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Interview With Jake Solomon, Former XCOM Creative Director And Midsummer Studios Co-Founder – Emergent Narrative Is King

The last time Jake Solomon announced he’d be working on something that wasn’t XCOM, it was still a turn-based strategy game, and he was still developing it at Firaxis.

That game was Marvel’s Midnight Suns, a game that, while perhaps not another XCOM as fans would’ve wanted, has been able to find a community of players who deeply appreciate its take on these seminal Marvel characters.

Since the release of Midnight Suns however Solomon announced his departure from Firaxis, and has finally revealed what his next chapter will be. He’s taken other Firaxis veterans along with him as co-founders of Midsummer Studios, where the team’s goal is to create a new Life Sim game that revolutionizes the genre.

For PSU, I got to speak with Solomon about his experience in co-founding Midsummer, what he and the team hope to create with this new Life Sim game, and what growing a sustainable studio looks like for him and the rest of Midsummer’s founding company.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Interview With Jake Solomon, Former XCOM Creative Director And Midsummer Studios Co-Founder – Emergent Narrative Is King

PSU: I wanted to start back talking about Firaxis. You spent 23 years with the studio, a long tenure that is for others their entire career in games. What was the point that made you think you wanted to go out and start your own team?

Jake Solomon: That point came the moment Sid Meier stabbed me in the back [laughs]. No I’m just kidding, I love him. It was towards the end of Midnight Suns. I’d worked there forever, I’d worked with Sid for a long time.

And then I became my own creative director and started designing the XCOM games all the way up through XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen and after that I made Midnight Suns. I love those games, obviously I love turn-based tactics, but towards the end of Midnight Suns I got the feeling that I kind of wanted to go back to more player driven narratives.

In XCOM, most of the narrative is driven by the player because their soldiers are randomly generated and there’s a lot of complex systems that interact in ways that are unpredictable, and there’s really high stakes. We do a lot to build storytelling, your characters, they earn nicknames and they have home countries and then in WotC we had the idea of soldier bonds where two soldiers could form this relationship.

So I love the emergent storytelling part and after making Midnight Suns I started thinking about [how] what I’d really like to do is go back to a game that does player storytelling. But the problem is, I got this worm in my head, which was I really wanted to kind of double down on emergent storytelling. I really wanted [that] to be the point of the game.

What you do in the game is write a story, the choices you make end up writing a dramatic story – and it can be funny, it can be dramatic. Then I kind of got obsessed with the idea, and the time came when Midnight Suns was pretty much done, I had already got my head into a place where I was like, this is not a game for Firaxis.

This is something else and it just felt like the studio was kind of at a transition point, and it just felt like this is the right time for me and I should probably follow this because with that idea in my head, I wasn’t as excited about -.

It’s not like I wouldn’t love them. There’s an alternate universe where I am making another XCOM game or another Midnight Suns game and I’m perfectly happy.

I just thought, in this one, this is probably the best time for me to start my own studio and do this game, that’s at least on the surface very different from what I’ve done before.

PSU: Jumping off of that, what’s your thought process around opening up a new studio in a time when the games industry’s in a lot of turmoil? I understand you can’t plan these things, when the time is right, the time is right. But what was it that made you really feel the time is now, or not at all?

JS: I think part of it was me being – as often the case is – dumb. I was like, ‘All right, this is the time for me design wise. I finished Midnight Suns, the next step, obviously, is that I’m gonna leave in a very amiable departure, I’m gonna open my own studio.’

And I went out there and I was like, ‘S***. There’s not a lot of funding going around’. Again, I wasn’t assuming that I’m so great it would be a piece of cake to get funding. It was more just this [feeling] ‘Somebody’s got to be interested in this,’ and obviously somebody was. Multiple people, and I’m very thankful for that.

But it was definitely cold water when it was, ‘Oh actually there’s not a lot of funding right now.’ And I think this happens in waves where the first thing that happens is, there’s not a lot of funding for new things. And then the next thing [wave] is, unfortunately, you see layoffs from existing things.

Right when I went out, it was the end of funding. I think a year maybe two and a half years before that you could sneeze and probably get funding for a new idea.

When I went out, it was this, ‘Oh there’s really very few studios being funded,’ and then quickly after that you see all the layoffs start happening like late Summer, Fall and it’s all just this cascade and it’s very unfortunate.

