Pop Pirates


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Pop PiratesAnother amazing shoot-em-up just released from the ultra-talented folks at Bloc Media in the UK. This one created for Diesel and their ProtoKid line of fine gaming accessories.

Pop Pirates is an excellent arcade shooter with a hi-tech computer network security theme: The evil pop pirates have hacked into the Protokid servers and are stealing all the music. Prepare to be digitized to eradicate all bugs and virus threats while reclaiming your music files as you go.

Follow the link and then press the "Guest" button if you don't feel like registering. The only downside is that your scores will not be saved.

Use the mouse exclusively for control in this game to glide your protokid around the play field to avoid enemies and their firepower. Press the mouse button to fire your weapon(s).

You begin the game with just the basic blue ray gun to eliminate each computer virus that comes at you. There are several different types of enemies and the game randomizes the ones it sends at you. In fact, there may be two or three consecutive waves of the same enemy type during a level. Each level is comprised of roughly 20 waves of enemies that you must clear to get to the level boss and beyond. There are only two (2) different bosses that I've seen so far, and they are randomized as well.

As you eradicate enemies, music files will be left floating in their wake and will begin counting down to zero. Catch the files quickly to score maximum points. Besides the music files, bonus icons will sometimes appear to help you power-up your arsenal with additional weapons: Killer-watt, Mega-bite and Fire-wall, and defensive power-ups Anti-virus, Magnatron, and 1-up extra lives. As each new upgrade is collected, your protokid will automatically fire all weapons simultaneously creating some pretty pyrotechnic eye candy. This is where the real fun begins.

Block games has done an excellent job with play balancing the weapon upgrades and enemy aggression throughout the game. Difficulty ramps up comfortably without being too easy or too difficult at first. As you progress, enemies will begin to possess more hit points, they will fire faster and move faster. Every time you lose a life some of your weapon upgrades will be taken away, but not all of them—it seemed to be about half that are removed. Losing your weapon upgrades will put you in a precarious position in later levels when the enemies are quite fierce.

The game is a lot of fun to play, is highly addictive, and absolutely gorgeous. The background music and sound effects are of the same high production values and fit perfectly with the theme and character of the game. Truly an exceptional casual game. Click.

For a similarly addictive shooter from Bloc Media, try MINDgames: Head Space.

40 Comments

I managed to get roughly 63,000 before I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer...must...get...sleep.

Oh, and another thing: hold the mouse button down, do not click it rapidly. On my Mac, clicking rapidly caused the protokid to dance uncontrollably all around the play field. Holding the mouse button down to fire constantly stopped that from happening.

good night. zzz

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I agree with you jay, this game is really addicting, the powerups is what makes it really fun and the scoring system. Man, that's why at times I love to be an insomniac :)!!!

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Fishybobbins December 13, 2005 9:56 AM

That game is an absolute cracker. I got 82,340 kb before my hand and wrist started to be in constant pain. Worth it though!

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What I hate about games of this type is the irrellevance of your extra lives as they progress. If you lose a life fairly far in, your weapons are too feeble to take out even the most cannon-fodder of the enemies, so your majestic struggle crashes and burns through the remaining nine lives in mere seconds. So why bother having the extra lives in the first place?

I also hate forgetting what my TypeKey password was. [/grumble]

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I like how Bloc gives more weapon upgrades in later levels if you are weak from losing them, to help compensate for and balance what you're complaining about.

You sound a little grumpy, Throctukes. How would you have implemented the lives/power-ups structure?

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I've never figured out how to work the balancing act, to be honest. It works really well early on, but after you get to a certain power-upped-ness, one shot knocks enough power out of you to essentially end your game (this is a general problem I have with shooters of this type). In this (admittedly rather excellent game), for example, the big red chaps with the big teeth can happly swan all the way down the screen and back up again with you pouring shots into them without dying (if you get powered down). Needless to say, the end comes soon. Now, that's not a bad thing - games *should* be hard - the problem is that you may well have 15 or so lives by this point, and now as you're unable to kill anything fast enough to grab any power-ups, you're going to chew through them very quickly.

I even dislike the Raiden approach of splurging a whole cartload of your powerups down immediately for you to pick up again (as I tend to get killed as I rush around trying to grab them). Starting from earlier in the level, with a few easy kills to warm you up, seems a bit of a cop-out, too. I guess I'd prefer to not rely on lives - replace them completely with a shield that discharges as you get hit, and when it's gone, so are you.

But then that removes the natty effect of your weapons not always being there for you - before it gets cripplingly difficult to continue without them, it's *good* that your homing missiles are sometimes taken away from you, as it gives a sense of achievement when you get them back.

