Of the original id Software founders, Tom Hall is mentioned less often than others like John Romero or John Carmack. Carmack’s six id Tech game engines have revolutionized the industry, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2’s engine is in fact rooted in Carmack’s 1996 Quake engine. Romero’s design work on Quake and Doom influenced a generation of game makers. Even those that worked on the game in smaller capacities like American McGee have gone on to make big names for themselves. Tom Hall, meanwhile, was right there with them at the start, but while Doom and Wolfenstein may be id’s legacy, Hall’s baby, Commander Keen, is perhaps equally important and remembered most as a technologically impressive curio from the early days of id. Commander Keen was an important evolutionary jump for PC gaming, a platformer with scrolling backgrounds just like Super Mario Bros., something that had never been done before. Twenty-two years after the last Commander Keen episode, Hall is bringing back his platformer in a spiritual sequel called Secret Spaceship Club.
Hall has made no secret of his desire to make another Commander Keen game, but legal issues continued to stymie him, so recently he opened a Kickstarter campaign with his new company, Pieces of Fun, looking to fund Secret Spaceship Club at the beginning of February. The game is only one aspect of the project, though. It’s actually built using a game making tool developed by Hall called World of Wander. Like a cartoon version of Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet, World of Wander is tool to let people simply and quickly make their own games. It is a bit more specific though, focusing on the siblings Willie and Sheila Wander starring in Secret Spaceship Club. The characters, the robot enemies they fight, and the whole game aesthetic borrows the same wide-eyed cartoon aesthetic of Commander Keen. It also seems to borrow the same walk-left-to-right and item collection play as the id original.
“I am so excited to get back to my crazy kinda sci-fi universe,” said Hall, “I wander off, but they keep pulling me back.”
Secret Spaceship Club will be Hall’s first game since Hyperspace Delivery Boy!, a small 2001 mobile action game. Prior to that, Hall had finished Anachronox, a role-playing game produced during his time with Romero at their ill-fated studio Ion Storm. While Ion Storm is remembered for its flop Daikatana, Anachronox was one of the three well-reviewed games produced at the studio, alongside Warren Spector’s Deus Ex and Thief: Deadly Shadows.
Worlds of Wander is Hall’s second Kickstarter project in the past twelve months. He also attempted to fund Shaker, a role-playing game developed with Brenda Braithwaite and backed by John Romero. Shaker fell far short of its Kickstarter goal, raising under just under $245,000 of its $1 million goal.