I think part of me entering the market at that period was just me being stupid, and I had been under the shelter of a large publisher and I’ve been at Firaxis for 23 years, and then you kind of step out and you’re like ‘All right world, who wants a piece of me?’ and then it’s just crickets.

I was very fortunate that I talked with a lot of great people and I was able to secure funding with my two co-founders, and the nice thing is we’re venture capitalist-backed. It’s not a publisher arrangement, we’re independent and that’s really nice when you’re starting your studio because you get all the money up front and you can say ‘All right, we have this amount of money and that means we are in charge of all the money.’

It’s not a publisher arrangement where there’s milestones and things like that. It’s like, ‘Here’s the money,’ and we are in charge, mainly through hiring, how long this money lasts for us.

So we are in a position where we got, maybe a couple of years where nothing’s going to change on us, and I feel very fortunate because the industry, as you pointed out is really turbulent right now. So it’s kind of nice to be in a position where we can feel secure for the next couple of years, just focusing on building our prototype.

PSU: Did you find there was an extra layer to the challenge of securing funding when you would say “And it’s a Life Sim game!” ?

JS: That depends on who you’re talking to, because it’s a good question. Number one the people who were first excited to talk to me were like, ‘Thought you were going to do a turn-based tactics thing,’ and I was like ‘No way man!’

But when you’re talking about building a studio and at the heart of the studio is this game. It’s not hard to sell the business proposition of a life sim, right? Because there’s two sides to this.

There’s a clear, genre leader in The Sims, which is massively successful, massively. And you can say they have virtually no competition. There’s new competition coming, there are some new life sims being made. But you could say even a year ago there’s no competition for this massively successful game. It’s very odd that in our industry when any game is remotely successful, typically there will be lots of versions of that to follow.

That doesn’t happen with life sims, and so if you talk to the right people then they see that on the business side, there’s a pretty clear opportunity. There are people that I talked to who said ‘We’ve been waiting for this. We’ve been waiting for somebody who, with their team would be qualified to make this and also understands the opportunity that’s here’

So yeah, in some people, they’re like ‘I don’t know,’ some people, you mention life sims and you have to mention The Sims of course because they’re the leader and they’ll be like, ‘I don’t know, I played that game 20 years ago,’ or ‘My girlfriend played that game, I don’t play it,’ right. It’s an interesting game that’s so successful, but it’s oddly under the radar.

I think it depends on who you talk to, some people’s eyes light up when you mention life sims.

PSU: One thing that piqued my interest in the press release is that, this debut project from Midsummer plans to “reinvent the life sim genre”. What does ‘reinvent the genre’ mean to you?

JS: [Jokingly] Oh that’s business speak, haven’t you heard that before?

PSU: I have, but words still mean something.

JS: I think there’s a couple of ways you can approach life sims. I think one is a sort of all encompassing simulation of life, like a sandbox-y simulation. You can go over and do everything and I think that’s the dominant way to do things.

I think what we’re focused on is we still want to be life-in-miniature, we still want the player to have the ability to customize their environment and steer their character through life, but we are much more focused on the idea of the narrative and the narrative that the player creates. We are much more focused on the moment-to-moment.

Let’s say, in a life sim, sometimes they focus on the base human needs; you need to go to the bathroom, if you’re thirsty you’ve got to drink and you gotta eat. I think those things are important, and so we still have those, but we use those only in the sense of, ‘How does this help make this moment interesting?’

So if you’re on a date, and you’ve got to go to the bathroom, and then you’ve got to go to the bathroom again. We add things like that, like, you’re starving, you need to go to the bathroom, and you need to take a shower because you’re late for work. That would be what we call a ‘scene’ where – the player is still going to do whatever they want, it’s still a sandbox – but we use those in more of a narrative way to [ask] how are you going to navigate this?

Internally, we think about it like, you cannot play our game without writing a story, an interesting story where it’s like, ‘This happened and then I made this choice and then this happened with my relationship with this character.’ So we’re really focused, again, on the idea of emergent narrative.

It’s still modern life, the idea is it’s sort of encapsulated in this small-town narrative. That’s the basis for everything, from a Stephen King novel to Gilmore Girls, British murder mysteries. Small-town narratives are very powerful, the idea that everybody knows each other, so you get this interesting web of relationships where everybody knows everybody. So the things you do will rebound back to you and there’s meaning to the things you say, in the choices you make.