Not really answering my own criticism here, am I? I've given it some thought in the past, and I've never managed to find a satisfactory solution (to my mind). Sorry for grumbling on your blog, Jay, I did like the game really! I'm just getting cantankerous as my thesis deadline approaches. Speaking of which... do psychology experiments count as games? Because I need some more volunteers...

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hahaha, no worries, Throctukes. Grumbling is fine, though it would be nice to back it up with something constructive to offer in exchange. =)

Cheers for your excellent follow-up(!)

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Only one suggestion here...a PAUSE key! My carpal tunnel sets in way before I run out of lives.

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Agreed, a pause button or key is nice courtesy with actions games like this.

At first I thought the power button in the lower right was a pause button, since the music button above it is functional. Maybe they just forgot, or ran out of time, to implement it?

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After another blast, more carping about powering down when you die: what I don't like in this game specifically is that it seems to total one of your power ups when you die - so suddenly you've got no antivirus at all (say), and it also powers up the enemies to compensate for your guns - so if you lose one of your offence powerups (like the flamethrower), suddenly you're there with a peashooter. The thing that bothers me in general with the powerdown-on-death convention is that you died generally because the game was pushing you to the limits of your skill - i.e., it was beating you *fairly*. That's good. But when you die, you go from the limit of your skill to underpowered, facing overwhelming odds. I think maybe the powerdown-on-death convention is one I could live without. It's like playing someone at tennis (or the racket sport of your choice), and then when they take the lead switching to your off-hand to punish you for letting them score. I mean, there must be something wrong when I'm disappointed that an extra life power up appears - I want guns because they stop me from dying. My lives are generally taken from me so quickly after I lose the first one that I don't see them as useful. I have to add that losing a life in the middle portion of the game (where you're not massively powered up) has a totally different feel, as you aren't immediately overwhelmed. Maybe when you lose your powerups the enemies "hitpoints" should be reduced to be commensurate with your newly enfeebled ship?

Then again, maybe it's just my lack of skill - does anyone else find with this type of game that extra lives are a bit pointless after you get so far, as your powered-down ship is woefully outmatched by the opposition?

To quickly summarise my problem with the convention (*not* just this game): When you die (thus showing that the game is beginning to outmatch you anyway), why does the game make a huge step increase in difficulty?

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I agree, Throctukes. This game is a HOOT, I love it - it reminds me of the old "Life Force" game for the NES that was basically "Contra in Space." Great fun, good mechanic. I have a slight mouse lag issue occasionally, but that's okay.

It's just that once you die ... the game's really OVER, which is depressing. I personally like the "fling stuff so you can pick it up" mechanic, but I think I also like what you say about shields rather than lives. That would be a good mechanic to let you 'hurt' from hits but not lose everything and have the game just take two minutes to run through all your lives!

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Maybe it could let you start back at the beginning of the level with all the stuff you had ... but erase your score. I don't really play these games for scores, but to see how deep into them I can get. I think they have that die/powerdown thing partly to keep high scores competitive, but if you could forego scoring in order to have a do-over, that would be cool.

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Cute stuff. I got a little wild with my cursor and managed to throw the whole window around. Didn't seem to faze the bad guys though :(

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devstrider December 13, 2005 3:59 PM

You don't lose half of your powerups when you get hit, you lose a whole category. So let's say everything is maxed out...if you get hit, you'll randomly just lose one...like your mega-bite is completely gone or whatever random one it is that you lost.

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Wow this game is really addicting...I have a chem final in two hours and yet I am here playing...

The only problem I have with this game is that the many powerups swirling around the protokid makes it really hard to see the enemy's ammo. Also, is it just my mouse or does the protokid get stuck sometimes?

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Good comments about the design. =)

I believe what is at issue here is inherent to an open-ended style of play: there must be factors that come into play that bring the player to a game over state.

Anything that makes the game easier for the player after being hit may disrupt the balance that ultimately brings the game to an end. If the game never ends then there is no challenge, and the desire to play will likely evaporate.

Thought provoking issue, though.

What if the player's weapons and skills were not affected when hit, and the total number of 1-Ups that a player may be awarded in a single game were capped at, oh say... 10. Then when the lives are gone, it's game over. ...(?)

My guess is that it might help, and yet there is still the concern of balancing enemy difficulty with the limits placed upon weapon upgrades (not to mention the horsepower of the target platform to keep up with it all). Theoretically, weapons must hit a ceiling and enemies will eventually surpass a player's ability to keep up, and you'll wind up back at square one where this discussion began.

