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INTERVIEW: Midsummer Studios’ Jake Solomon and Grant Rodiek

Made up of a number of industry veterans, Midsummer Studios is planning to revitalize the Life Sim genre by empowering players to create and share meaningful stories through play.

Gamers Heroes recently interviewed Midsummer Studios’ CEO Jake Solomon and Executive Producer Grant Rodiek to learn more.

INTERVIEW: Midsummer Studios’ Jake Solomon and Grant Rodiek

Gamers Heroes: We are huge fans of Marvel’s Midnight Suns – our Editor-in-Chief even considers it “… the single best superhero video game ever made”! Jake Solomon and Will Miller have certainly got a magic touch when it comes to working on strategy games – what are some of the key learnings gathered while working on the strategy games at Firaxis?

Jake Solomon: Firaxis is a studio that shaped Jake, Will, and many of the developers who work at Midsummer. At Firaxis, the “fun” was always paramount when making a game.

We used lots of interconnected game systems to produce emergent, complex interactions that allowed players to be constantly surprised and delighted by the way their games took shape, each time different than the last.

We’re doing the same thing at Midsummer, though the game we’re making may seem very different on the surface, it really feels similar to some of the games we’ve made before.

Gamers Heroes: In Simon Parkin’s “My Perfect Console” podcast, Jake Solomon is quoted saying  “I can’t move too far away from what my experience is. I’m a creative director, but the truth is I’m actually a very in-the-weeds system designer.”

How is this detail-oriented approach to system design been applied to Midsummer?

Jake Solomon: System design is at the heart of our games. We want every player’s experience to be different every time they play, and we want our players to tell unique stories so that they have something to share with the world.

The only way to make a game endlessly interesting and replayable is through the emergent interactions of multiple game systems. We’re hard at work now at designing, implementing and iterating on those systems.

Gamers Heroes: Firaxis’ mission statement is to “build games that stand the test of time.” How are you looking to apply these same principles to Midsummer?

Jake Solomon: I think every studio probably aspires to make games that will remain relevant, playable and influential for years to come. At this point, our focus is much narrower, to be honest. We need to take the baby step of actually making our first game.

Gamers Heroes: Grant Rodiek is most certainly a major talent, and his work on The Sims series has addicted millions of fans the world over – including my wife! What are some of the insights from these previous titles you’re looking to implement into your new project at Midsummer?

Grant Rodiek: It is so important to create accessible, yet deep systems that really impact the game and a player’s choices. You never want to add complexity to a system for the sake of it. As Sid Meier always says, “who is actually having fun here?”

It is also critical to create systems that focus on strong relationships and characters who exhibit interesting behavior. Otherwise, your simulation won’t tell interesting stories.

Gamers Heroes: One of the projects Grant Rodiek was working on before his departure was Project Rene, which was designed to “coexist with other Sims games,” rather than replace them. How would you say this principle applies to Midsummer’s Life Sim?

Grant Rodiek: I think that is a little apples to oranges, in that that answer was specific to The Sims franchise focused on creating a game that is first, second, and thirdly about players creating and telling amazing stories. That focus is how we will stand out in an increasingly crowded space AND give life sim fans a reason to give Midsummer’s game a look.   

Gamers Heroes: The Life Sim landscape has changed considerably since The Sims came out in 2000; with runaway hits like Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Stardew Valley disrupting the industry. What are some of the key insights you have gathered since the turn of the century?

Grant Rodiek: Players want guidance on how to tell better stories. A lot of players have an idea in their head, but don’t quite know how to pull it off. Which makes sense, not everyone is a writer!  The sandbox or creative mode is amazing…once players know how the game works. But there is a massive opportunity to bring folks along by giving them great stories to tell and experience.

Gamers Heroes: The gaming landscape is changing from AAAA titles (Ubisoft’s term) to more AA and indie darlings. What is the scope of your upcoming project?

Jake Solomon: We’re currently targeting an Early Access release, so that probably puts us squarely in the AA space.

Gamers Heroes: Shanti Bergel, Founding Partner at Transcend, said they “have an abiding respect for how hard it is to deliver the alchemy of community, systems design, gameplay, and user generated content necessary to do so.” The latter point about UGC is especially important in today’s landscape, with titles like LittleBigPlanet 3 having their servers shut down. How are you looking to engage the community throughout the launch process and beyond?

Jake Solomon: A game like this can’t have any sustained success without community. We intend to involve our potential audience before we ever ship, because we need to work with them to ensure they have the game they want and the tools they need to tell the best stories.

Gamers Heroes: We are very intrigued by the storytelling tools discussed in the original press release email. X-COM was very much focused on combat-centric stories, where a favorite character narrowly avoided death or survived. How are you looking to make stories more impactful than life/death situations?

Jake Solomon: Stories are as impactful as the player’s level of investment in the characters. If our players begin to care deeply about the characters in their town, because the player has helped shape the events of their lives (good and bad), then the player will feel those characters victories and defeats just as keenly as any combat mission.

All those interested can learn more via the official Midsummer Studios website and can follow the studio on Twitter/X.

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Featuring a resume that spans the worlds of anime, gaming, and Twitch streaming, Kira Buckland is a standout voice actor in the space today. During FanimeCon 2024, Gamers Heroes sat down with her to talk about her wide range of work, cats, and how she engages with her “cowmunity.”

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Casey Scheld

Casey Scheld has more than 15 years of experience in the gaming industry as a community manager, social media director, event specialist, and (of course) gaming editor. He has previously worked with gaming start-ups like Raptr, publishers like Konami, and roller derby girls at PAX West (check out Jam City Rollergirls)! Gamers Heroes is a passion project for him, giving him a chance to tap into the underground side of gaming. He is all too eager to give these lesser-known heroes of the indie space the attention they so rightly deserve, seeking out the next gem and sharing it with the world. Previously making appearances at events like CES, GDC, and (the late) E3, he is all too happy to seek out the next big thing. For those that want to talk shop, send over a tip, or get an easy win in a fighting game of their choosing, be sure to check out his social media channels below.

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