That’s really the focus for what we’re working on, and so when we talk about life sim, it’s not an attempt to do what other people have done before, we kind of want to head in this new direction where it’s focused on story.

PSU: Two quick questions, because something you said piqued something in my mind. So, my wife loves Midsummer Murders, and I –

JS: You did not just say that.

PSU: Is ‘Midsummer’ a reference to the show?

JS: So, Midsummer Murders is my wife and I’s favourite show, and I didn’t reference it, but when I say British murder mysteries, I meant Midsummer Murders. There’s been like, 26 seasons, we’ve seen each and every one. It even kind of knows its cheesy sometimes, now it’s like people will die in the most ridiculous ways, giant wheels of cheese will fall on them.

I love Midsummer Murders, it’s my wife and I’s favourite show. So yes, that small-town narrative I think is really powerful.

PSU: The other quick question, do you have a code name for this debut project, and if you do is that codename Dusk?

JS: [Laughs] So, we do have a codename, which we’re not sharing, but it is not Dusk. Unfortunately Dusk is in my rear view, and I hope that somebody takes that and makes an awesome game out of it. That idea is public domain now, so yeah not Dusk. But that’s funny.

PSU: Well, I just wanted to clarify. Thinking about this [interview], I was wondering if this was Dusk coming back

JS: There’s too much baggage if I say the word Dusk. But yeah, I hope somebody does make something like that.

PSU: You have a long history with Firaxis, there are still fans who even just last month were wishing you were still there. Do you think there’s something for those fans in this game you’re making at Midsummer?

JS: I mean, I would say that it’s an interesting thing I’ve given a lot of thought to. This even happened with Midnight Suns where it was not universally appreciated that we were making Midnight Suns as opposed to XCOM 3. And I recognize that even when people say it to me in a not very nice way, which is fine. I’m a big boy and I’ve been on the internet for a while.

I just remind myself that it comes from a place of ‘They liked what I did before,’ so it’s not a bad thing necessarily. I wish they wouldn’t use those words, but it’s not a bad thing. The funny thing is, I’ve always wanted to – I’ve talked about this before – I’ve always wanted to make a game about high school. I thought, going back to high school, using the exact same design techniques that I’ve always used, tactics and strategy.

You could just make a game, it doesn’t have to be violence-defined, but you could still do it where, you get into relationships and I’d always thought about using the same design tools I have to make games about high school. I always wanted to make a game about dating and relationships and so for me, I think the people that play this game, and then play the [my] previous games, they’ll go ‘I see it.’

But the thing is, I’m a designer, so to me I find the theme very interesting and I find the systems and the design very interesting. But from a player’s perspective, theme is a huge part of it. They have to look at it and go ‘Sure, I want to play a game about that.’

And if I say, ‘This is a game about writing a small-town narrative that can go any direction. It can be shocking, it can be romantic, it can be humour.’ That has to be interesting to a certain person. And then, what is the Venn diagram with people who play XCOM or Midnight Suns and that, I don’t know, but it’s not a full circle, I’ll tell you that.

I appreciate that it won’t be universally greeted and that’s fine, I think that’s perfectly fine, I totally understand that. So if you want to come along for the ride, if you want to see more about it, or if people are just like ‘That’s just not for me,’ I totally get it.

What’s that Star Wars like where Padme says, ‘You’re going down a road I can’t follow,’ some people might be saying that to me, and that’s fine.

PSU: I know you’ve spoken before on how you really like to get into the weeds when it comes to systems. If you can speak to any of it now, what’s something that you’re really excited to leverage system wise or excited to explore with this new game?

JS: I always love the idea of gamifying, and it’s been really gratifying when you talk about games I’ve made before where combat is a core mechanic. You’re kind of systematizing things that have been systematized before, so you’re starting with some great stuff, hit points and damage, etc.

So we sit here and we go ‘Okay, we don’t have combat, but we still want a game where, moment-to-moment I [the player] has interesting choices.’ It’s a much more free game than my previous games, I think because they’re turn-based and this game’s much more about here you are, set inside this scene, sandbox, and you kind of do whatever you want.