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Hello and I just wanted to say thanks to you all, especially you Jay for a great review :D

I designed this game and its great to see its getting people talking and also giving some really intresting feedback.

Getting the balance right in a game like this is really hard, and i think Iain (dude that coded it) has done an amazing job. I agree with most the comments, but what you must note is that we (bloc) were on a tight schedual on this job(as always!). We have discussed in depth what we would like to do to this game to improve it, add to it etc etc but at some point you always have to let yah baby go dont yah ;) To be honest from my 8 years of working in new media this is the best piece of work i have ever produced...and sad to say it i am also totally addicted to my own game!!!!! (even if i am rubbish at it!)

I hope you all keep playing and keep a good look out on www.blocgames.com for more fantastic games coming soon.

Oh yeah and i would love to hear what all your opinions are on ways to add to this game...maybe one day we will get the time to do them ;)

Lzr

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Excellent stuff, Liam (and Iain!). I can't wait to see what's coming up next.

Cheers! =D

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A comment about Throctukes' frustration with powerdowns on death: I agree with the sentiment completely. I love shooters, but the most frustrating are the ones where you get the basic powered-down ship in the middle of the stage with essentially no chance of survival.

I think the biggest problem with this specific game is ramping up the hit points on the grunt monsters. Scaling things back a bit so that the simple gun can kill most of the grunt monsters easily is one way to avoid some of the frustration. Instead of increasing damage, the powerups could increase spread of the shots to hit more enemies at once.

I think a better system is to allow permanent powerups. Perhaps allow the player to choose some powerups between levels. Then make the floating powerups during the level temporary boosts. A game that did this wonderfully was PopCap's Heavy Weapon Deluxe (the downloadable version). You could swap weapon points between levels, even re-distribute points as you saw fit. This let you change your strategies a bit if a level was too hard with one configuration of weapons. In addition, there were some powerups that were only available in the levels which allowed you to build up as you went along.

Some thoughts from a game designer,

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Another well-made and fun to play game, although my high's only about 41000 KB.

As others have discovered before me, when you take a hit, you lose one life and all units of one of the power-up types you currently hold. The selection seems to be random--a Magnatron x8 doesn't necessarily take precedence over an Anti-virus x3, for example. Late-game survival is a matter of dodging as many shots as possible and hoping the couple that hit you don't take away essential power-ups, lest you be helpless to fight back as the enemy onslaught runs through all your lives.

This system doesn't really have any complex strategy (aside from grabbing all the power-ups and not getting hit, of course!) and works well for a casual game, although the luck aspect is frustrating for serious players. A Cave Story-like weapon switching system in which you use one weapon at a time but lose it when you're hit might be an interesting option, but then the weapon-juggling mechanics might prove too difficult for its target audience, and of course, enemy health and the like will have to be adjusted. On the other hand, as Jay notes, letting the player keep all their ordnance makes the game too easy, and eventually he or she gets bored and quits. Generating more power-ups in later levels seems to be the best solution at hand.

Also, a minor gripe: as you progress, the music files don't increase in value even though the enemies gain strength. Granted, you'll usually have a stronger Magnatron and it'll bring a few more files to you, and the longer centipedes produce more files as well, but that's offset by all the enemy fire that gets in the way! At the very least, the files' value should decay at a slower rate.

However, this is certainly one of the most addictive Flash top-down shooters out there, and it's definitely worth many plays.

Quick notes:

- When a power-up appears, your Magnatron won't attract it. You'll have to go out of your way, but unlike in some other shooters, power-ups are always worth the risk.

- Watch those Mega-bytes. Their homing ability will point out the locations of off-screen enemies for you so you can greet them with everything else!

- When fully leveled up to x10, the Anti-virus is a surprisingly effective close-range weapon, able to chew through any enemy--even bosses!--in a matter of seconds. As you approach level 5.00 and beyond, it's your best shot at dispatching opponents quickly before the next wave shows up. Hope that your luck holds out and you don't lose it!

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Okay, This might just be a complete lack of awareness on my part, but what the heck does the magneton do? It was one of the first power ups I picked up and it doesnt seem to do anything but make the little air weasel a little flashy. The megabytes seek, the firewall adds the fireballs, the anti-virus is the orbiting balls that damage your enemies, but I've yet to see a change with magneton.

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Hey Random Bob. The Magneton on Level 1 is really nothing, but it does add up. Basically what it does it pulls in the music files closer to you. So of course the higher level you have, the better the magnetic attachment of the files to you there is.

