Commander Keen is 25 years old today, and to mark the anniversary, John Romero has uploaded a video of a Super Mario Bros. 3 PC demo that id Software created for Nintendo in 1990. In other news, holy cow do I feel old.
Commander Keen, for the edification of anyone not yet in comparable state of decrepitude, was id’s second game, designed by Tom Hall and programmed by the Johns Romero and Carmack. So why release a Super Mario Bros. video on the occasion, you ask? As IGN explains in this
2008 history of id’s early days, the studio was basically created when Carmack developed a technology that enabled smooth screen-scrolling in all directions on EGA display adapters. He and Hall built a demo of the new technology by copying the first level of SMB3, replacing Mario with Dangerous Dave, a character from one of Romero’s earlier games.
“Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement” didn’t go over well at Softdisk, their pre-id employer, so they polished it into a proper Super Mario Bros. 3 port for the PC and pitched it to Nintendo. That didn’t fly either, an outcome that would normally signal the unspectacular end of a sad tale. But in this case, Nintendo’s lack of interest led them to Apogee Software and ultimately the shareware model, the creation of id, and Billy Blaze, the boy better known as Commander Keen. And that IFD in the background of the video? That’s “Ideas From the Deep,” what the id Software co-founders called themselves while they were still slinging code for Softdisk.
So happy birthday, Billy. Thanks for everything—and may you stay forever young.