But we want to make sure that you have a number of objectives, if you’re at your job you have things to do, but you also want to go talk to this person and maybe my character want to relax a little bit. So it’s more how do I work all this out, what are the rewards for doing it what are the ramifications for not doing it.

What we want to do is systemize things like building talking to people, relationships, drama. So we want to reward players for generating some interesting drama but drama not being a negative thing. Romance is drama and surprises are drama and friendship is drama. Trying to find ways to put gameplay systems on top of these, for me feels like a very new concept.

There’s not a lot of games that do this and trust me, because I looked, if I can steal something I absolutely will but there’s not a lot like this and so that’s been really fun, to sort of say, I’ve got all these tools in a designer’s tool bag and you pull these things out like ‘f*** this is the wrong wrench’ and that doesn’t work at all.

But then you find there are ways to put resources into this, put choice into this to where you feel like I’m still looking at life-in-miniature and I’m moving my character and making choices but now the battlefield turns into this scene of I’m at work or I’m at home. I’m getting ready for work or I’m on a date or I’m at the park. How can we turn these into, for lack of a better word, playgrounds basically where you have a lot of interesting choice.

As a designer, that part has been sort of really fun to do.

PSU: I’m interested then, in a post-Baldur’s Gate 3 world, where you have a huge amount of text and scripted parts, but so much of what makes that game great is the story that the player creates along with that. How do you see Midsummer walking the line of scripted narrative and player emergent stories? Is it going to be similar to Baldur’s Gate where you have mountains and mountains of text?

JS: No, I think one of our challenges is how we figure that out. For it to be truly emergent, we have to allow our players to kind of do anything within the tools that they have, but when you think of life sim, some of the fun is the sandbox nature of it. To say anything to anybody, and to do anything and to have something react.

And whether that response is encapsulated through text I think is the challenge. When you look at something like The Sims, it’s all Simlish as they call it, it’s all nonsense words. So how we convey that to the player I think is something we’re working on now, we have some really cool ideas.

But there will be no scripted narrative in the game. The game is truly intended for the player to be like, ‘This is the type of story I’m trying to tell,’ so we go ‘Oh, if you’re trying to tell that kind of story then this is how we change the characters in the town.’

It’s really interesting, one of the most important things when you tell stories is relationships, which again is why small-towns are great because you can start to say, here’s a starting town for you.

And by the way the player can edit all this at the start – but we said, ‘This is interesting, even when you do this almost randomly, you get really interesting ideas.’ We put multiple relationships on this cast of characters around and all of a sudden you find, my dad who I’m estranged from is my neighbour and my co-worker is actually an ex-lover and this secret crush of mine works across the street.

If you start to just get into the game that way, which is already different from any other life sim, we’ve kind of seeded it with relationships, and you go ‘This is already a really interesting situation where now my behaviour changes, the way I look t people changes and there’s enough to where the entire town has a web of relationships, and so we think about the player can choose to not only write their main character story, but their town story.

Think of like a Stephen King novel, where it’s Needful Things and you’re like the devil incarnate seeding chaos or it’s Touched By An Angel where you’re trying to bring people together. That all comes back to interesting relationships between characters and there relationship to your character.

A lot of it feels like very new ground design wise, and of course it’s very exciting. Of course the flip-side of exciting is terrifying but the good word is exciting. So I won’t say terrifying, I’ll say exciting.

PSU: What’s the thing that makes you really love player emergent narratives, versus scripted narratives – maybe not versus, but what is it about creating emergent narratives for you?

JS: Versus is a fair question. I’ve done them both to a pretty decent extent, to a pretty decent size. For Midnight Suns, if you took all the cutscenes and – this is what YouTube is great for – you watch all the cutscenes, it’s over three hours. It’s bigger than most Marvel movies.

That was a very personal narrative for me and the writers and we had all this scripted narrative, which was awesome. But that’s because I’m a hardcore Marvel Comics nerd. That was a very personal experience, and then on the XCOM side, the only scripted narrative we had was this thin layer on the top which was ‘Hey look, the aliens are doing this, but you can fight it how you want, you can do it when you want.

And the players, the minute-to-minute narrative is these soldiers are my best soldiers, they’re going into combat and seeing how this mission turned out. For me, I find more joy in providing people with the tools to tell story.

More than, the thing I’m most excited about and is by far the thing that’s the most different with what we’re doing here is that this is one of those games that’s half game, half toy.