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Jay: My argument, though, is that this type of game ramps up the difficulty anyway... when you start losing lives it's at the point that the game difficulty has begun to reach the limit of your skill. Ideally, you should then go on to lose your lives as the skill level continues to ramp up past your ability to keep up. However, by taking your power ups away, the first time you die you hit a difficulty cliff rather than a difficulty ramp, blam, game over. Not removing the powerups doesn't mean that the game will go on forever: in this game, the enemy speed, accuracy, shot rate, shot speed and hit points are all ever-increasing anyway: they *will* get too much for you eventually. But that's fair enough - that's the game. I also don't have a problem with a fairly quick death, as the game overwhelms you. It just seems like the game is taunting you, though, by giving you a stack of essentially useless extra lives.

On an unrelated note, is anyone still playing Urban Dead? I'm getting embroiled in another rules-of-the-game discussion over there regarding the Headshot skill, and I wondered if there were any thoughts on it from the jayisgames posse.

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Ah, the power-ups discussion. I remember having those in primary school - there was an arcade shooter, can't remember it's name, but it worked on same principle. You could pile up about 45 extra lives but the end boss was so strong and difficult that you basically had only one chance to beat him with all the cool stuff you collected during the game. If he killed ya, there you are with your umpteen lives flinging spitballs at him. (What we usually did then was grab some kid nearby, say to him - hey kid, give us a coin and we'll let you continue this game - look, you have 57 lives! - then waited for the slaughter to finish so we can start from scratch :) . It was a win-win situtation.)

Anyway, I always disliked this massive powerdown cliche but it was not the only thing. There is also the other side of the coin - some shooters relentlessly pile up the power-ups so what you do in the end you is stand in the middle of the screen and hold the fire button while your ship burns, butchers, crushes, erradicates, shreds, decapitates and disintegrates every poor soul that happens to wander by on screen. You can light up a cigarette, order some coffee and read the latest headlines and still rake up points to high heaven.

Anyway, offtopic, that arcade shooter was soon after replaced with Metal Slug 3. Now THAT game was as great as it was punishing. A true black hole for our weekly pocket-money..

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It's a good game. A pause button would be great esp as I'm playing this at work. Getting to level 4.3 and then having to answer the phone is absolutely no fun.

As for UrbanDead. Still playing, waiting for new content, new skills, getting chewed and chewing in return. Headshot isn't a problem unless you're starting from scratch, it makes levelling up as a lone Zombie really difficult, but may push people to mob as zombies in order to survive.

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Still playing. This is one of my favorite games that's been posted on the site. I love the cleverness of the names and weapons and so forth; cute "puns." Also, the centipedes are so cute I just love to kill them. Liam, it's a great game, lots of fun, and I'm glad you popped by so we could tell you that!

Two problems I've noticed - the enemy shots sometimes end up "under" so much other stuff I actually can't see them until they hit me. Second, there may be a small bug - I've noticed a few times that the dragonflies coming in from the left on the early levels sometimes explode without me shooting over there at all (when I just have the basic blue gun).

Back on the issue of power-ups - people have had a lot of good suggestions. I think I'm a "true" casual gamer in that I don't know much of anything about game programming, and all I know about mechanics is what I've picked up here and from listening to my gamer husband. I've been gaming since the NES when I was about seven, and I enjoy it. If I sit down and really focus on an X-Box game, I can usually get decent at it, but I vastly prefer games that are easy to pick up and quick to play. I'm not really playing to get the highest score or for the challenge in the sense of "how well can I do," but because I enjoy exploring other people's imaginations in the form of game worlds, and the "little" challenge of figuring out how the world works.

That largely why I find the lose power-up frustrating. Suddenly I'm left with 10 lives to lose and it's boooooring because I can't do anything to beat the enemies, so I have to let them run out. People have had a lot of interesting suggestions on how to combat that, several of which I think would work. On that hasn't been mentioned, and one I often avail myself of is cheats. After I play a game a few times and reach the limit of my abilities to get any farther, I get a kick out of being able to use a cheat to explore the entirety of the game. I'm not likely to spend 50 hours of my life perfecting my skills at a game so I can PLAY through the whole thing, but I love being able to use a cheat to get to SEE the rest of it as an overpowered killing machine. I consider it a very fair trade-off for me not to be able to "keep" my score ... and for it to be "too easy" to be fun. At that point, for me, the fun is in seeing the rest of the game. I'll go back to playing normal, but I just love to explore the games other people have written.

Hrm, that turned into a novel!

Also, pause button would be GREAT. The phone keeps killing me!

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Liam - didn't notice your post there. Oops. Congratulations on the game - it rocks (hoonestly!) My criticism is a problem I have with the conventions of this genre of game, and shouldn't be read as singling your sterling effort out in any way.

