Announced at Gamescom 2021, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is an upcoming tactical role-playing game that embraces antiheroes, aims to expand the Marvel universe and brings a supernatural twist to your superhero gaming experience.
Developed by Firaxis (makers of multiple XCOM and Civilisation games) and published by Marvel Games, Marvel’s Midnight Suns is slated to launch early next year.
As we wait for that launch to roll around, RadioTimes.com had an exclusive chat with two of the main executives behind the game. And we decided to start that conversation back at the very beginning.
Bill Rosemann, VP of creative at Marvel Games, tells us that this collaboration between Marvel and Firaxis started because the companies are “mutual fans” of each other. Jay Ong, the head of Marvel Games, “was kind of obsessed with XCOM” – as Rosemann remembers it – and so he reached out to see if the team from Firaxis would be interested in working on a Marvel project.
Jake Solomon, creative director at Firaxis, recalls that he didn’t take much convincing: “Mutual admiration society is definitely the mildest way to put it. So yeah, that’s definitely how it started. But I mean, it’s like you’re getting called up to the big leagues or something. Marvel talks to you and you try to play cool, but you’re like, ‘Let me think about it… yes, definitely. We do want to do that’.”
Solomon adds, jokingly: “You know, obviously, my kids finally look up to me with a little more respect in their eyes when they find out their dad is working with Marvel.” This project has been in the works for years, and now they’re finally able to talk about it.
The era of antiheroes
Early on in the development of the game, Solomon and his Firaxis colleague Chad Rocco (the narrative director on Marvel’s Midnight Suns) drew on their own unique loves within the history of Marvel Comics. Solomon and Rocco both have fond memories of reading Marvel Comics in the late 80s and early 90s, during what Solomon dubs “the era of antiheroes”.
Solomon tells us: “I remember the first comic event I ever read was [a 1989 X-Men crossover] called Inferno. And it featured a character named Magik and this hell dimension of Limbo, and Magik and Limbo both feature pretty heavily in Midnight Suns because of that.”
He adds: “It was like the era of antiheroes. I read all the Punisher comics. And Venom was like, he would show up in everybody else’s comic at that time. Wolverine was at his antihero height. Ghost Rider. So Rocco and I both love that era, and there was some supernatural stuff going on like Inferno and then of course Ghost Rider.
“That was like, for me, the coolest time for Ghost Rider with Johnny Blaze, and so Rocco and I very quickly hit on that as like number one. Spirits of Vengeance, which was this Ghost Rider run, was one of our absolute favourites, which culminated in this comic book event called The Rise of the Midnight Sons.” This was the comic that introduced a supernatural superhero team called the Midnight Sons, which was founded by two different versions of Ghost Rider.
Solomon adds: “For us, also, supernatural felt like a great place. We both love Marvel supernatural comics, and so it felt like a great place for us to be where it’s like, OK, we can stretch our legs a little bit and work with characters that we feel we would love to elevate.”
Grappling with the dark side
Taking inspiration from Inferno and the Rise of the Midnight Sons comics, Solomon and his team pulled together the story for their Marvel’s Midnight Suns game. You’ll notice that the team name has changed from ‘sons’ to ‘suns’, partially because this collective of supernatural heroes now has female members too.
Ghost Rider (aka Robbie Reyes), Blade (Eric Brooks), Magik (Illyana Rasputina) and Nico Minoru (who was originally seen in a teen hero team called The Runaways) have all been confirmed as Midnight Suns members in the game, and a new character called the Hunter will also be joining the team as well.
Telling us how the game’s story starts off, Rosemann explains that household name heroes from the Avengers and X-Men franchises will turn to the supernaturally-tinged Midnight Suns for help: “When the game begins, the heroes that you know and love – Iron Man, Captain America [and also Captain Marvel, Wolverine and Doctor Strange] – they experience a challenge that they may not be experts in.
“And that’s why they reach out to the Midnight Suns. And so you have a great entry point through all the heroes that many people are familiar with through film, movies and comics. And our idea is that they’re going to, you know, connect [players] to these to the darker side of the Marvel Universe, and that everyone will get to know and love the Midnight Suns just as much as we do.”
Elaborating on what makes the Midnight Suns unique, Rosemann adds: “What’s really interesting about the Midnight Suns is they have amazing powers, but they’re all grappling with their dark side. And I think that’s a big theme to the game itself. I mean, even the name – Midnight Sun, right? So it’s all these juxtapositions of the dark side and light side. And that, I think, takes form in the Hunter and all the Midnight Suns – everyone is grappling with their own dark side.”
Creating the Hunter
The main villain of Marvel’s Midnight Suns is Lilith, an ancient demon goddess who also served as a major threat in those influential Rise of the Midnight Sons comics. In the game, Lilith is reborn through some Hydra experiments, and this inspires the Avengers and the X-Men to work with the Midnight Suns to resurrect the Hunter.
