No Follow - A Lovingly Crafted Tribute to the Early Internet

7/20/2023 - Written By JoTomo

Running a website is equal parts as thrilling as it is challenging, and those challenges come in spades. The reward for your perseverance, though, is immense creative freedom. This creative freedom is a wellspring of hope for the future of the internet, and one that was especially potent in the late 90s, moving into the early aughts, when the web was largely an uncharted frontier. This stretch of time is absolutely rich with storytelling potential, a thought of which website creator Shishka has taken to heart.

Shishka is the creator of No Follow, the story of a bunch of scrappy young siterunners who fight against the increasing corporatization of the internet. Their weapon of choice? Lines of code. I could give a rote dialogue about each character, their personality, traits, etc., but what better way to get familiar with these characters than through their sites? Let's take a look. Below are the sites of our main cast from file #000001.



Seo Rakuten's site, Under Construction



Ram Flux's site, Codepie



Midi Vista's site, Canyon

Pretty striking, huh? These sites are safe havens for their delightfully computerly named siterunners, at least when they're not under attack. Recently, a few sites around Space ( No Follow's analogue for the internet ) have fallen victim to viruses that quickly fill their target site with hateful messages, tearing a site apart at the seams and, if successful, driving its creator offline.

Who would do something like this?? Well... rumor has it, a mysterious woman in white named Spider NoFollow is responsible. She runs a slick, corporate website called Crawl, which is mostly held together with code programmed by her begrudging subordinate, Wes. Together, the duo seek, surveil, and snuff out any site that she doesn't consider "useful." this of course includes any site that dares defy her.

Top: Spider NoFollow, Bottom: Wes Bite

Meanwhile in another corner of the web, we meet Seo Rakuten, who is feeling unmotivated about updating her website. Just isn't feelin' it, and hasn't for a while now. Her aptly named site, Under Construction, has fallen into a state of neglect as the once fresh coat of paint adorning the walls has begun to peel away, and construction signs and gurders lie ignored in a big pile. Ram Flux has been trying to shake her out of this funk, this time by inviting her out for some pizza and a movie. Unsuccessful, Ram leaves without her. However, The way to a person's heart is through their stomach, and a few hours later, Seo is starting to get curious about that pizza.

Ram's site is a computer-themed pizza parlor splashed in blue and pink pastels that bring to mind the taste of cotton candy. The place is called Codepie. Seo hunrgily walks across the walkway of giant floppy discs and through the front door, but finds it empty, just like her stomach. No dice. Maybe she's at that guy Midi's place watching a movie?

Midi's site Canyon is a massive soda can on a beach surrounded by water, and the only way to get there is to cross it. Seo finds a stray blinkie (pictured above) and fashions it into a surfboard, clumsily surfing her way to the beach. As she creaks open the front door of Canyon, it becomes immediately clear that the place infested with insect-like viruses. Seo's vision is engulfed with the glitch-ridden mess these viruses made, with furniture in the room that was once there appearing as broken links, and she's getting annoyed with them. It's here that she discovers her ability to not only repair these broken links and squash these viruses, but to... modify anyone's site on the entire internet??

That's all I'll share of the story, as what I described here is just a chunk of the game's first chapter. From here on, I will be giving some general thoughts and impressions on the game, staying light on spoilers and mostly discussing ideas and themes. Now is a great point to go give No Follow a lil' peek, if this article has sparked your interest. Feel free to come back later and read my final thoughts on the game, or don't, I won't judge ya. Enjoy!


Something I was immediately struck by was how this game was even built in the first place, and how its method of creation makes it feel perfectly at home in a web browser. To explain, most games of this ilk run in an external program like Unity, or maybe in the past, Flash (rest in peace, my beloved ), but the fact that No Follow is made purely of HTML/CSS/JS code that runs in a browser means that it would play just as well on a computer from 2023 as it would one from 2003, and that is just outrageously cool. It's one of the many ways the game carries the spirit of the early internet.

Oh, how I adore the visual aspects of this game! From the gorgeously era-accurate dithered illustrations for each website to the colorful, lively character designs of the game's cast, No Follow is an absolute slam dunk in the visual department. What launches it into the stratosphere is that it has the script to match! The way the story unfurls kept me glued to the monitor, full of curiousity. I fell down the rabbit hole with this game in a fashion not too dissimilar to browsing obscure personal sites in the early aughts, letting the hyperlinks take me where they may. If that was the intent, I think Shishka nailed it with this game and I am eager to see what they have planned for the future of No Follow. Speaking of, the game is still in active development and getting updated constantly. It is currently on its 8th chapter, with 9 more planned to release a few months apart each until the end.

I personally consider this to be required reading for aspiring siterunners, in the same way one might recommend Richard Williams' The Animator's Survival Kit to someone interested in animation. For those who lived through the internet's early days, it captures a bygone set of creative principles and ethos of limitless expression that once dominated web culture. To those new and curious, it presents a lovingly crafted depiction of a web they never got to experience, but now can through the efforts of a game like No Follow, and of course the hub that makes it all possible, Neocities. For all of its outstanding accomplishments in creative freshness, web design and more, I am thrilled to give No Follow my first Site Of The Month award!

Signing off for now, please check out Shishka & No Follow using the lovely buttons featured in the site's righthand column, or directly below if you're on mobile. Thanks for reading, and see ya on the flipside.