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Worldbuilding : A Description of Summer Island, its Districts, and Kapitans

by Ryan Sumo on 05/06/14 10:52:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The Geography of Summer Island



I wanted to expand on my previous blog post where I showed you guys the current state of Party Animals’ world map.  The map depicts Summer Island, a fictional tropical island nation.  The shape of Summer Island is actually loosely based on Samar Island in the Philippines, which is where Julius is from.  Fittingly, it was Julius’ idea to name it Summer Island.  It’s a play on words because the way Filipinos usually pronounce the word Summer is “Sah-mehr”, very similar to how you would say Samar.


On a side note, I want to mention how interesting it is how much geography matters to people.  The landmass of Summer Island is actually very loosely based on Samar Island.  I did that intentionally as sort of an Easter Egg for Julius, but as soon as he saw it he said “Hey, it’s Samar!” His cousin, a fellow Samarite (Samarian? Samarista?) also saw it right away.  Having lived in Metro Manila for all my time in the Philippines, I find it impossible to see the country as its individual parts, but I suppose it matters more when you actually live there.  I wonder how many people in the US have their home state’s geometry burned into their memories?


Summer Island is divided into 11 Districts, (we may call them something else in the future, like provinces or states) each of which has its own personality.  That personality is personified by the district Landmark and Kapitan.  The Kapitan is the leader of the district.  Sometimes they are the locally elected official, but in other cases they are simply the person who has the most influence over the people, making it important to sway them to your side.  I will talk about the Kapitans and how the player deals with them in another post, but I thought I would go over a few of the district Landmarks first, and where I drew inspiration for them.

The Kapitolyo



The Kapitolyo or Capitol, is the center of Political life on the island.  It’s the only occasion in the game where the Landmark represents the district but has no direct correlation to the district’s Kapitan.  You might find it odd that a US style Capitol is the center of power in a tropical island, but in the context of the Philippines it makes perfect sense.



From 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was a colony of the United States of America.  Leaving aside the obvious downsides of colonization, the US imported many ideals from their country to ours, including Basic Education, Basketball, and Neoclassical Architecture.  Daniel Burnham, who had a had a hand in the planning of the cities of Chicago and San Fransisco, also laid out a plan for Manila, the Philippine Capital.  His vision for the Philippine Capital was only partially realized, but it set the template for the provincial Capitols of the Philippines, including the Negros Occidental Capitol, seen above.




The Kapitan of this District is the Qwl, who represents the Intelligentsia of the island.  I’m not entirely sure yet whether the Owl will be a professor or perhaps a lawyer, but he needs to represent the desires of the elite of the island.  The elite are often quite insulated from society and cannot seem to grasp the idea of being poor, but they also have better educations and relatively wider scope of the issues on the island.

Rice Terraces




The Rice Terraces of the Philippines are a National Treasure as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Rice cultivating cultures have existed in the South East Asian region for centuries, and in mountainous regions many of these cultures devised this unique terracing method to plant and harvest rice.  This terracing is not unique to the Philippines however, as rice terraces also exist in China, Vietnam, Bali, and a number of other countries.  In the Philippines, the rice terraces of the Cordilleras are one of the few distinctive pre-colonial structures that remain to this day.




The Kapitan of this District is the Goat, who is a tribal elder that represents the desires of tribal minorities in the modern world.  The Tribal leader is fiercely protective of his culture and increasingly embittered as he sees the younger generation of his tribe migrating to the city center and abandoning the old ways.  While very serious about his duties, he does like smoking tobacco and other... dried leaves in his pipe.

Sabong (Cockfighting) Arena




Okay children, try to contain yourselves.  I didn’t mean THOSE cocks.  Although I’m sure there’s a little of that going on since Sabong or Cockfighting is a male dominated sport.  Cockfights are as old as time, and the first cockfights supposedly occurred 6000 years ago in ancient Persia and India, and continue on to this day in a variety of countries across Asia.  It used to be popular in Europe and even the USA until the practice was legally banned. In the Philippines, one cannot go 10 minutes outside the city limits without seeing the cage of a fighting cock (heck, there are even some in the highway overpass right outside our home).



I had a bit of a moral dilemma about whether or not to include a Sabong Arena, since I personally find the sport distasteful. Also, what sense would it make in an island populated by sentient animals that there would be non-sentient roosters fighting in a bloodsport?  Then I had a flash of inspiration.  The Philippines loves cockfights.  It also loves boxing.  Why not make the cocks boxers?  And so the Rooster Kapitan was born. It’s no secret Filipinos love our sports heroes.  Heck, it’s even rumored that boxer Manny Pacquiao has his eye on the presidency.  So it made total sense to have a prizefighting Rooster Kapitan heading one of the districts.  The Rooster Kapitan feels for the less fortunate, from whose ranks he came.  He dislikes politics, and if he could would reform government so that bills could be passed depending on 12 rounds in the ring.


*For 15 minutes of juvenile snickering, read this article on sabong.





The last Landmark I want to talk about is the Casino.  There actually isn’t a strong history of casinos in the Philippines that I know of, and until recently a government entity held the monopoly on casinos.  So I did some preliminary research on casinos in Cuba and Latin America, trying to see if I could capture the Tropico vibe.  Nothing really appealed to me so I kept digging around for Philippine architecture from the 50s, to see if there were any buildings with a modernist vibe that could stand in for a casino.  What I found was the Jai Alai building.



The Jai Alai building was a beautiful Streamline Moderne structure built in the 40s by architect Welton Becket.  In it, wealthy citizens could bet on the Jai Alai players of their choice while dining in the luxurious Sky Room.  The building somehow survived WWII and was refurbished by the US Army into a Red Cross Service Center.  Eventually it returned to its gambling roots but by the 80s it had fallen into disrepair and was known as gathering place for hoodlums and criminal overlords.  Sadly it was demolished in 2000 despite an outcry from heritage groups in the Philippines.



The seedy underworld reputation of the 80s Jai Alai building fits in perfectly with the Cat Kapitan, who is a thug that rose up from the streets to become a mafia kingpin. Loosely based on notorious local gangster Asiong Salonga, the Cat Kapitan is mostly interested in buying himself some legitimacy, and covering up his criminal roots.


Welp,  that’s about it for now.  I hope I didn’t bore you with all of that information, but hopefully it will intrigue you and make you want to find out more about the world of Party Animals!


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