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Watch Dogs: Finding Ubisoft's Chicago
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.
Things Not Covered In This Series
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.
(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.
(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 prominate 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.
(H) 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.
(I) 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. In the mean time take this as a public service announcement on how not to rush your research because of an impeding trip deadline.