We really do it as our job as much as we can, take our hands off and the wheel and let the player play and create. To the point where the game has a creative mode that’s accessible at any time.

It’s like Minecraft, you start playing Minecraft in survival mode and it’s pretty clear what you need to do, survive the first night and not die. Then you start crafting, you start upgrading stuff and you kind of go off in your own direction. But you also have this creative mode available where it’s like I don’t even care about the game anymore, I’m pure toy now.

And for us I think that’s important, what we’re making is this game but it sits on top of a toy where at any point our players can [presses button] turn on creative mode and say ‘Actually I want to take control of this character and I want to make this character do this which will change the story. I’m gonna have this character walk up and slap my main character and then I’m going to force a conversation between these two characters, and I want it to be about specifically this thing.

I think that the toy aspect is really, really important and that’s probably the most different thing than what I’ve done. I just love the idea and those are the parts of the games that I enjoy that I’ve come to enjoy the most. Games that are creative, I just think they’re endlessly interesting and so being able to make that makes it easier because you play what yo make and it’s just an easier experience.

PSU: Then would it be correct to say yours and the team at Midsummer’s goal is to create something like a Minecraft or Fortnite that is a ‘forever game’?

JS: Yes, maybe not Fortnite, but because the idea of giving more tools to tell different kinds of stories, like you would never run out of things to do as a player, you’d never run out of things to make as a developer. So yes, the intention here is that the game is something that, again, is a toy that’s also a game and a creative environment where players are telling stories and they’re sharing stories and it becomes a way for people to tell new kinds of stories, and I view that as a game that there’s no end.

Though it’s going to be a premium purchase game, it won’t be free-to-play. We’re actually thinking mid-premium, in that sort of $30 to $40 sweet-spot.

PSU: There are a lot of forever games out there right now though. Of course there’s risks and concerns with creating anything but do you have a concern specifically about making a forever game, during this period where it’s not so much what players are spending their money on, it’s what players have time to play, this attention economy. How much of that is a concern?

JS: I think there’s two sides to this. One is that I think, even the two you called out, Fortnite and Minecraft, I think the thing they did correctly was they made a great game first. I remember Minecraft in 2012. It was a forever game in the sense that it was this crazy, new experience and you’re like ‘what the hell is this, but I’m not going to stop playing.’

I think that would be closer. I think the key is that it doesn’t feel any different with what we’re doing, We’re not compromising what we’re making in terms of, now let’s worry about the two years post-launch milestones. It’s like the only thing keeping us up at night is ‘let’s make the best game.’

I think the other thing that makes this possible to think about as a long-term game is there’s not a lot like it that I can think of, so that’s the thing that we get excited about. Honestly we’re thinking of a small, dedicated community of players. You think of something like No Man’s Sky. Is that a forever game? It is, because they made a forever game because the community let them.

Now, they have the greatest story in gaming because the launch was something else. Again it starts with you make a game, I would consider, you start with a small community, you work together and you give them something. And then the community kind of feeds each other, look at this awesome thing, look at that awesome thing.

I think that’s kind of the inspiration behind doing what we’re doing, I think that’s where the toy side comes into it.

PSU: Yeah, I was one of those people who bought No Man’s Sky at launch and was disappointed with what I got that day

JS: Oh I was too – speaking of Dusk, I had just assembled my team to start making Dusk, and we were going to make this voxel landscape. we’re gonna have creatures and the creature is gonna be customizable and you can kind of build any creature you want. And the idea was that planet to planet you’re saving the ecosystem of every planet you visit by altering the creatures.

[Pause] see, this is my problem, already I’m starting to get excited about this idea again. But I just assembled my core team to make that when, the No Man’s Sky trailer – do you remember the trailer that came out for No Man’s Sky at The Game Awards or something like that?

PSU: Yup.

JS: I watched that and I was just like, that looks pretty cool. It looks just like what I wanted. It was something like I don’t know if it’s zeitgeist or even more just part of who we are as gamers, that trailer was like, that’s everything I want right there.

Then they had that journey, and then six months later they were like, well who’s left still playing the game, okay we’re gonna build with you guys, and we will put in multiplayer, we will put in all these things.

PSU: I remember watching the trailer, and the moment you get into the ship and start flying up, and you just keep going up, until you break the atmosphere.

