Zynga gets in on the match-3 game with Ruby Blast

Zynga’s next arcade title, as our sources told us, is a match-3 game called Ruby Blast.

Ruby Blast is Zynga’s second social arcade game in as many quarters; the first being Bubble Safari, which is currently tied with Texas HoldEm Poker as the No. 1 game on Facebook by daily active users. Ruby Blast is the first collaboration between Zynga Seattle and Zynga China. We got to spend some time with the game in a hands-off demo during a recent interview with Design Director Jonathan Grant.

Ruby Blast stars an archaeologist named Ruby digging for magic gems in a tropical mine. The gameplay features classic match-3 mechanics: Players click on clusters of at least three matching gems, clearing them and causing the leftover columns to drop down. Bedrock at the bottom of the screen can be demolished by clicking on adjacent bomb gems, clearing all of the rocks delivers a time bonus.

Each match costs energy to play, and players can spend soft currency on up to three powerups to use during the round. When Ruby Blast launches, there will be four different powerups, but a fifth is  coming soon. Each powerup provides different types of play bonuses — like clearing large areas of gems or rearranging the game board — and can be triggered once players fill an energy bar on the right side of the screen, accomplished by clearing gems of the same color.

Grant says the game’s social mechanics are designed to foster competition with their friends. Player experience is earned by collecting rubies in the game, which are tracked via the game’s ruby leaderboard. Ruby Blast also has weekly tournament leaderboards, where players compete with their friends to earn high scores in the game. The weekly tournament leaderboards will clear each week and the top three scoring players earn in-game rewards like extra currency.

Match-3 games are certainly popular on Facebook right now, with Wooga’s Diamond Dash, PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz and King.com’s Candy Crush Saga all appearing on June’s Top 25 Facebook games list. What could help Ruby Blast stand out from the match-3 crowd, though, is its planned synchronous multiplayer mode. Grant won’t say much more about this mode, but he says it’s planned to launch in the game before the end of the year.

Zynga’s also hoping that Ruby Blast’s visual style distinguishes it from other match-3 games on Facebook. Zynga developed the game in Flash 11, allowing the developer to take advantage of Stage 3D technology. As a result, all the in-game special effects will be rendered by the computer’s GPU and the dynamic graphics will hopefully be more appealing to players than the pre-rendered effects that are normally used in such titles.

Ruby Blast is will launch on both Zynga.com and Facebook sometime later this week.