XCOM designer Jake Solomon is done with turn-based strategy and is now making a life sim inspired by small town dramas like Gilmore Girls

Jake Solomon smiles for a company headshot
(Image credit: Midsummer Studios)

After two decades as the uncontested king of the genre, The Sims is suddenly surrounded by aspiring usurpers. Today yet another life sim has been announced, and this one is from an unexpected source: the former creative director of XCOM 2 and Marvel's Midnight Suns. In an interview with PC Gamer, Midsummer Studios co-founder and creative director Jake Solomon divulged how his career making strategy games has actually always been building towards his longtime dream of a relationship simulator and his plans for a small town full of Gilmore Girls-style drama.

Solomon says he learned everything he knows from Firaxis Software co-founder and simulation game tycoon Sid Meier, who's best known for the Civilization series. After working on Civilization games himself, the games Solomon later took creative lead on started to zoom in on characters and relationships with the soldier bond system in XCOM 2, and then the friendship system in Marvel's Midnight Suns, a game he affectionately describes as his "little hero dating simulator" that he "lavished way too much attention on." 

Marvel's Midnight Suns (Image credit: 2K Games)

Now he wants to ditch combat entirely, which it turns out was something he'd been hoping to do all along. Solomon said he was done with turn-based strategy last year after leaving Firaxis and hinted at his interest in life simulation. Now he says his dream as a designer has always been a game about high school and dating. "I think these things have always been kind of brewing in the back of my mind. And they've probably manifested in each game that I've designed," he says. 

Midsummer Studios' first game sounds like it isn't solely about high school dating, but it's definitely all about the drama of personal relationships.

The basics of Midsummer's yet-to-be-revealed game, as they stand, are this: You'll decide what kind of story you want to tell, whether it's about romance, family, or something else entirely, and the game will fill the town with characters and generate relationships between them—it almost sounds like starting a game of Dwarf Fortress. From a Sims-like overhead view of the world, you can play through a story divided into scenes where your character has wants and needs and has to juggle those relative to time, or you can go into a creative mode to inhabit any character you please, edit relationships, give orders, and play around in your sandbox. 

We want the player to feel like they have enough things that they want to do in any particular scene but they can't possibly do all of them.

Jake Solomon

"You're guiding a character through their daily life in a small town—and a small town is a very narrative rich environment," Solomon says. "Whether it's Gilmore Girls, which is the one I bring up maybe too often to my team, or it could be Stephen King … It's a narrative rich environment because everybody knows everybody." 

Each scene is less about managing want meters as in The Sims series and more about juggling your character's motivations at any point in time. Scenes might have modifiers, like an unfortunate case of intestinal distress that will make your character want to go to the bathroom several times while trying to get through a date. If you aren't feeling the scene you're in though, creative mode lets you ditch the scene constraints entirely.

"We want the player to feel like they have enough things that they want to do in any particular scene but they can't possibly do all of them," Solomon says.

Creating your own drama 

The idea is to create conditions that are ripe for generating "emergent stories," and though that's often a buzzword, Solomon has some specific ideas about what that means from his own time spent playing The Sims.

"I love The Sims. You play it and this amazing stuff happens. I'll be like: is my wife flirting with the old neighbor? What the fuck? And you want the game to be like: dun dun duuuuun!" 

The Sims 4 (Image credit: Maxis, Electronic Arts)

He envisions a game that recognizes when a dramatic moment is happening by understanding the relationships of everyone involved, and giving you a satisfying nod of the head for the drama you've managed to construct. 

"The audience that we're interested in is the people, like if you go to Tumblr, they're the people who share the stories of their characters through screenshots and they do a lot of really, really incredible work," he says.

"What we're wrestling with right now is that there have to be some curated storylines but I think we want them to be very, very high level," he says, describing something that sounds a little like the events system in Crusader Kings 3, except with more dialogue. "The way we handle this is a character will come up to you and say 'oh I heard your father is back in town,' and this is a dialogue tree where the player has three very different options like 'I never want to talk to that man again' or 'yeah, he's here because he's getting married and I don't like his fiancee.'"

Solomon caveats this by saying that the details of all these systems are still being iterated on—adding that Midsummer Studios currently has 11 members and expects to become just 13 "for another year or so." It's clear the studio is already playing with very early prototypes of everything he describes, but it's a lot of very high-concept talk right now. I can't picture exactly how this game will play, but I do like where his head's at.

More Sims, more wins 

The Sims 4 (Image credit: EA)

As much as the XCOM guy pivoting to a life sim warrants a double take, he does seem to get Sims players, referencing popular Sims 4 mods like Wicked Whims and the differences between Alpha and Maxis Match custom content.

As for the potential of a modding community for this game, Solomon is enthusiastic, saying he believes that mods are "essential," though isn't positive yet on the exact details around the level of support and tools Midsummer will share with players.

Our guiding star is the idea of relationships and story

Jake Solomon

With all this talk about the live drama of a life sim, what about the build mode folks like me? Solomon says they want to eventually have decoration and interior redesigns and building your house from scratch, but as for having those things in for the initial launch he's not so confident. "Our guiding star is the idea of relationships and story and so that allows us to kind of deprioritize other features."

As has been the sentiment in the community for a long time, The Sims series deserves a bit of competition. Where other upcoming competitors are attempting to replicate the full spectrum of character-creation, building, and life simulation that The Sims offers, Midsummer Studios seems like it will focus on that love of relationship simulation that Solomon is excited by. 

The announcement from Midsummer Studios today confirms the formation of the studio and its acquisition of venture capital funding, so it will likely release well behind other, more near at hand, choices like Inzoi and Life By You. It has also announced two other co-founders: Will Miller also formerly of Firaxis Games and COO/CFO Nelsie Birch. Grant Rodiek, formerly of Maxis Studios, will be its executive producer. Though we don't have a name or release window, Solomon says the studio is "probably targeting early access" for an initial public release when it happens.

Lauren Morton
Associate Editor

Lauren started writing for PC Gamer as a freelancer in 2017 while chasing the Dark Souls fashion police and accepted her role as Associate Editor in 2021, now serving as the self-appointed chief cozy games enjoyer. She originally started her career in game development and is still fascinated by how games tick in the modding and speedrunning scenes. She likes long books, longer RPGs, has strong feelings about farmlife sims, and can't stop playing co-op crafting games.