JS: I can see it in my head, and then you’re just in space. Then they went underwater and showed you chemical makeup of the water…I had one of the first copies, and I remember when I played it later that it was the longest update experience of my life because I had an original disc. Which, just proof to Hello Games and how they stuck with it, but I was like ‘Another 7 GB update? Jeez.’ But that’s proof to how much they put in.

PSU: Coming back to Midsummer, from your director role at Firaxis you’re stepping into a full CEO role with Midsummer, and those are big letters. What’s that transition been like for you?

JS: Big letters, yes, though when you’re less than 10 people it’s not quite as big as they sound, I can tell you that. I still view myself, you know, as a designer. It’s interesting because, back at Firaxis, Midnight Suns was a huge team. Internally, well over 100 people and externally hundreds. So I’ve definitely been at the top of many more people with a larger work chart.

It’s a fair question where it’s like, there’s the little thing of ‘Okay, we’re gonna start a studio’ and then that means you’re gonna be a business, and how much do you know about corporate tax and blah-blah and, my God I spent some time talking to lawyers.

One of my co-founders, Nelsie [Birch], she comes from the public sector, not from games, and I was very fortunate to bring her on because that’s what she does, she does operations.

We are all in office, our team, and speaking of leaving Firaxis, these are actually the old Firaxis offices, so I went and got the old offices and got my team into those. This is actually, this building, this floor this is where I started my career with Firaxis, 23 – now 24 years ago. And the first guy we hired was Sid Meier’s son, Ryan Meier. He’s a great engineer, and I still get to see Sid, because Ryan’s here. So there’s still a strong Firaxis connection.

But having things like that, having people with payroll and healthcare and we want to treat them really well and we have an office and you’re signing contracts for funding and raising funding and all those things that are CEO responsibilities that, I didn’t need to do at Firaxis, that part has been interesting.

It’s fine, but my responsibility has always been to take care of my people, I was always most worried for the people on my team, my folks. I want to create great games because that way, the team’s taken care of. That part hasn’t changed so I don’t feel any particular extra stress than I ever felt, and the business side of things is fine but I’m still most passionate about design, and that’s where, luckily now that we have everything lined up that’s where I’m spending most of my time.

PSU: Something else that I wanted to ask about that I saw in the press release was a line about growing the studio sustainably. I’ve spoken to other studio founders where sustainable growth is a huge focus for them, for example the Bell brothers with Gardens. What does growing sustainably mean and look like for Midsummer?

JS: Actually, Gardens and us are both funded by the same VC, Transcend. For us, I think that means being really careful with who we hire and how large our team is, what our runway looks like and how we treat our people so this is a place where you want to come to work. We want everyone who works here to work here forever.

And we want to be be very careful in adding to the team and growing the team size to make sure we stay at this level that protects everybody. We have values in place that, we want to be the best studio for people to work at because they feel secure, because they feel respected and making sure that we don’t, even given the opportunity, we don’t explode in growth because that means that we can protect ourselves and be here for a long time.

And we can try to shield our people from the ups and downs in the industry, I think that’s really, really important to us.

PSU: I recently attended Level-Up Showcase, an event in Toronto where game development students are able to present their capstone projects to industry developers, and in speaking to them about getting into the industry out of school, many of them looked to layoffs just as part of the deal. What they were concerned with was not wanting to be at a studio where the environment is incredibly toxic. Are you thinking about studio culture every day?

JS: Yeah, so we just had a company meeting, even though we’re under 10 where we reviewed our mission statement, our vision statement, our values as a company, making sure that everybody felt like they felt aligned with those, that those were the values we should have moving forward.

Our number one – and this is so important to me – when we founded this company, it’s ‘good people making great game,’ and the good people part is first. The people that we have here, there’s no room for personality conflict. It’s really critical for us that it’s really warm, it’s really respectful, that people see the values and align with those.

One of our values is ‘Work hard and go home,’ where it’s like, look, we all are really passionate about this game. But the reasons we have unlimited PTO, they’re the reasons why we say ‘We’re not going to send you emails on the weekend or at night.’ Founders might to each other but never to the people who work with us. The expectation is you work really hard and then at the end of the day you go home.

