Commander Keen (series)

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This page discusses the Commander Keen series as a whole. Topics specifically related to a particular engine or a particular game should be addressed in the appropriate page (see "The Series" below).

The Series

Commander Keen games include:

Recording Setup

Games in the Commander Keen series should be speedrun using DOSBox. Technically you could record the output of a DOS-based PC: however, DOSBox is well-supported emulator (verified to play Keen games virtually the same as on a DOS-era computer) and comes with built-in, lossless recording[1]. It's recommended that you use the latest version, as this will likely provide the greatest compatibility.

Major Game Features

There are two major game engines used in the Keen series. The first is used in Keens 1-3: this is dubbed as the "Vorticon engine". The second is used in Keens 4-6: this is dubbed as the "Galaxy engine". Keen Dreams is technically an incomplete Galaxy engine, so there are a couple differences that matter, but for the most part it controls the same.

Although there are differences between Keen engines, a number of features exist throughout all games and learning their subtleties is incredibly important to speedrunning each game.


Keen's typical method of disabling enemies (and very rarely anything else) is to shoot them with his blaster weapon (or, in the case of Keen Dreams, throw Flower Power). Depending on the enemy, it will require one or multiple shots to permanently defeat them, temporarily stun them, or be completely useless.

Using the blaster always requires an amount of time to fire, which can affect the timing of other actions. In general, it is better to fire while in the air, as this allows Keen to continue moving while he shoots. Learning how to shoot in such a way as to avoid dying from enemies while still maintaining movement through a level is critical to getting good times in these games.


With the exception of Keen 1 (which only matters in the first level) and Keen Dreams, Keen is able to equip a pogo stick throughout each game. The pogo has the following properties:

  • Jumping while on the pogo increases jump height.
  • Moving while on the pogo preserves momentum. Whereas Keen normally accelerates when the left/right buttons are pressed and stops when released, Keen will instead continue in the same direction without extra input. It's simple enough to get used to, but switching to and from pogo can cause strange changes in speed so it's important to be deliberate with pogo movements.
  • Pogoing and jumping in quick succession results in the "Impossible Pogo Trick" (or IPT for short). Whereas in the original trilogy this was basically just a way to use a full-height pogo jump from the ground, in the Galaxy games this actually provides a slight boost, allowing you access to many areas faster or at all. While the IPT exists in every game that contains the pogo, it is executed differently depending on the engine, so further details will be given on the appropriate pages.

Overworld Map

Each Keen game contains a relatively non-linear overworld from which the game levels are accessed. Movement on these maps is handled with a supremum metric: that is, diagonal movement is the sum of horizontal and vertical movement. Although this makes mapping the fastest route from one level to the next rather simple, there's often bad collision detection on the map (usually in later games) that can trip up the player: knowing where these are is important so that you're not losing time in an otherwise-trivial part of the game.

Actions can be buffered to and from the map. In general, you'll always want to buffer directional movement in both cases, and occasionally additional buttons (which will be explained on a per-level basis). Note that in Keens 1-3 you can only buffer one command: pressing two buttons at the same time is the same as pressing nothing.

Additional Resources

DOSBox In case you don't already have it!

Public Commander Keen Forum This forum contains an active community of players of the Commander Keen games.

KeenWiki This is the Commander Keen wiki, and is the inspirational source for much of the information found here.


  1. Video is encoded using ZMBV, a format specifically designed to handle low-color output. See Recording Video - DOSBoxWiki for details regarding recording and playback.
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