When Firaxis first unveiled their new tactical superhero RPG Marvel's Midnight Suns in August of 2021, its card-based battle system proved to be a point of contention among its audience, so much so that when the game was delayed a short while later, rumours started flying that the studio was going back to the drawing board on the game's combat and dropping the cards entirely.
"Hah, that was wishful thinking for some people!" laughs creative director Jake Solomon when I ask him at GDC how he felt about those rumours at the time. It's well-known now that the delay was simply about polishing the game rather than anything more drastic, but to Solomon's credit he does also concede that he was perhaps "a little naïve" at the time for thinking it would go down without question.
"I think I can be fairly criticised for being a little naive in my adherence to the philosophy that if we make the best game, that is the best we can do," he tells RPS. "I genuinely believe that the card design was the best tactical design that we could come up with for that game, and the theme of the heroes."
As such, he says the negative comments about the card system "never really bothered me." But he was conscious of how it would affect his team. "I always worry more about the team having to see that stuff, because me? I'm always like, it's fine. I don't begrudge anybody saying that. I think it's totally fair for people to say that."
Indeed, in dealing with that initial sense of disappointment, Solomon says he does understand why people had a bad reaction to it: "Before, I never had an experience where people had expressed disappointment before playing, you know? I think a lot of people were open to it. You're hopeful, and I think that's been the case, that if people play, they go, 'Oh, I get it, I love this'.
"As we told people from the beginning, it's not an accident, we don't share a single mechanic with XCOM. Yes, it's turn based tactics in combat, but there are no shared mechanics. And so I think when people play it, they get it, it's really fun, and you can get as addicted to this as you can to XCOM. But I also totally get it when people look at the images coming out and go, 'What the fuck is that? Are those… are those cards? Cards!?'," he says incredulously. "So yeah, I can sympathise with people for that reason."
Personally, the cards are one of my favourite things about Marvel's Midnight Suns, and you can read more about why in my Bestest Best-approved Midnight Suns review.
You can also read more of what Solomon has to say about his career at Firaxis and why he's swapping turn-based tactics games for a future in life sims right here, in my extensive interview. There are more stories to come from the making of Midnight Suns, so keep an eye out for them.