How Marvel's Midnight Suns Deviates from the XCOM Formula and Firaxis's Collaboration Process with Marvel
Sounds like the team was Marvel-ous to work with!
In a recent interview with Eurogamer, Firaxis creative director Jake Solomon spoke about the development process of Marvel’s Midnight Suns, a card-based strategy game releasing for the Nintendo Switch at an unreleased date. Firaxis, a renowned strategy game developer known for games such as the XCOM series and the Sid Meier’s franchise, detailed the background and challenges they encountered for this superhero-themed title.
Interestingly, Solomon detailed that Marvel directly contacted 2K, Firaxis’s publisher, with a request that the XCOM team work on a game in the Marvel Universe. At the initial meeting, Marvel’s team seemed keenly aware of XCOM, and were far more interested in Solomon’s ideas than pushing certain characters or plot points onto the development team.
Marvel was also incredibly responsive to Firaxis’s initial pitch, including the creation of a customizable hero, which–in Marvel’s words–had never being done before. Despite Solomon’s worries that such creative liberty would not be permitted, Marvel was eager to work with the team and only wanted to ensure that they understood what the team meant to be “[a hero in] the Marvel universe.” Marvel encouraged the development team to create the story and game the team wanted to make, and Marvel did not attempt to swap out the roster for the game. Marvel was more so interested in ensuring that the player-character would be compelling to players and not look displaced against heroes with backstories or costumes with decades of comic history. While Marvel was interested in how the player-character, called Hunter, would appear on the front of the box, they even allowed Firaxis to permit user generated content, despite the obvious inappropriate and out-of-character creations which could result.
The longest approval process with Marvel’s Midnight Suns occurred with character design, particularly costume designs, which were done in house at Firaxis. Solomon noted how, since the game is set in the 90’s, costume designs often were based on comic books for those characters from that time period. If a comic book character did not have a great amount of source material from which to pull in the 90’s, or had a wildly variant sense of style, such as Nico Minoru, Marvel and Firaxis had more back and forth in the appearance of a character.
Firaxis also did a great amount of writing for the game in house. Despite the game having the feel of an older comic book or a recent Marvel movie, Solomon insisted that Marvel was “additive” and not “restrictive” when it came to writing the story for the title. If characters in the game were going to a certain location, Marvel might suggest that the narrative include a character who would thematically fit well into the situation the writers were creating. Firaxis wanted the game to have the tone of a “Saturday morning cartoon,” where a dark storyline could be broken up with funnier beats, or a more serious character could be written in a more lighthearted manner.
Despite Marvel’s knowledge of XCOM and the obvious pedigree of the game series, Firaxis also knew that they could not rely upon the core of XCOM for Marvel’s Midnight Suns. Solomon details that, unlike XCOM, no superhero will be dependent on cover to stay alive or miss abilities. This passion for the source material resulted in Firaxis creating all-new systems with new mechanics to fit the fantasy of a player being a superhero.
While Firaxis believes that the game will be as entertaining and challenging as its other titles, the development team noted that the introduction of cards, as a stand-in for abilities, will permit players who may not have experienced a Firaxis title to experience the complexity of a strategy game without the intimidation such systems often present.
By reading the full interview, it’s readily apparent how much Solomon and the team at Firaxis respect and love the Marvel Universe. Here’s to hoping that this passion, as well as the experience of the development team, will translate into a super game.