LudoNarraCon is a digital festival celebrating “weird and interesting narrative games,” and I Did Not Buy This Ticket is quite possibly the weirdest entry in this year’s showcase. The visual novel follows Candelaria, a professional mourner whose commute takes a peculiar turn when she finds herself in possession of a bus ticket she does not recall purchasing. On the ensuing journey, she meets disturbing people, has unpleasant conversations, and reckons with the trauma she’s been trying her best to repress — all in-between attending funerals for strangers, acting out the part of the bereaved. The story is brief, bizarre, and adorned with surreal illustrations that would seem equally at home in a modern art exhibit and in a particularly vivid nightmare.
Tiago Rech, the game’s author, is the first to admit that I Did Not Buy This Ticket isn’t likely to have a great deal of mainstream appeal. “It’s a short game in a niche genre, so it’s not exactly the most commercial thing out there,” he wrote. “I think there’s an audience that’s perfect for the game, people who have a similar taste to mine — people who like short stories, creepiness, and weird tales but dislike jump scares.”
Rech also serves as lead storyteller for Time Galleon Visual Novels, I Did Not Buy This Ticket’s publisher. In a sense, the unapologetic singularity that distinguishes I Did Not Buy This Ticket is embedded in Time Galleon’s philosophy — as a company, it rejects “market-driven design” in favor of cultivating “raw, single-author projects” by award-winning writers. Consequently, while the publisher’s catalogue seems a bit eccentric overall, the creative minds behind each title have the talent and experience to back up their unconventional ideas. In other words: Yes, these games are weird, but they’re weird done well.
In the case of I Did Not Buy This Ticket, the concept was formed around the character of Candelaria and her unique career. “I read about carpideiras, as they are called in Portuguese, some time ago, I cannot remember where. It stuck with me. Such an unusual act, to cry for someone you never met,” wrote Rech. “As I was thinking about what kind of short story I could tell in the game, I remembered them. I really like this sort of unusual event, and it struck me as something you would rarely see in a video game.” These moments in the lives of curious characters, he continued, “are exactly the themes and elements I love to explore and rarely get a chance to.”
Instead of meticulously outlining the various routes I Did Not Buy This Ticket might incorporate, Rech and Lírio Ninotchka, the game’s illustrator, preferred to let the narrative take shape organically over time. “I knew how the game would start and how the ‘final’ ending would turn out, but everything else was a blank I worked on as I investigated what each scene would be,” Rech wrote. “The story also evolved as Lírio sent art in. As an example, I had envisioned [Candelaria’s] different faces in a completely different way, but Lírio drew them in a way that allowed me to explore a lot more of the character and even come up with new, interesting interactions. So, that was a very cool exchange between the text, game design, and art, with each one complementing the other.”
For many people, I Did Not Buy This Ticket will amount to exactly what it looks like at the surface level — a darkly amusing novelty you can breeze through in an hour or so before returning to your regular rotation of AAA titles — and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, Time Galleon hopes that a subset of players will enjoy a “much deeper, more personal experience” from the game, and as someone who hasn’t stopped reminiscing on Candelaria’s strange adventure since my first playthrough, I place myself firmly in this category.
While reflecting on the options I selected on Candelaria’s behalf, I was compelled to acknowledge some uncomfortable aspects of my own psyche — for example, a tendency to avoid positive change if any amount of pain or hardship is required to achieve the desired result. How open Candelaria chooses to be with her clients, how she decompresses after stressful situations, and even something as simple as picking where to sit on the bus all have the potential to offer a glimpse into the mind of a player who is acting on instinct (making decisions they themselves would make), and some of what I learned from my time with the game has yet to leave my thoughts.
However, rather than intending for Candelaria to be a blank slate onto which a player can project themselves, Rech designed her as a fully realized character whom people might relate to in a variety of ways. “I wrote the game aiming to make all interactions be very consistent with who Candelaria is (or what she can be) and with her backstory,” he wrote. “I think how this resonates with people depends a lot on each individual. In a way, I believe people take different things away from the game exactly because the main character turned out consistent enough that they can compare her experiences with their own.”
In addition to being selected for the LudoNarraCon Showcase, I Did Not Buy This Ticket was featured in the 2023 Latin American Games Showcase. The game is currently available on PC and Steam Deck and will eventually be released on Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, iOS, and Android.