Finding Ubisoft's Chicago
Real Life Locations by In-Game Districts
The Town Billy Sunday Couldn't Shut Down, but DedSec Probably Could...
Chicago is a town ripe with history of social disorder, crime, and triumph in the shadow of devastation. An unstoppable beast filled to it's eye lids with atmosphere and diversity, but also a dark history of homicide and corruption. Whether you're a pessimist or an optimist there's something for everybody in the Windy City.
For me Chicago was, and still is, a much needed chill pill that I have no problem in swallowing every chance I get. So of course making multiple visits in order to find the inspiration behind Ubisoft's team of developers was not a hassle.
I know not everyone likes WatchDogs, for whatever reason. Maybe it wasn't GTA enough, or they didn't like how their house wasn't put into the game street-for-street, or how you earn "asshole points" for killing cops (like Red Dead Redemption). Who knows? In my case I rented it from a RedBox after seeing The Equalizer at the old Rotunda Cinema. On top of that Chicago isn't really represented in a free roam environment very often.
Even though I am unfortunately not a native of Chicago I can still spot little nuances that seem to remind me of placed I’ve been to in the Windy City. Sure the game isn’t perfect but I still come back to it, having given it more of chance than most gamers seemed to.
This article is not to critique Ubisoft's job at making games, but to find the inspiration behind why they designed the game world he way that they did.
Note About My Youtube Videos
Below is a link to a Watchdogs Playthrough, that coincides with this article, about mission locations in the game. Below is probably the most relevant video as well as a link to a playlist of the whole playthrough. My partnership monetization policy has recently changed so if you could please subscribe to Foofighter288 on Youtube that would really help me out. AND give me reason to finish the playthrough of "Tour of Chicago".
Things Not Covered In This Article
For my research I focused mainly on the Hotspots in the game (the little checkmarks that are easier to see in Online Free Roam). I mean I had to start somewhere, but through my multiple playthroughs there are other little things I noticed that I might not catch right away or never took a picture of.
- Pawnee is not an immediate focus: Google the distance between Chicago and Pawnee. It’s a two hour drive. A couple people I have talked to say the locations are faithful to the town, and I take that on good authority.
- If it’s not a mob murder I’m not going: Yeah I hear your collective “awww man!” I know that sounds hypocritical, and there’s no glamour in death, but in my opinion the mob history is more interesting. Therefore Sausage Vat and Lipstick guy are not going to be visited.
- Some places are too out of the way: Pawnee isn’t the only place out of the way. Other locations like the Botanical Gardens are practically in other cities, while others are only accessible as authorized persons.
How Free Roam Maps Work
Game developers try to create an explorable world while still keeping to the limits of their technology. This doesn't mean devs don't have the freedom to add a sense of realism to their freeroam maps, when basing something off of a real place, but they have to set a cut-off point to keep it functional.
In the case of Watchdogs' Chicago that cut-off point comes in the form of oceans and mountains, which isn't a uncommon way of closing up a freeroam map. At least it's better than Bethesda's invisible walls, but in the case of Chicago's geography that's more likely the way an authentic Chicago freeroam map would work.
Another aspect of freeroam maps is crafting a theme in various sections of the map (slums, high-end, industrial, countryside (if it's a post-GTA San Andreas map), etc. Ubisoft have covered these trends in Watchdogs but also, in my opinion, subtlety covered a legitimate aspect of Chicago. Within this article I'm going to cover the "wifi hotspots" and how they compare to real lfe locations since it's possible Ubisoft threw these in to create a connection to real-world Chicago.
Not everyone appreciates this, and I can sympathize why especially if you're a Chicago native, but the point here is to try and find the inspiration
(A) Hotspot #1 "Windy City Shipyards"\Chicago Port Authority
Had to get a Google Maps picture of this. The main building is behind a toll road and is only accessible as an authorized dock employee. The fact that it’s the furthest south had nothing to do with my decision of not going there. Ok it might have had a LITTLE bit to do with it. It's literally right near the Illonois/Indiana state border. Come to think of it Aiden Pierce would probably be more useful in Gary Indiana as far as crime fighting goes...
(B) Hotspot #2 “Lakeshore Water Refinery”/Jardine Water Purification Plant
Jardine Water Refinery is actually located near The Loop, far North from the location that is depicted in WatchDogs. In real life it is just across the water from Navy Pier. There are three water pump cribs off the coast which pump water from Lake Michigan to the taps of residents in Chicago. I know it's not ultra interesting, but if you would like to learn more about it click the link to the right below the screenshots. It is a shame that that one "news" story I read about the culinary chef opening a restaurant on one of the water pump cribs was a hoax. Then again I probably wouldn't have been able to afford that place anyway.
