Keen Dreams Development
This page is intended to have information regarding events that led to the development of Keen Dreams and some interesting insights into what happened during the development.
Gamer's Edge Contract
id Software's obligation to Softdisk
After John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall, Adrian Carmack and Jay Wilbur had left Softdisk and founded id Software, they had left their former company in quite a tricky position as the Gamer's Edge disk was relatively new yet they were about to abandon it already. Their contract with Softdisk however stated that they were still bound to developing games to the Gamer's Edge product at Softdisk and so they worked the next year and a half to fulfill this part of their contracts.
Fulfilling the contract
In order to achieve this, the team decided that they would be working on Softdisk projects on the side while simultaneously working on their own projects. It was some quite intense work, as the team pumped out games at the pace of about a game a month.
- "As part of leaving, we agreed to do games so the Gamer's Edge product could continue. [...] We were doing this game and some other game at the same time. It was kinda crazy. But doing all those different types of games (puzzle, shooter, platform, and so on) was incredible training. You'd have to work for a decade on normal-sized games to get that experience. We did it in a year." — Tom Hall
The titles id Software developed during this period include Shadow Knights, Hovertank 3D and Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion. Even when working under such intense pressure the guys at id Software still managed to develop quite decent titles and some quite interesting projects also ended up getting released including Catacomb 3-D (one of the first FPS computer games) and Rescue Rover. Despite Tom Hall's initial resistance, he soon also got convinced that a Commander Keen game could be developed for Softdisk as a ramp-up for the next trilogy of games (back then Goodbye Galaxy was still planned to be a trilogy).
Developing Keen Dreams
And so Keen Dreams entered development. The engine used in the game is based on the engine used in an earlier title by id Software that they also published through Softdisk, Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (which used an engine based on the Shadow Knights engine, which in turn was based on the engine used in Invasion of the Vorticons).
Finalising the game
During development the game engine evolved to a stage where it was very similar to the engine used in Goodbye Galaxy, with the graphics being in a nearly identical format and the levels also ended up being in a quite similar format to that of Goodbye Galaxy. Likewise, the levels also used the tilted view that also got used in the second series of the games. Keen Dreams was finished in late summer 1991.
Despite initially being released solely as a commercial product, the full game was released as shareware in September, 1992. This was most likely an attempt at making the so far very much overlooked episode a bit more known in the eye of the public in the hopes of making a few extra bucks.
Keen Meets the Meats
In the originally released version of the game, after finishing the game a mention of a possible sequel called Commander Keen in Keen Meets the Meats was made. However, Tom Hall said the following about the planned sequel:
"The sequel name was just a joke -- we didn't want to do more Keen for Softdisk...."
All mentions of the sequel were removed in subsequent releases of the game.
Originally, the quite crude ending that is featured in Keen Dreams was significantly more interesting. Instead of having just the box of text at the end explaining the following events, there were also plans to include a sequence in which Keen woke up and no doubt a few more pictures/animations to spruce it up, however the animation seen here on the right is all of the extended ending that survives.
Why the ending ended up like it is now is not known, but it was probably either due to time constraints or due to the limited disk space capacity that was available to them (Softdisk insisted that all titles published through them had to fit on a single 360 kB disk).
There were also plans to include music in Keen Dreams, in fact the tune You've Got to Eat Your Vegetables! was originally composed to be used as the title screen music in the game. However the previously mentioned strict policy of not having games exceed the size of a 360 kB disk meant the end for the music in Keen Dreams. The tune was later used in Keen 4.
When looking at the back side of the retail Keen Dreams box, it questions whether you can "survive the perils of the Kumquat Chasm". Yet there isn't any level in the final game called Kumquat Chasm. This indicates that there either was an error on the box, or more likely, Kumquat Chasm was a planned level in the game that either got renamed or removed during development.
If you look through the tileset of Keen Dreams, it is apparent that there used to be yet another type of tileset that was removed before the game was released possibly because the developers just didn't manage to make it fit in well. Two tiles of this tileset survive; the bottom tiles of the exit sign. Because of this it is difficult to conclude for certain what kind of tileset it used to be.
Source code release
In mid-2014, Javier M. Chavez contacted Flat Rock Software to enquire about the possibility of purchasing rights to their games. Flat Rock had obtained the rights to Keen Dreams through an earlier acquisition of Softdisk, and they responded by offering the rights to Chavez for a mere US$1,500.
On 21 May 2014, Chavez went public with a community crowd-funding effort on IndieGoGo to obtain the US$1,500 purchase cost. The crowd funding effort was successful, and on 17 September 2014, the source code was released under the GPL and placed on GitHub. Those people who contributed above US$20 each were listed in the README included in the release.
The game assets were not included in the GPL release, however as of late September 2014, Chavez has hinted that the assets are likely to be released under the GPL eventually as well. A number of related utilities were also included in the materials purchased (albeit without source code), however Chavez is currently unsure whether the purchase includes permission to redistribute these.
There is currently a campaign to get the newly available Keen Dreams added to Steam, where the goal is to include Steam features such as cloud-saving, controller and Big Picture support, achievements, leader boards and so on.