Eyebrows - The thing with this type of game is that there's nothing *left* to see - it just gets harder and harder until you can't keep up. Cheats are a little pointless in this case.

baba - Yeah, getting over-powered does take a lot of the fun out of this type of game. There are lots of ways around that though. Off the top of my head:
1) Limit ammo (so you don't just keep blasting all the time)
2) Make your weapons overheat. Maybe as you keep firing, your different weapon types could overheat and power down, but come back online when they cool off
3) Have permanent weapon upgrades and bonus weapons upgrades - and make the bonus ones run out after a certain time. Make your permanent upgrades capable of getting you through, put the fun, silly pyrotechnics in your bonus weapons.
4) Trade off you weapon power-ups. It's out of genre but the x-wing genre had the fantastic concept of diverting your power where you need it on your ship. So you *could* dump all your power into weapons, and blast away at the whole screen at once, but your ship would handle like a brick and have the armour of a fluffy little newly-hatched chick. Awww.

Obviously, these all up the complexity of the game. The simplest solution is to just make your power-ups less extreme.

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Throctukes - I know, but sometimes when you're having a rotten day, nothing is quite as satisfying as killing pixels. As an overpowered, cheat-fueled killing machine. :)

(Also, seeing the screen get more and more mayhem-y IS something to see - how crazy can it get? Wow, those things are fast! etc.)

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I agree, Eyebrows. One of the most gratifying aspects of games like this, for me at least, and one of the qualities that gives them their addictive quality is that the player can achieve that point of mayhem in which pixels are dying by the thousands. This feeling of being "in the zone" is something that should be difficult to achieve, and even difficult to maintain. And that's what I believe keeps bringing players back to it.

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What a cute game! The design is great and it's really addictive! My only complaints are (again) the lack of a pause button, and the fact that when you accidently move the cursor out of the little window, you stop moving, and it takes a few seconds to get back into the game (especially if you can't find your cursor... This happened to me a lot, which is really annoying if you lose some points due to the music files timing out while you're finding the cursor again...
Other than that, great game!

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Desincarnage December 14, 2005 11:50 PM

A simple idea: A full screen option, so I won't screw my run by accidently moving my mouse off-screen ;)

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I am not 100% sure every game author reads this forum, but comments are always good.

I am completely sure it is possible to grab the mouse input so that one never runs out of game frame limits. This has annoyed me too! However it presents a possibility to set the firebutton on to avoid the need to press the mousebutton all the time! Convenient. Just press fire, drag the mouse far down (onto the "Start" bar) There release the button, and the game thinks that You are still pressing it!

I agree totally with Eyebrows. I must say most good games have a cheat mode, just because one could want to be able to run the thing through just for fun! It is anyway up to oneself if one wants to cheat or not. As far as I can see it there are two general ways to enjoy a game:

1) Playing it as it should be played, and spend decades to master the game, in the end getting high pleasure out of having beat it (iiiiiiin theeeeee eeeeeeennnnnnnnd...)

2) Enjoying the game as far as the skills last, and then explore with help of a cheat. Takes MUCH less time and spares one from the boredom of never being able to succeed in 1)
Also one can use a cheat to train some skill to get better, and then beat the game in normal mode!

Either way you loose in the other cathegorys opinion, and either way you win in your own opinion. Which opinion do You have???!

I'm enjoying my opinion, which really varies between different games!!!

Cheers, Doc.

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Any game with Bill and Ted air-guitar sound effects is okay by me!! :)

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SOOOOO FUN!!

reminds me of that old game Raptor, where you get to buy new weapons at the end of each level, and your spending money is directly proportional to how many bad guys you shoot down... gotta love it

this is one of my absolute favourite types of games, i love how you can just keep on powering up... btw does this game have an end? ive only made it to level 7... also does anyone know any good games like this?

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omg, this game is sooo fun! :D

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OMG Raptor!?

I love Raptor!! One of the best games ever made. I played it for years.

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Anonymous April 15, 2007 4:05 PM

//bloc2 - file not found
The requested URL was not found on this server.

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Thanks. The links are fixed now. Protokid decided to change their links around. :/

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Killroy Quartermaine October 29, 2007 4:50 PM

Hey, Just a heads-up, but the site that hosts this game is (as of October 29th, 2007) under construction, and the game is currently unavailable. Mayhaps it could be temporarily removed? at least from the buttons? I dont know how or if you handle that.

Shame too. I came across this one on a previous vist, and it was quite a bit of fun.

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May 2008 - Pop Pirates is back with a vengeance! http://www.thegameslist.com/game/poppirates

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