Drive: Keen on Pi Day

Yesterday was Pi Day, the day on the US calendar which kind of looks like the mathematical constant by the same name: 3.14. While one group of nerds was busy making awful memes about that occasion, a smaller group was celebrating a different one: Keen Day.

You can download the podcast of this story by clicking here (01:30, MP3, 0.49MB).

Chances are you have no idea what I’m talking about. In the early 1990s a very popular computer game series called Commander Keen spread across the world. The series followed the exploits of young genius Billy Blaze, IQ 314, who created his own spaceship using household electronics and set out to explore the universe with nothing but his wrist computer, neural stunner, and… pogo stick?

If you didn’t grow up playing the game it might sound a bit weird, but to this day it holds its own as a high quality side-scrolling platform game. What’s more, some episodes are free, and available on your mobile phone!

While it’s easier to control the game using a keyboard, you can search the App Store and Play Store for Commander Genius, an emulator designed to bring Keen to mobile devices.

If you want to have the PC experience, I will be posting a how-to on the 3BBR FM website tonight – 3bbrfm.org.au.

You might be wondering: what happened to Keen? When developer id software moved on to create first person shooter Doom, the franchise was killed … literally. Keen’s body can be found on one of the levels. The less said about that the better.

How to run Commander Keen on a modern PC

  1. Install DOSBox by clicking here.
  2. Download a copy of Commander Keen from the Keen Wiki. I recommend Episode 4.
  3. Create a folder called DOS on your C:\ drive and unzip your copy of keen into it. Make sure the files are not inside another folder within the DOS folder.
  4. Launch DOSBox and type mount c: c:\KEEN at the prompt. This creates a virtual drive where the contents of the DOS folder are the contents of the drive.
  5. Type C: to switch to the virtual drive
  6. Type Install and follow the prompts to install Keen. Leaving everything on its defaults will install Keen to a folder called KEEN inside the DOS folder.
  7. After setup has been completed, you will automatically be taken to C:\KEEN in DOSBox. If you installed Keen 4, type KEEN4E and Keen 4 should run. If you installed a different version of Keen, type cd to show the contents of the folder and then type the name of the EXE file listed.