Spotted this one by accident while playing tourist at the top of Willis/Sears Tower in July 2015.
(C) Hotspot #3 "Sienna Brick Factory”/Colonial Brick Factory
Considering it’s location I’ll bet a dime to a dollar THIS is the factory it’s based on. The courtyard also has a similar layout. In the Hotspot Info-card it's mentioned that a horror movie was filmed at the location. After a lot of research I discovered that the 2005 remake of Amityville Horror was filmed in Chicago, specifically the interiors in a factory.
That factory however is located in Buffalo Grove Illinois, pretty damn far north from not only the neighborhood of Bridgeport but Chicago in general. I also called the Chicago Film Commission, but there's no info on a movie being filmed at the Colonial Brick Factory. Not to say someone couldn't have made one off the books.
(D) Hotspot #4 The Four Deuces
What once was a thriving gangster club is now a automotive service garage for BMW’s… Still classy I guess. It also looks similar to the in-game location. However the surrounding area is more of a neighborhood than an industrial park like in the game. What's amazing about this part of Chicago is that a few blocks away, at Bridgeport, there are multiple warehouses. Most of which have been re-purposed into housing or offices.
Got a picture of this during my big December 2015 trip. You know the one where I dedicated it to working on this article.
(E) Hotspot #5 Cermak Bridge
It looks like what the developers did here was turn the neighboring train bridge into a street bridge. It even has the same grey color, where-as the real Cermak Bridge is an old rusty brown. The immediate area is indeed industrial. In real life there are two points of interest that I would like to research a bit more. Laurence's, a seafood restaurant, and some old large warehouse that looks abandoned. (And according to local folklore it's apparently haunted too).
(F and G) #6 The Yacht Club/Burnham Park Yacht Club
Ok so I might be stretching it here. Chicago has several “Yacht Clubs” throughout the city (on the lake side of course). The most likely being either the Carefree Boat Club or Canal Street Marina (since “Brandon Docks” is suppose to be South Chicago (though more like the “fly over” South where a lot of industry lies.) It could also be semi based on the Chicago Yacht Works due to the storage of the boats.
Anyway I ended up going to the Burnham Park Yacht Club since it was both close and considered prominent in the area. In my opinion I’m no where rich enough to afford such a boat so I really don’t care for this one. Next time I’m in town I’ll get pics of the other mentioned locations. Unlike the folks that go to “Yacht Clubs” I’m not really afraid of The Avenues.
(A) Hotpot #7: The Hit On Johnny Torrio
I went to visit this location back in May of 2016. At the time I didn't have a driver's license and I wasn't sure how bad Southside was going to be. Well guess what? It's really not as bad as the media makes it out to be, as long as you don't go down the side streets after midnight...
The driver, Mike, didn't really know where to go despite having a GPS in his Prius. Thanks to that we were able to go to this "bad neighborhood" where Johnny Torrio lived. However he was killed in The Loop near where the Chase Tower stands today. His enemies during the Beer Wars wanted it to be extra public. Despite Southside's reputation today this message couldn't come across in a quiet suburb.
(B) Hotpot #8: The Hawthorne Hotel
Ok so in all honesty I think I screwed up on this one. Al Capone's Hawthorne Hotel (the one referenced in the game) is actually in Cicero IL, not Hawthorne Terrace like my original research sent me. I am going to get pictures of the actual location of the Hawthorne Hotel when I go back to Chicago in April or maybe October (whenever I can get donations on Patreon). In the mean time take this as a public service announcement on how not to rush your research because of an impeding trip deadline.
(C) Aiello's Bakery/Aiello & Company Bakery
Back in November of 2016 I went to the west end of the Magnificent Mile to get photos of certain places in the area. One of which being the location of Joe Aiello's bakery. Which as you can see is now the location of a housing building. Though I'll give them credit for being a nice area. Despite recent events I'm certain it was even scarier being in this area during the 1930s... You know with the whole beer wars gangland killings going on I'm sure just trying to get some rye bread was a tad ballsy.
In real life the original building isn't standing anymore, but in Watchdogs' version of Chicago the building looks similar to a bygone historic site.
(D) The Stock Yards/Union Stock Yards
This location was unusually tough to find. Uber drivers didn't know the location, Google had multiple different answers, and some firefighters at the Truck 20 Firehouse weren't quite sure of the exact location but sent me in the right direction. At Hamilton Park I rented a Divvy Bike and made my west from the advice of a city worker who was fixing a bus stop.So I hopped on the #43 bus and the lady driving it told me that we were going to drive right past it, letting me know which stop to get off at.
Long gone are the vast fields of cows depicted in No Mercy (which was actually a set built up by Patrizia Von Brandenstein at some abandoned railroad crossing). Yeah I know it's a bummer, BUT there was a memorial for the firefighters who died there fighting a massive blaze in 1910.
