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

(Image credit: Firaxis)

Marvel's Midnight Suns and XCOM 2 may be among the best strategy games around, but they also have something else in common: bond systems. Midnight Suns presents you with the chance to strike up friendships with famous figures from the Marvel Universe, while XCOM 2 measures the developing relationships between soldiers as they fight together. Developer Jake Solomon, who worked on both games, highlights how he hopes to bring these types of designs forward into his next project: A next-gen life sim from the newly founded Midsummer Studios

With a veteran team on board, including former Firaxis developer Will Miller and The Sims director Grant Rodiek, Midsummer is aiming to create a life sim with a focus on storytelling that's driven by players. While both Solomon and Miller have a strong background in strategy, coming from Firaxis, Solomon has always believed that the types of design techniques and features they've worked with previously would also be a good fit for a life sim-style game without any combat. 

"Most of our team comes from XCOM [and] Midnight Suns," Solomon says. "And what I really always thought was the type of designs that I've made before would work really well for a game about high school. I always really wanted to make a game about high school because I thought, how fun would it be to go back to high school and either do things right [if]  you're like, 'Yeah, I didn't love high school', or you go back and relive the glory days. But it's always been in my head, this idea of taking the design techniques we had, and kind of applying them to something that's non-violent and non combat-based."

Modern life  


(Image credit: 2K Games)

While the new life sim Midsummer is working on isn't about high school, it is aiming to create "a drama-rich environment" where players can craft their own stories. In order to do that, the team decided to opt for a "modern life" setting rather than a fantastical one, which was driven by the desire to make "the storytelling interesting" and relatable. After all, as Solomon explains, if you're going to make a game about telling stories that can be about relationships, family, mental health, jobs, or personal pursuits, "that's a much easier thing to do if you're talking about modern life." While it's often a common backdrop in shows, or books, Solomon says in games, "modern life is the most rare setting of all" but it makes perfect sense for the kind of experience the team are striving to make. 

That experience is one that ultimately lets players steer their own stories within a life sim.  And after listening to Solomon highlight the features he loved working on the most and how the techniques surrounding them could work well for a life sim -  such as the aforementioned bonds in XCOM 2 which acted as a "behind-the-scenes number that tracked how well the soldiers got along personally" - I'm already looking forward to seeing what the team will deliver in this space. 

"Obviously, Midnight Suns I put in a whole… basically, a hero dating simulator where you're making friends with them," Solomon says. "And I lavished way too much time on that. But I've always loved that part of games. It hasn't been easy, that's for sure [moving to Life Sims]. And I'm right in the middle of it. But it's been fun to say, 'Alright, let's take the design techniques that we have, the things that we've done, and now say, yeah, there's no hit point bars, there's no damage, but there's still ways to make it meaningful'. The way you talk to people, what kind of resources does a player have if they know if you talk to somebody like this, this is going to be the outcome."

"How do we reward players for playing life a certain way and for acting a certain way and treating people a certain way? Rewarding them for different ways on how to make every day for our players' characters feel different," Solomon adds. "Saying today is different because in this scene, you're at your job, and romance is in the air. All of a sudden, you get big bonuses for romantic interactions. Or, in this scene, you're really busy, you have a really short period of time to do all the things you need to do. So just making sure that your character's day feels different, that we reward you for interacting with characters in a different way, and also leaving space for the player to just play creatively." 

Look ahead to future releases with our roundup of new games for 2024 and beyond. 

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.