along the way.

5) Are the Keen games really your favorite?
There aren't many games that have impressed me as much as the Keen series. That may also be due to my age I came across them. the influence on me feels still unbroken. The older I get, the less I play video games. But I keep coming back to Keen, what is quite unique. There are a few other games that can compete in that league. Streetfighter II, for example. Or Sam & Max Hit the road, Glider, Tony Hawk Pro Skater II, Katamari, The Plan, Another World, Firewatch and Snake... But Billy Blaze will probably always remain something special...
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Re: Why do you like Keen?

Post by lemm »

Because I played them when I was a little kid and they must have imprinted on me. Also, episodes 5 and 6 are comfy.
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