(E) Rossi Freemont/Cabrini Green Housing Project
The large project block, where one of the game's antagonists operates out of, is based on a real place that had a long history of crime. The Cabrini-Green Housing Project was the real life hub for a lot of violent street gangs and criminal activity. The original main building has long since been demolished (unlike in the game), but the surrounding row homes remain (or "did remain" since they looked abandoned when I was there in November 2016) a hotbed for gang related crime. It should be noted that the area in which this housing project was located is just a few blocks West of the Magnificent Mile, not in the "ghetto South" Chicago depicted in the game (and most American media).
(F) Home of Lloyd Pinkerton/Pinkerton Detective Agency Home Office
This one was pretty confusing, and so far, caused the most amounts of Google clicking. Here is one of the examples of the developers trying to pull a double reference in one place. At least that's what I'm going to assume went on here.
First off the in-game gang, The Viceroys, are based on the notorious real-world Almighty Vice Lord Nation. Which was led, but not founded, by Willie Lloyd who joined the gang in 1960. Who in 2002 left the gang (after a couple of prison sentences) and THEN became an advocate for anti-gang movements. Judging by the info card at the Hotspot the fictional Viceroys were "Robin Hoods" and givers to the community. The reality wasn't that pleasant as Willie Lloyd was involved in many cases of murder and kidnapping up until his departure from the Vicelords.
The use of the name Pinkerton originally made me think this had something to do with the Pinkerton Detective Agency since it was founded in Chicago. The building where the main office was located is still in downtown Chicago. And it's what I got a picture of so you'll have to settle for this.
Whether we're talking Willie Lloyd or Allen Pinkerton I didn't get a picture of their original house. One because my research never turned up where Willie Lloyd lived (it's probably long since been demolished) and Allen Pinkerton was born in Glasgow Scotland... It could also be a reference to William Lloyd Garrison's house, but that's located all the way in freaking Boston.
(G) Murder Castle/Dr. Henry Holmes' Murder Castle
Yes I am aware that I said I wouldn't visit the locations of murders or serial killers. However THIS one, so far, is the only example that is JUST like the one in the game. In all the times I went to the Windy City I still have not taken the time to go here in order to get a picture of an underpass. Next time I am in town I'll go here to get a better idea of the area that Google street-view can't really give.
Also when the hell is Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio going to make that movie about Dr. Henry Holmes? It's been two years now!
After much research I can only assume this particular hotspot in the game is just here as a reference to the in-game gang's history. There are thousands of alleys in Chicago, it's the third largest city in the United States! I searched for gang wars, gang shootings, murder scenes, and you know how many alleys those occur in? So yeah I skipped this one. Sorry.
(H) Big Jim Colosimo's Cafe
I visited this location back in December of 2015. The neighborhood it's located in, on Wabash Avenue. It looks similar to the one in game, but the cafe itself has a courtyard and elaborately designed gate. In game it's just a generic building along a skid row type area. If you're in Chicago, and take the Untouchables tour this is one of the stops. At least that's what I hear, I haven't really taken any tours yet. I like to wing it!
Burned Down Factory
This is another hotspot I decided to omit because for it's numerous possibilities. There are several (if not hundreds) of fires in Chicago, and it's surrounding areas, every year. Have you ever watched Chicago Fire? Well I haven't, I'd much rather watch Chicago PD if Dick Wolf wasn't such a pecker and put the series on Netflix. I digress... The point is I DID take a picture of a burned out building back in 2015, chances are it could have been anything. This is hotspot is most likely a shout out to the brave men and women of the Chicago Fire Department and possibly also a reference to the great Chicago fire of October 1871.
(I) John A. Walsh Elementary School/John A. Walsh Public School
This school actually looks a lot nicer in real life than it does in-game (I know, duh). It's also located near Chinatown and is much larger in real life. In the game it looks more like the post office near Dr. Henry Holmes' Murder Castle. It DOES have a history of violence, but from what I've seen that must have been in the past. It looks like the faculty have a peaceful environment to work in.
This hotspot is related to the one just below this entry Murder Corner. In 1910/1911 this guy murdered 15 Italian immigrants and was never caught. All of which occurred on the infamous street corner. Was it mob related? Was it just a racist goofball with a gun?
(J) Deadman's Corner/Murder Corner
A notorious street corner that has been the site of several shootings, killings, and mafia/gangsta body drops. I visited this location (that's not far from the Rossi-Freemont/Cabrini Green Homes) back in November of 2016. At the time there was a long set of chain-link fence covering the block. Judging by the new high-end homes being built, literally across the street, I guess they are planning to demolish this area too. It's been two year, this street corner might not exist anymore since Chicago tries to bury it's past under a new paint job.