A series I've been working on since December 2015. Looking for where Ubisoft got the inspiration for "Watch Dogs'" version of Chicago.
The heart of the city is in The Loop, Chicago’s downtown district. It being the biggest tourist destination of course makes it the region of the map with the most hotspots. Thankfully for me, and my researching nature, a lot of these hotspots are specific references or at least easy to discover. For my trip in December 2015, I hit most of these, and some I got by accident earlier in July of the same year. Not all of the locations in “The Loop” are situated in real-world Chicago, but that shouldn’t be a revelation if you've been following this series thus far.
Other Regions of Chicago Covered:
- Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "Brandon Docks"
- Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "The Wards"
- Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "Parker Square"
- Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "Mad Mile"
- A full playthrough of "Watch Dogs" with some commentary
In this video series, I did a full playthrough of "Watch Dogs" (plus it's DLC expansion "Bad Blood") comparing mission locations to real-world spots in Chicago. There isn't as much commentary as I originally planned, but that's probably a good thing.
Meadowmoor Diaries/Meadowmoore Diaries
First of all, the hotspot info card is spot on. Al Capone really did try getting into the dairy business after he went to jail, and three months after that happened his organization opened the Meadowmoor Dairies on 1334 South Peoria Street. Some say he did it for the money, I guess my optimistic side wants to believe Al Capone did it for his son. So that kids like him wouldn’t get sick from spoiled dairy products, whichever.
When I went here in December 2015 I got a picture of the Les Miller Field. Which is used as a baseball diamond for the University of Illinois’ Flames softball team. I followed the directions to the letter! I swear! Like I’ve said in the past Chicago has a way of burying its criminal past for better things.
Where I Got The Address
South Tech University/University of Chicago and Illinois Technical Institute
I'm thinking this is more of a reference to I.T.I. than the University of Chicago, but there are a couple of things that make it's another double reference. Firstly it's located near the Meadowmoor Dairies and Bloody Maxwell (more on that below) hotspots. So it seems like they're at least paying homage to the University of Chicago with its geography, a subject matter they don't get right with the free roam map as a whole, but I already went over that. The idea that it's a reference to I.T.I. is in the name and the building that's on campus.
As for what they look like in real life; I.T.I. looks like your typical tech college, but the University of Chicago makes the college I went to look like a heaping pile of horse shit, and compared to the degree I got from mine it's just about the same. However, in Watch Dogs the college grounds literally remind me of the university on the second island of Grand Theft Auto III I kid you not. It's almost like the developers were also trying to show admiration (or copy in some way) Rockstar.
Bloody Maxwell Police Station/7th District Police Station
This hotspot is very close to the previous two (much like how the real world references are quite close to each other, even despite the free roam map’s condensed nature). “Bloody Maxwell” was a police station built to increase police presence in what was, by 1880’s standards, Chicago’s deadliest neighborhood. Of course, nowadays it’s the home of the University of Chicago's campus police. So thankfully, the “bloodiest” this “Maxwell” gets now is when there’s a drunken punch up between a Brad and Chad over who stole whose Juul.
Stafford Memorial Fountain/Buckingham Fountain
Does anybody remember Married With Children? Does anyone realize how many Chicagoans I pissed off by mentioning this? Is “problematic” a word mainly used by black hipsters? None of these questions will be answered here by visiting the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain, but you will get a chance to see one of the prettiest landmarks in the city (if not the country). Something Ubisoft looks like they tried to do but then squeezed it down into a swimming pool with dolphins. Which doesn't look as amazing, as I made that sound.
The Lexington Hotel
The Lexington Hotel was one of Al Capone’s many residences during 1928-1932. Like most of the awesome things during this time period, it was demolished, in 1995, and is now the site of a post-modern structure. “The Lex” pictured below is an apartment complex. Considering the style of gangster Chicago has these days it’s probably home to Tommy Mumbles and his codeine posse.
Near this location is also The Four Deuces and Big Jim Colosimo’s Café literally right around the corner. Although in Watch Dogs these locations are considered set in a completely different region of the city . . .
Palin Correctional Center/Metropolitan Correctional Center
For those of you who live in Downtown Chicago did you know that you are living near criminals!? Yeah, that’s probably not a surprise, but did you know you are living near ones that are in prison too!? For the criminals who have actually been caught and prosecuted, in a court of law for whatever good that is, there is the Metropolitan Correctional Facility. A jailhouse that was built to hold prisoners of all security levels; from pickpockets to “oh my God what are you doing with his face!?”
