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Zynga enters crowded 'bubble shooter' market with NBA Jam creator's latest

NBA Jam and NFL Blitz creator Mark Turmell's first game for Zynga, a match-three bubble shooter, is the first step toward expanding the company's portfolio to include arcade-style twitch games.
"He's on fire!" For most of us in this industry, those three words cannot be read without enthusiastic announcer Tim Kitzrow screaming them in our minds, as we imagine our basketball player of choice tearing down the court with smoke coming out of his shoes in arcade classic NBA Jam. So when I see a monkey with a cannon become "on fire" in the trailer for series creator Mark Turmell's latest game, I can't help but ask if it's one of his signatures. "It is!" he laughs. "Everybody cracked up when I dropped this on them here." The game is called Bubble Safari, and it represents an important next step for social gaming giant Zynga: a transition from slow-paced, low pressure simulations to arcade-style reflex-based games. "My whole career has been built on easy to pick up and play, challenging to master, over-the-top games," says Turmell, whose credits also include NFL Blitz and Smash TV, among others. "I appreciate a good Ville game, and I really enjoy our hidden objects game, but my heart is in action and arcade." When Bubble Safari launches tomorrow, it will join a crowded pool of "bubble shooting" games on the market, a genre that originated with Taito's Puzzle Bobble (aka Bust-A-Move) in 1994 and skyrocketed to popularity during the downloadable casual games boom. The current leader among these, King.com's Bubble Witch Saga, is currently the number 8 game on Facebook with 6.4 million daily active users. It's easy to assume that Zynga is taking on King.com directly with this title, though Turmell insists that the game came about simply because he's a fan of the genre. "I joined [Zynga San Diego] to get arcade games off the ground. And when I looked at all the different categories, I gravitated toward this because there's something magical about match-three and clearing levels," he says. "The basic concept of match-three, matching colors, is so easy to grasp that everybody can look at it and feel right off the bat and feel they're good at it. You look at a board and go, 'Okay, I know exactly where I'm going to go with my shots.' It doesn't take long to scan across the rack to figure out what your shot can be. " "What makes a game a better game is when you layer in the strategy. When you make people think even more deeply, and come up with other ways to tackle those problems, to provide those challenges. People need to lose at a game to really feel challenge and have a great time. And that's not normal in the social game space, where many of the games, the Zynga games, they don't have loss. You don't lose at a [traditional] Zynga game." Bubble Safari is the first game out of Zynga San Diego, the studio Turmell helped form when he was poached from EA last year. The game launches simultaneously on Facebook and Zynga's proprietary Zynga.com platform tomorrow.

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