Exclusive: nWay comes out of stealth, unveils ChronoBlade

San Francisco-based developer nWay has come out of stealth today and unveiled its first game, ChronoBlade. We got a chance to sit down with some of the company’s founders and check the game out, getting a hands-on demo of how the title will (hopefully) re-establish the classic arcade experience on the web by using social mechanics.

Recreating the arcade’s social experience

ChronoBlade is an action role-playing game that casts players as part of a pact of heroes fighting off a cross-dimensional invasion. As a result, the environments span a wide variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings, with various enemies tailored to each world. As players go through the game, their characters level up and they can spend progression points on skill trees to customize the character to their play style.

The game is designed to let players on any platform drop in and out of gameplay with both friends and strangers. CEO Tony Harman and COO Taehoon Kim tell us, “the goal of this company is to bring back arcade games to the masses.”

In the 1970s and 80s, arcades were huge social scenes, with people jumping in and out of games to play with others. Although the physical arcade has since fallen out of public favor, nWay’s founders believe the social experience of playing with others on arcade cabinets can be recreated on social and mobile platforms. As a result, the game will first launch on Facebook, with mobile and open web versions to follow. We’re also told an Ouya version is being considered because of the console’s Android-based OS and the game’s combat is very controller-friendly, but it currently isn’t in the game’s development roadmap.

The goal of the game is to support instant drop-in for players in both co-op and player-versus-player gameplay. “We wanted that feeling to come out and still use the hooks of social gaming,” Kim says.

When played with a keyboard, players configure the control scheme to how they want to play. During our hands-on demo with the game, we used the directional arrows on a standard keyboard to move, while various letter keys controlled light, heavy and special attacks. The combat allowed us to chain together attacks to form different kinds of combos, and the overall play experience was highly reminiscent of early 1990s Beat-Em-Up titles like Konami’s 1992 X-Men arcade game or Capcom’s Final Fight.

Kim says the game is just the first step for nWay to bring the console experience to the web and mobile devices, which he believes is the way of the future. “We just see this huge shift away from paying for a packaged game to the free-to-play movement,” he tells us.

Harman then chimes in about how many larger game publishers are losing out on huge markets because of their inability to evolve past the traditional publishing model. “There’s a treasure trove of IP that’s out there,” he says. “[Publishers] didn’t grow very fast with the growth of gaming in Asia and they just got left out.”

Harman explains how the combat is like that of deeper fighting games, where button-mashing will carry players for a while, but probably won’t work in later levels or against savvy opponents within the PvP arena. “Micro-timing becomes increasingly useful for chaining combos or avoiding attacks,” he explains. “As you gain experience, you’ll be able to beat the people who do nothing but button mash.”

Meanwhile, nWay is incorporating viral social mechanics like Timeline posts and requests to help users spread the word about the game. Because the game is coming to Facebook first, users will be able to play with their Facebook friends, and future platforms will all be compatible with one another.

The studio designed ChronoBlade to work as a free-to-play action RPG, similar to how Riot Games’s League of Legends operates. All monetization comes from microtransactions, where players buy things like vanity items, equipment and temporary boosts. However, Marketing Director Alex Pan is adamant that “one thing we don’t want to do is enable people to pay to win. It’s something that frustrates us as gamers when we see it.”

Old school founders, new media technology

nWay was founded by three veterans of Realtime Worlds, the studio best known for creating the popular (and critically beloved) Xbox 360 game Crackdown. Harman was president of Realtime Worlds, he served as Director of Development and Acquisitions at Nintendo from 1989 through 1996. Kim was part of the original smartphone and games team at Samsung Electronics and ran Seoul studio at Realtime Worlds. Finally, CCO Dave Jones is known for creating games like Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, franchises built before he came over to Realtime Worlds.

Likewise, the development team has been fleshed out with a lot of people who have some serious success backing them up. Senior Game Designer Stieg Hedlund is probably best-known for his work as lead designer on both Diablo and Diablo II. Meanwhile, Technical Director Dirk Winter is credited for his work at EA when he helped bring FIFA Online to Asia. In fact, five of the first eight employees were brought over from Asia, where developers have a heavy amount of experience with F2P synchronous titles.

The team was assembled specifically to create an action-RPG that could deliver a synchronous play experience, something that hasn’t really been delivered before this point. Kim acknowledges the work of Neople, which developed Dungeon Fighter for Asian markets, as it was the first group to bring a game like this to online players in Asia.

However, many multiplayer games often struggle with the frustrations of lag, which is something nWay has been particularly focused on overcoming. As a result, the development team created a modified peer network that bypasses the standard packet confirmation system and provides 60 updates per second. Though Kim and Harman aren’t certain, they think this is possibly the fastest data exchange rate in the games industry.

nWay’s founders are of the opinion that development teams should be tailored to the type of game they’re building, as opposed to some larger companies which shift teams’ focus every time they start a new project.

“Dave and I believe you should build a team around a particular product. This team will be really focused on the action rpg fighting genre. If they do another game, it’ll be something similar,” Harman tells us. “If we build a racing game next, we’ll find the best racing team possible. This team is really built up for the fast action category.”

When asked why they decided to create an action RPG for its first effort, Harman explains nWay isn’t a developer that’s content to imitate other companies and deliver similar experiences to other titles already available. “We picked the game that would be the hardest to do,” he says. “By knocking off this tough genre, it gives us the lead time to be a leader in this space.”

There really isn’t anything on Facebook quite like ChronoBlade right now, so it’s not possible to compare it to other titles and predict how it will perform on that platform. However, we’ve heard from sources Kixeye is working on a similar game that’s expected to be revealed in the near future. If nWay manages to gain a foothold in the lucrative market of core gamers — entirely possible, based on what we got to see — then Kixeye will be facing some stiff competition.

At the moment, nWay is funded with an undisclosed amount raised via angel investors. ChronoBlade is expected to go into limited beta within the next two months or so and will see a wider audience afterwards.