I've just started playing Left 4 Dead yesterday. Brilliant game etc, and I'll write a review when I've had more experience with it.
But I wanted to comment today on the ridiculously simple, perfect notion of game balance that they have achieved in PvP. For the record, my definition of balance is this: both teams having equal chances to win. As a rule, this is easy to do if both sides are the same (chess, mirror matches in many games) but difficult to do if you want to include variety in the game (aka fun).
So anyway, back to Left 4 Dead. One side is the survivors, the other side the zombies, and after the survivors make it to the finish or (more usually) are wiped out.... the teams switch sides. The human players switch to the zombies and vice versa.
Not only is this ridiculously fun, it completely removes any unfairness towards one team being able to score points more easily than the other team. The game seems not too unbalanced in that respect anyway, but that's beside the point. If the game were completely unbalanced so that one side were much better than the other, it really wouldn't matter. Both sides would get to compete equally over the course of the match.
Imagine this idea applied to other games. Take Magic: The Gathering for example. In constructed format, both players get to choose their decks before the game starts. This ensures an absolute ton of variety, however, there are often rock-paper-scissors match-ups where one fellow would have to be very lucky to pull off a win. If the players swapped decks after a game, this advantage/disadvantage disappears.
Now, some players might say - "if I'm a pro deck builder and the other guy is noob, I lose any advantage that my superior deck building gives me??" Well.... yes. If you're a better player though, you'll win anyway. But, if this is seen as a big problem regardless, a handy compromise could be made: In a game where 3 matches are played, you could play 2 games with your own deck and 1 game with the other person's deck. This would go a good way to evening up the balance while still providing a bonus to the guy with the better deck building skills (just not as big a bonus as previously).
The technique can be extracted to many other games. A notable example I can think of that suffers from Rock Paper Scissors is Guild Wars Guild vs Guild battles.
Now, extracting the idea to an open RvR game like WAR (was supposed to be) would be more difficult, and would require the game to be designed for it from the ground up... as a starting point, a proper LFG system would be required to *ensure* even numbers on both sides. People may or may not like swapping bodies with the other team, but I'm sure there's a good way to do it that would allow maximal balance with minimal fuss.
Any thoughts on these ideas?