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XCOM, The Sims veterans found Midsummer Studios, a new team tackling the life sim genre

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If you’ve followed PC strategy games for a while, you may recognize names like Jake Solomon, Will Miller, and Grant Rodiek. You’re certainly familiar with the games on their resumes; Solomon helmed the XCOM franchise for years, and collaborated with Miller on Marvel’s Midnight Suns, while Rodiek hails from The Sims.

These three, alongside COO/CFO Nelsie Birch, have founded Midsummer Studios, a new developer looking to break into the life sim genre. Yes, it’s some competition for The Sims.

Formally announced today, Solomon will be CEO and Creative Director, Miller will be Game Director, and Rodiek will be Executive Producer on an as-yet-unnamed project. The pitch? Well, it’s all about life. Speaking to Solomon ahead of the official reveal, the CEO tells me their company name came from both his own life, experiencing midsummer festivals, and wanting something “welcoming and warm.”

A new venture

Midsummer is starting small, having just about 11 people at the moment. There’s some talent here, from Firaxis. And when I asked Solomon about starting a new studio in the current industry conditions, he notes how rough layoffs and funding restrictions have been.

For Midsummer, the company is opting for venture capital, with $6 million raised from investors so ar, including Transcend Fund, Tirta Ventures, Betaworks Ventures, 1Up Ventures, F4 Fund, Krafton, and Day Zero Productions. Additionally, Midsummer is establishing some policies up-front: unlimited PTO, and shared equity in the company.

“I think it just makes sense,” Solomon told me. “I think that a new game studio is a start-up. I know they don’t all work like this, but we just kind of viewed it as, the people who are joining us are taking a risk, for sure. Even if we’ve worked together for a long time, we’re a small studio. We, you know, haven’t done anything. So for people to join us, they’re taking a risk. We’re the lucky ones to have them. So I think it made sense to say, anybody who joins the studio is going to get equity.”

A day in the life

So why a life sim? Well, in some ways, it felt natural. XCOM does lend itself to some systems-driven storytelling, after all, and the War of the Chosen DLC for XCOM 2 leaned further into those ideas with bonds between soldiers.

“Genuinely, what happened was, I made XCOM and I loved XCOM,” said Solomon. “And one of my favorite parts of it was XCOM was like, player-driven narrative. We had a very thin narrative in XCOM, but really, the story was the ones you made up with your soldiers, and how they survived, and the choices they made. And there’s a lot of head-canon, a lot of projecting.”

As Solomon iterated on this, a modern life sim looked like the right answer for how to keep pursuing that. The unnamed sim is set in a “small town,” where everyone has lines connecting their lives, whether through family, friendship, romance, rivalry, or other situations. The creative director remarks that, from Stephen King to Gilmore Girls, small towns are a recurring setting in storytelling.

The idea is to have the player manage drama, big and small, while going about their day. But in a broader sense, the angle is storytelling. There are “themes,” as Solomon describes, that the player will be able to establish early on.

“I want it to be, I’m looking for my soulmate and the town is filled with wacky characters,” said Solomon. “Or I have a close group of friends, and I’m estranged from my family. I want to succeed in my business, and whatever. And the game goes oh, if you’re trying to tell that story, then I’m actually going to generate a cast of characters in the town to help you.”

The power of creation

While you can set the framework, though, Solomon also says there will be a creative mode. The systems of this life sim will be open to storytelling, but also manipulation, whether that’s altering characters’ looks, moods, or tinkering with any other setting.

Ultimately, Solomon points to those narratives and community as pillars of their project moving forward. It’s why it seems likely that Midsummer’s games will launch in early access—that’s just the plan now, though—and hear out feedback. It’s also why systems play a big role in talking about this game.

“I think a game like this is like, half a toy,” Solomon tells me. “That’s probably what’s most different about this from other games that we’ve made, is that this one is at least half a toy, if not more.”

That sort of creativity and freedom could lead to a burgeoning community, built up by word-of-mouth, sharing their stories and creations. The idea of creating a town, whether based around a compelling concept or a pre-existing set-up, veering into fan fiction, and sharing those with other players to have their own takes on the stories is compelling.

We’ll have to see how Midsummer shakes up the life sim genre. While The Sims has long reigned supreme, new competitors seem to be emerging. And if it’s got a bit of the emergent storytelling I personally dug from games like XCOM 2, then I’m all ears for whatever the full reveal.


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