Bethesda's E3 press conference delivered somewhat of a surprise when veteran property Commander Keen returned with a new mobile game coming to us from Zenimax, and we caught up with creative director Kira Schlitt in LA to hear about what it's like to reveal such a wildly different title from Bethesda's other franchises, which are darker and grittier.
"It is playful, it is colourful, it is very different, but I actually think that's a huge win for us, to get to show something and add some more diversity to the Bethesda stable of families," she explained. "And you know, of course, this is a long-term property for id, and so getting to bring it back was really, really exciting for us."
We also asked about why this is the time for Commander Keen to return as a series, to which Schlitt said:
"It's been too long since he has been out and about! So this is of course not the OG Commander Keen, but rather his twin, genius children. They also go on incredible adventures and they are absolute characters. Our Billy boy, we think of him as a little bit like Captain Kirk, you know, very heroic, wants to save the world, but is also impulsive in a way that gets him into terrible trouble. And our Billie girl, she's a little bit more deliberate, but her frequent response to trouble is overwhelming force."
Later on in the interview we asked about how Schlitt and the Zenimax team are working on keeping Commander Keen relevant in 2019.
"That was super important to us. So when we started thinking about it, we were like 'okay, what are the most key parts of the original Commander Keen that need to be really well represented in what we do here', and the first is, it has to have interesting vertical and horizontal gameplay, because Commander Keen was one of the best in that, especially on PC. So that was hugely important to us," she told us.
"The next thing that was really, really critical for us was the ability for the player to have a lot of agency. The original Commander Keen wasn't linear, it wasn't level one, level two, level three - you got to create your own story by choosing where you wanted to go and when, and how you even completed those levels. So that's been really important to bring it back, for us, so you'll find in our story mode we do something similar where we open it up, you have a series of levels, and you can choose however you want to tackle those levels."
"But it actually goes a step deeper than that. Our gameplay gives you a lot of choice in being able to play your way. So you start by having a deck of eight cards. You only have four available at a time, but as soon as you play one, a new one cycles in. Now, because we are thinking the original Commander Keen was a platformer, but we're going to mobile where we want people to be playing in two to four-minute sessions, what we've done is we've created what we've called 'platforming reimagined', so all of the movement, all of the attacks, everything happens through gadget-play, or card-based play."
"Now when people hear gadget-play they're like "turn-based", but we're like "no, no, no - real-time", because we want to keep it fast-paced so you can have those short, really playful, really crazy sessions. So, for example, the classic gadget Pogo Stick is a movement gadget, it gives you a lot of upward movement and a little bit of side to side, so that cost let's say four juice. As your juice builds up over time, as soon as you've got four juice you can go ahead and use your Pogo Stick Gadget. Now you can also choose to wait until you have more and play three gadgets back to back to back, so again you get a lot more choose in how you're going to execute your strategy."
Are you pleased to see Commander Keen's return in this format?