You’re not sitting here working on weekends, nobody’s in here working nights, and nobody does. Again, do the founders do that? Maybe, but we don’t even communicate with the team past certain hours. I think that if you have the right people, you plan the schedule the right way, you’re careful with the money and you give yourself some leeway to say, if we all work hard and go home, we’re gonna be fine.

We’re careful about the size of the company, we’re careful about who we hire. And it starts at the top, where you have to be somebody – I know I’ve never raised my voice to anyone. You’re passionate about the game, for sure, but game’s are a collaborative effort. Having that be at the core of who we are, I think that’s an important part.

So yeah, even less than 10 people, we just had a meeting on our values to make sure that those are things that represent us. So that’s a big part of it as well.

PSU: That’s great, but I just want to clarify, are you under 10 people or are you 10 people, because looking at what I was sent, I count 10, including you.

JS: Are we 10? You’ve called me on something now and I’m not entirely sure…if we’re not 10, we’ll be 10 within days, so maybe we are 10. I’ll say 10 just to keep me safe.

PSU: Okay, I just wanted to clarify, it’s still a small studio size –

JS: I think you’re right…that’s funny…hold on *yells out to someone off screen* ‘Hey Grant, are we nine people or 10?’ Okay so we’re 10 with an 11th joining us in June, so yes we’re 10. [laughs]

PSU: So what do you see now as the next big step for Midsummer, and does the public reveal coming make it feel more real than it did before?

JS: That’s a good question, I don’t know, give me a call on the day. So right now, I told my team which was even smaller at the Christmas party last year, I said this next year is going to be the most fun year in our development lives, this current one that we’re in because the funding is there, we don’t have any deadlines, even self-imposed deadlines.

What we’re working towards is our prototype basically, iterating on the prototype. So next year we’ll probably have a demo that’s work showing but until then it’s a really awesome year of just have a small team of 10 growing to 11 that’s kind of focused on building the prototype and finding the magic. So that’s really the next step for the foreseeable future.

And will it become more real, maybe. I think locally a lot of people know about us, in our small number of people we did hire a lot of people from Firaxis, so our studios locally we all kind of know each other. But I suppose it’ll be nice to have that out there.

PSU: I’m sure it’ll be good for people to finally know what you’re up to. Last question, as someone who’s about to start playing Marvel’s Midnight Suns, do you have any tips for me?

JS: Yes I do. One I would say, use Magic and Iron Man as much as possible. Not just because I designed them but because they’re crazy powerful characters. Magic is my favourite Marvel character, so there was never any question that Magic was going to be in our game. I think she has a very interesting an awesome story because I was staring over the shoulder of people working on her all the time.

So yes I’d say play with Magic, use Iron Man, Spidey is great too. I mean, they’re all balanced to be – the nice thing about making a game like Midnight Suns with a ton of heroes, because it wasn’t multiplayer, it wasn’t a forever game which is really kind of difficult to balance and design. Instead we were able to be like, ‘what feels right for these characters,’ so we were able to basically just make them all overpowered.

I’d say Magic and Iron Man, and then you have to choose which path your Hunter goes down, whether dark or light. I guess that’s up to you.

PSU: I know myself, I’ll probably be picking light. For whatever reason I’d feel bad even hurting a digital person’s feelings.

JS: The funny thing is that when you look at the stats, most people play light and it’s the same thing when, in the old Mass Effect games, everybody was paragon, no one wanted to run renegade because renegade was like, ‘alright, would you like to strangle a puppy now?’ and you’d go ‘for what?! I don’t even understand the benefit of that.’

Or ‘here, would you like to say something that makes you out to be a clear a******?’ and it’s like, no thanks. What’s interesting though about the game we’re making now is finding ways to entice players in conversations, in guiding their town, not to be bad, but to do things that they don’t expect. If players follow their own internal values all the time, what will happen is they’ll play the same game over and over again.

What we’re making, that’s not what we want. We want to reward players for saying what if you did something humourous, you’d actually receive twice the reward as if you did something friendly and if you did something romantic, you’d see three times the rewards. So the player finds themselves in situations where they say ‘Well, I wasn’t going to do this, but I’ll take a stab at it.’

The hope is that you leave players down a path that allows them to surprise themselves.

Thank you to Jake Solomon for your time and generosity in your answers, and a special thanks to Sarah Dawson for helping to make this interview possible.