Marvel Games and XCOM developer Firaxis are teaming up for a new Marvel-centric strategy game titled Midnight Suns, which brings together numerous Marvel heroes to battle a monstrous threat, with a story inspired by the origins of the comic book team the Midnight Sons. But there's a bit of a new twist that comes along with Midnight Suns that even seasoned Marvel gamers haven't quite experienced: players will take the role of an original lead character with a fully customizable appearance and powers.
Dubbed 'The Hunter,' the character is the child of Lilith, the game's lead villain. Players will design the Hunter, and choose their powers as they progress through the game.
Previous Marvel games such as Marvel: Rise of the Imperfects and X-Men: Destiny introduced new characters created just for the games, with powers that were customizable within limits. And other games such as the fan-favorite Marvel Ultimate Alliance series feature customizable costumes.
But the Hunter marks Marvel fans' first chance to put their own spin on a totally new Marvel hero who will interact with Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, and other A-listers.
Despite the fresh twist offered by Midnight Suns, the inclusion of a player-developed character draws on Marvel's tradition of bringing fans into its reality - or rather, in some ways, bringing the Marvel Universe straight to the reality inhabited by the fans.
The World Outside Your Window
Since the start of the Marvel Universe proper all the way back in 1961's Fantastic Four #1 - 60 years ago exactly, as of August 2021 - the publisher has made a reputation for itself as the home of the superhero universe that best reflects the real world in which its readers actually dwell.
In Marvel's early days, editor-in-chief and head writer Stan Lee coined the phrase "the world outside your window" to describe the feeling the Marvel Universe intends to impart by having its superheroes populate real cities such as New York and Los Angeles as opposed to fictional locations like Gotham and Metropolis, the two main locales of the DC Universe.
The idea of the Marvel Universe being "the world outside your window" is intended to convey the idea that readers who live in or venture to New York could find themselves lost in the fantasy of the Marvel Universe, looking up at the skyscrapers in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Spider-Man swinging past.
That phrase, "the world outside your window," remains a touchstone for Marvel Comics into the present day, with the entire Marvel Entertainment empire taking the concept to heart via 3D movies, immersive theme park attractions, and of course, games.
The tradition of Marvel games goes back to the early days of the medium in the '80s, with titles both big and small, legendary and forgotten, that span the many franchises of the Marvel Universe from the X-Men, to the Avengers, to the Fantastic Four, and beyond. But even with dozens of video games tied to Marvel properties, Midnight Suns marks the first time players will be able to fully customize their own hero.
Inviting readers directly into the Marvel Universe by allowing them to make their own character is blurring that line in a new way, creating an even more direct connection between fans and their favorite characters. In a way, Marvel is bringing its fans into the "world outside their window" via the TV in their living room.
There have been opportunities to explore the Marvel Universe in video games before, but adding an element that allows players to inhabit the world on their own terms offers a somewhat new perspective on the idea of interacting with and existing alongside Marvel's heroes - even beyond the feeling of just maybe being able to look up and see Avengers Tower on the city skyline that may come from the most immersive comic book stories.
Even though Midnight Suns is the first Marvel game to bring players into the Marvel Universe through their own fully customizable character, there's a long history of Marvel bridging the gap between the comic books, the people who create them, and the fans.
Along with coining the phrase "the world outside your window" in reference to the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee is one of the people credited with first, well, crediting people in a consistent way. In the Golden Age of comics, at the very start of the medium, it was commonplace for the credits listing the writers and artists who created the stories to be hard to find in the comics themselves - if not entirely absent.
Stan Lee, perhaps owing to his own sense of showmanship, changed that by turning the creators themselves into celebrities of a kind, giving them nicknames such as Jack 'King' Kirby, 'Jazzy' John Romita, and so on, prominently listing them in the opening pages of Marvel stories.
At the same time, he developed Stan's Soapbox - an editorial page from which he addressed readers directly about the goings-on not just in Marvel Comics, but in the offices of the publisher (in a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek way, of course), which he dubbed the 'House of Ideas.'
Coupled with extensive letters pages featuring a direct dialogue between the publisher and fans, as well as Stan's habit of adding fourth-wall-breaking editorial captions in Marvel stories, Marvel Comics fostered the sense that fans could walk right through the doors of the Marvel offices and straight into the actual Marvel Universe - perhaps even passing the FF's mailman Willie Lumpkin on their way in, or checking in with Iron Man's head of security Happy Hogan at the door.
The House of Ideas Comes Home
Like we said, Marvel's history with games dates back all the way to 1982, with the release of Spider-Man for the Atari 2600. At the same time, while early games were bringing Marvel along with them in their evolution through text-based RPGs, action side-scrollers, and more, tabletop roleplaying games were breaking through into the public consciousness thanks to the success (and controversy) of Dungeons & Dragons.
As such, it was actually original D&D publisher TSR that saw the potential of bringing Marvel heroes to the world of tabletop roleplaying, releasing the Marvel Super-Heroes Roleplaying Game in 1984, with a subsequent edition in 1986.
But even these early Marvel tabletop games didn't allow players to create their own heroes to adventure alongside well-established characters and fight infamous comic book villains. That wouldn't happen until 2003, with the release of Marvel's short-lived, in-house creation the Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game.
Marvel's last tabletop RPG, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, was created by famed Dragonlance co-author and long-time game designer Margaret Weiss. This system, one of the most in-depth tabletop games featuring Marvel heroes yet, allowed players to create their own characters, while also providing the tools to play established heroes and villains.
A new Marvel tabletop game, titled the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, is due out in early 2022 in the form of a Playtest Rulebook with an early version of the game system for fans to try out - including the ability to create their own characters.
At the same time, Midnight Suns is on the way for a March 2022 release on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, with Marvel taking their tradition of bringing fans directly into the Marvel Universe to the next level with the video game's main hero, The Hunter.
Combined with the new, upcoming, fully customizable Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, the player-driven Midnight Suns makes it clear that more than ever, Marvel is aiming to blur the lines between the Marvel Universe and "the world outside your window."
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