Marvel's Midnight Suns and XCOM dev is looking to reinvent the life sim genre with newly-formed Midsummer Studios: "the whole point is player-storytelling"

Midsummer Studios
(Image credit: Midsummer Studios)

The life sim scene has really grown over the last decade, and there's more choice than ever before. The Sims 4 is still leading the charge, but we've seen a swath of indie games with life sim elements, alongside bigger upcoming projects like Life by You, Paralives, and inZoi. But for the newly formed Midsummer Studios - spearheaded by 20-year veterans of Marvel's Midnight Suns and XCOM developer Firaxis, Jake Solomon and Will Miller - the team are looking to "revitalize" life sims with their own story-led spin that's driven by players. The move to found a studio and step into a new genre was a big one for Solomon, but the idea for the debut sim game they're now currently working on just refused to leave his mind off of the back of Marvel's Midnight Suns.  

"It felt pretty strange when I left [Firaxis]. You know, I spent 23 years there. And I never worked anywhere else, I started my career there. But I got this idea in my head about the game we're making," Solomon says. "The games that I designed first, XCOM, they had a lot more emergent player narrative in them, where the soldiers were random, there are all these complex systems that whenever you go on a mission, there was no way to predict what was going to happen. And there are these really high stakes, your soldiers could die. And so players generated these really powerful stories about these characters. And I loved it, I absolutely loved it."

"And then designing Midnight Suns, which was a Marvel game, because I'm such a huge Marvel person, that was very satisfying. But that was much more scripted, there was far less emergent, player-driven narrative," Solomon continues. "So towards the end of Midnight Suns, I was missing that side of things. And I knew that as a designer, I was better suited to that. And so not only did I start thinking about that, I started thinking - because I've made multiple turn-based tactics games, which I love, what I really like is the emergent storytelling by players - what if I made a game where storytelling was the game? Where the whole point is player-storytelling, and they can kind of tell whatever story they want, they can do whatever they want." 

Your tale to tell  

Marvel's Midnight Suns

(Image credit: Firaxis Games / Marvel)

Solomon recognized that making a life sim "full of player-created drama" was "definitely not a Firaxis game", but the desire to make it a reality led to the formation of Midsummer. While it's still very early days for the small studio, the veteran team already has a wealth of experience. With some joining from Firaxis with a background in strategy, Maxis names who worked on The Sims franchise are also a part of the talent, with The Sims producer and director Grant Rodiek on board. 

Life sims are, in many ways, the perfect platform for a game all about storytelling. As an avid player of The Sims over the years, I've spent a lot of time orchestrating my own tales that revolve around the families I've created. And from speaking with Solomon about Midsummer Studios' story-focused life sim ambitions, I'm instantly drawn to the concept. As Solomon explains, the game they're now currently prototyping will be set in a small town, where players can draw from the drama of modern life to create their own stories within the life sim. 

Jake Solomon

(Image credit: Midsummer Studios)

"I think that, for us, the way that we're viewing this is we want the player to get the story they want. The way that the game works is that when the player starts, they actually tell the game what kind of story they're trying to tell. So our game is set in a small town, because small town settings are very rich drama environments, because we can assume everybody knows everybody. You can't say something to one person without it affecting somebody else. Every character in our town has multiple relationships, whether it's co-worker, ex-lover, neighbor, childhood friends, all of these relationships, we stack on characters to where there is this web."

"And then based on that, the player can then say, 'hey, the story I'm trying to tell here is: I'm actually just trying to be successful in business, or I am looking for my soulmate, or I'm just dating around'," Solomon continues. "So the first thing the game does is it says, based on the story you're trying to tell, we're going to actually generate some characters. And, because you're trying to tell a romantic story, your coworker is actually going to be your ex lover, and your neighbor is your high school sweetheart, and your secret crush is actually a rival in business. We just try to randomly kind of speckle in these romantic relationships to where, when the game starts, you go, 'Oh, this is already kind of interesting. I'm already kind of interested to see how this plays out'." 

While the game will populate some characters for you based on the kind of story you're trying to orchestrate, Solomon explains that it will have a 'creative mode'-style feature that will let you edit and change just about every character. Ultimately, Midsummer wants to give you the tools to steer the story your own way, without forcing you into scenarios or situations: "We want the player to start by saying, I'm trying to tell this story and we go, well, then wouldn't it be interesting if the cast of characters in your story look like this? So we kind of pre-seed a drama rich environment. And then we let the player loose in a life sim." 

Sharing stories  

The Sims 4

(Image credit: EA)

"This game is half game, half toy, it's a creative platform for people to tell stories and create characters."

Jake Solomon

It's already abundantly apparent that Solomon and the team have put a lot of thought into the kind of experience they want to bring to life. They also recognize the importance of game communities when it comes to life sims. Speaking with a lot of admiration for The Sims community for its creativity and the way they often "project" their own stories onto the households and neighborhoods they create, the team at Midsummer Studios hopes to foster a community of their own by giving players the tools to share their stories with others. 

"The idea of success for a game like this, our measure for success is not selling x number of copies, it's can we generate a community?," Solomon says. "This game is half game, half toy, it's a creative platform for people to tell stories and create characters. And I think the community we've seen, especially with The Sims, is so critical. They've gathered around a particular game, but they kind of drive each other, and they create content for each other. And so we need that, I think that it has to be a community driven effort where people interact and they share stuff with each other in this virtuous cycle of, 'oh, wow, that's a cool character', 'oh, that's a cool storyline, I'm gonna borrow that'. And making it very easy for people either to share or see what other people have done and be inspired by that." 

With plans to create a community hub where players can share their towns, characters, and events, Solomon says player creations are "endlessly interesting" and "they just bring me a lot of joy a developer". As a platform for telling and sharing stories, I'm already interested to see what may come of it. With a talented team at Midsummer Studios and an initial concept that speaks directly to my life sim-loving-heart, I can't wait to see how their debut project shapes up in the future. While it's still early days for the studio, and it will be some time before we see what its life sim looks like, for Solomon, the move to life sims signals an exciting new chapter. 

"It is invigorating to do something new for the whole team, to be doing something that feels very different", Solomon says. "We're using the same tools we've used before, our same skills, and we're still building a game that kind of feels like our other games. But it is invigorating to be trying to be talking to potentially a different audience, to be trying to achieve something a little differently. It is also terrifying sometimes because there's this one thing that we've done for a long time: these games aren't turn-based, these games aren't combat-based. And so you've got to leave stuff behind and learn new tricks, but that's also the exciting part." 

How the systems in Marvel's Midnight Suns and XCOM 2 influenced Jake Solomon's next-gen life sim.

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.