The Hunter is Lilith’s offspring, the main playable character in the game, and the only being that has ever defeated Lilith before. The Hunter is also being touted as the first fully customisable original hero introduced in a Marvel video game – “it was a real honour to work with Marvel to put a new superhero in the universe,” Solomon says.
Rosemann teases: “You as the Hunter, you awaken from the centuries-long sleep to a new world, but an old threat. And you are at the centre of this war, and you are trying to come to terms with your own history, your own dark and light side, and trying to save the day, and trying to step up and join this new family and stand alongside Marvel legends.
“And as the player, you’re able to customise and choose – who is the Hunter? What does the Hunter look like? And that’s part of the really interesting journey of this – becoming your own Marvel hero, standing alongside Marvel legends, and trying to navigate your way through this very interesting, dangerous corner of the Marvel universe.”
Players will be able to choose the Hunter’s gender and appearance in the game, and they’ll also be able to pick her powers – as you progress through the campaign, you’ll be able to pick upgrades from what Solomon calls “three main branches of power”.
There’s a dark branch, a light branch and what Solomon describes as a “power branch, which is more general.” There are over 40 abilities, and you will be able to pick and choose from different branches in the same play-through. Basically, as Solomon puts it, “you can define the style of warrior that the Hunter is”.
Supporting your squad
The combat experience in Marvel’s Midnight Suns will be quite different to Firaxis’ XCOM titles, with players collecting cards throughout the game which will alter how your heroes play in battle – a handful of these cards will be dealt randomly to you at the start of each scenario. The Hunter will take a squad of three fighters into every bout, and these encounters will be turn-based, with cinematic action beats woven into the experience.
Rosemann tells us, “it’s this whole flow of gameplay into cinematics”. As you play the game, “it’s a whole mix of strategy and being very strategic – picking your cards, picking your moves, your characters, and then that mixing with cinematics.” The recent gameplay trailer gave us a glimpse of this system in action – a cinematic shot of a giant-headed, flame-breathing Ghost Rider finisher particularly caught our eye.
This combat system combined with the deep customisation for the Hunter seems to create to some interesting combinations and team-ups. Solomon says, “What happens is that you kind of gravitate towards a group of primary heroes in each play-through […] and I find myself then making the Hunter complementary to those heroes, as every hero has a very well defined role.
“You know, Blade is very much a straight damage-dealing character that deals in a lot of bleeding, like damage over time, stuff like that. Iron Man requires a lot of a resource we’ve called heroism – he requires a lot of supporting, but he also supports his allies and then can do really devastating attacks.
“Captain Marvel, she is less powerful at first, and then builds to her binary state, and then she’s the most offensively powerful hero in the game. Nico is very supportive, and her attacks are very devastating, but she can’t specifically target her targets, and so you kind of have to play around that. And so, again, whoever you gravitate towards in a play-through, I find myself like moulding my Hunter to support the heroes that I love.” And that’s not to mention the three additional heroes that haven’t been announced yet – the grand total at launch will be 12 heroes plus the Hunter, and so far only nine non-Hunter heroes have been named.
Making the Marvel universe “bigger and better”
The Hunter isn’t the only new addition to the Marvel universe here, either – Marvel’s Midnight Suns will also add a brand new location called the Abbey, which serves as a base of operations for the Midnight Suns and their new pals from the Avengers and X-Men. You’ll pop back to this HQ between missions, and you’ll be able to explore the area and make friends with Earth’s mightiest heroes.
Rosemann tells us: “One of the key things about Marvel characters and teams is always their headquarters, right? So you have the X-Men in the mansion, you have the FF in the Baxter Building, and you have the Avengers first in the Avengers Mansion and then in the tower, and you have the Guardians in Knowhere.
“So we started thinking about the Midnight Suns, and what kind of headquarters we can give them. What headquarters would symbolise them, would encapsulate what it means to be on this darker side of the Marvel Universe?”
Taking inspiration from haunted houses and other locations from supernatural stories, Firaxis and Marvel worked together to iterate on the Abbey idea until they had something that – in Solomon’s words – “actually looks like it can stand in the Marvel universe.”
In closing, Rosemann enthusiastically adds: “Part of the Marvel tradition is, it is a big toy box. And we always want to open it up, look at it, and say, ‘Here’s a great character – they just haven’t had the spotlight. Let’s just put the spotlight on these characters’. There’s so many amazing characters. They’re just waiting for the right creator to come along and tell a story. And that’s how we view the Midnight Suns.
“We were all big fans, and I think the world is going to become big fans, because Firaxis is going to bring that love and that passion. And so that’s the goal – not only to look in the toy box and say, ‘Hey, check out these characters that are so awesome’, but also to add – how can we add? Here are these great toys, and then let’s add new characters, new locations, new experiences, and make the Marvel Universe bigger and better.”