Over 13 years have passed now since the release of Knee-Deep in ZDoom. Looking back and having the same experience that I have now, I would have done a few things in a different way. But as it is with decisions in general, I tend to not regret any of them. Making a decision involves considering every relevant factor in this particular moment. You can't know every aspect of its consequences but you try to make a reasonable choice according to the circumstances. And that's why every decision is right in the first place - you simply do not know any better. Only when some time has passed you can tell if it was either a good decision or a bad one.
The era of ZDoom Community Projects
The concept for the ZDCMP wasn't new but simple and easy to adept, in times before SVN and GitHub were common. Mappers signed up for the project and in a fixed order each participant had a time slot of 24 hours to add his content - rooms, textures, scripts, actors - and then pass on the map to the next mapper in line. Approximately a month later, the ZDCMP1 was released and in December 2004 it won Doomworld's Annual Cacoward. The ZDoom community has proven talent and dedication. Looking at the line-up today, you will find a lot of well-known names which are still actively and successfully working on Doom mods.
The Doomworld jury honored the efforts we made with this project, but for me this was only the beginning. I knew with this group of people, we could achieve more. A few weeks after the release, the development thread for Knee-Deep in ZDoom was born, following the same rules as the ZDCMP but with the goal to revamp the complete first episode of Doom and - with the help of ZDoom - allow for a next-gen experience.
KNEE-DEEP in the LEAK
Knee-Deep in the Dead was a piece of art, the Holy Grail, and it was an unspoken rule to never ever touch it. /idgames didn't allow map submissions that are directly based on original Doom maps for a good reason and I am sure it wasn't only for the copyright infringement. Imagine someone redrawing the Mona Lisa with cgi, assuming it looks better... We'd been brave back then, but the longer it took, the higher the pressure to succeed. What we wanted to do was to create a reinterpretation, giving the opportunity to relieve the experiences we all made in 1993. There have been people around who understood this intent, yes. But also people who didn't like that we ignored this particular rule.
After the relese, the project was received mostly positive and won another Cacoward trophy, but the community was divided: Not only the opinions about gameplay and looks have been controversial, but with all the drama that has happened during the development.
On July 20th, 2005, a user called Dron got his hands on the unfinished version of KDiZD and leaked it. The team was shocked and my emotions went through a rollercoaster, and therefor the reason for quitting the community - a right decision for the current situation, but not a good one in a longer-term view. We felt betrayed, it was not a good mood we were in. For such a long time worked on this project, to make the final release a solid and professional experience and now people started to play an unfinished version that was far from being finished. And guess what!? It didn't match the expectations. From a different point of view, as journalism tends to write: "Bad news are good news" and even though it was a slap in the face, we joined forces again and considered the leak as a chance. We listened to all the feedback and we improved the mod in every aspect. Now, all these years later, I am pretty sure that the leak was an opportunity for us, and the final release benefited from all the criticism and drama.
Maybe Knee-Deep in ZDoom didn't live up to the hype that we created around it (with all the advertisement spam I photoshopped) but it was and still is one of the projects that has a certain popularity outside the community, a solid achievement from a team of visionaries and enthusiasts. We all learned a lot and did not only get better modders but also better human-beings. With this knowledge and personal improvements, I continued - not only working on mods but also leading new community projects in the following years...