In Watch Dogs one of the main story missions occurs here in which the main protagonist, Aiden-I’m trying to sound like Batman-Pierce, surrenders himself to within minutes be put inside the facility. I don’t remember the details of the mission but I’m sure it takes some proceedings in front of a judge to get here? I also don’t remember how he got his phone and ASP baton into the building, but then again maybe we shouldn’t look into THAT detail either.
The Raven Building
This was the building where City Hall was located after the great Chicago fire. Based on the info in the Hotspot card it was a tricky hunt for information. After the Great Chicago Fire staff moved into the First Congregational Church (originally at Washington and Racine Street). The current church is now at 1305 North Hamlin Road. City Hall staff were only there briefly before moving into a temporary spot built specifically for the interim stay (located at LaSalle and Adams street), which became the Raven Building as it’s named in Watch Dogs. They worked here before the Chicago City Hall we know of today was built. Addresses gathered from here. Everything else was Google detective work, so as always take it with grains of salt. Feel free to comment if you have any theories.
Directly across the street from the Chicago Theater/Ambrose Theater is this ABC affiliate that appears to have an open window studio (similar to Good Morning America). I was never in the area while they were recording any programming, but you can clearly see into the recording studio. Due to the number of tourists, cameras, and urinating hobos I would imagine that it's a two-way soundproof mirror?
Seventh Federal Bank/The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago
During my December 2015 trip, I was able to grab pictures of a lot of these hotspots within a single night. I also refrained from doing any drinking this night. Yeah! actually, remember the lack of drinking I did in order to concentrate on the profess... no wait I had a pitcher of beer at Buddy Guy's. Whatever! I managed to get a picture of this while literally lying on a nearby curb. So similar to a veritable drunk.
Alright look when I went to Chicago, for the very first time in July of 2015, I got talked into going to this tourist attraction. I'm not going to go into all of the details, especially since I already did in an older article "Killing The Blues In Chicago", and I would just end up going off-topic here. For what it's worth you gotta go there at least once if you're visiting Chicago. In my opinion the John Hancock Building has a better view, but Willisears Tower is worth it. At least in the off-season when it's not packed with angry foreign families, about to start a war on the Kasmir border, to get ten seconds in the glass box . . . What a disorganized mess. Whereas the John Hancock Building has its special observation deck closed off with a single entrance and exit. Oh, it's a little crowded? Go have a coffee AT THE CAFE while you wait. Can't do that at Willis Tower, you have to forfeit and head to the basement for a bite to eat. It's a fucking tourist's nightmare I'm telling you.
Anyway, back on topic, the Willis Tower in-game, and it's surrounding area, is somewhat accurate to the real thing. Geography is off, but it's clear Ubisoft spent a lot of time around here and/or it burned in their memories enough to get it right.
Bootlegging Factory/Sieben Brewery
The description of this hotspot doesn't get more basic bitch than this. After an unusual amount of research put into Chicago's "Beer Wars" I surmised that the location for this hotspot was 1464 North Larrabee. Mainly thanks to this article that I came across during my Google research. In November 2016 I went to the location to discover that it's another closed high school used for police training. What the hell is the deal with old high schools being re-purposed for police stations?
It's clear this was another Capone era location that was paved over for the sake of progress. This particular bootlegging factory being attacked was a direct result of the Hit On Johnny Torrio. In-game it's depicted as some kind of gentrified hipster neighborhood. So I suppose the former is a better alternative than handlebar mustaches and overpriced micro-brews. Oh my gawd, like soooooo ironic that this is a "bootleg factory". . . No no pick up your gluten-free kale chips Trevor, I was being sarcastic again. Seriously you should have figured it that time . . .
Harbor Lighthouse/Chicago Harbor Lighthouse
Technically, in real life, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is not on an island. It's attached to a rip-rap that I would assume (probably wrong) is the way for personnel to access the lighthouse?
In the game, it’s a full-on island because . . . Well, what’s a free roam map without a mysterious island off the mainland? Plus the game has boats so obviously one of the developers decided this was a good idea. Apart from map-making oversights, this is the location of the game’s conclusion (cause why the hell not right?) and it’s also the location of a dead body for one of the side investigations. Because of its out-in-the-lake island location this could also be a reference to the offshore water sheds which pump lake water into the water purification facilities in the city.
City Marina/Monroe Harbor
Just like with Parker Square Marina this is a composite of the multiple marinas, and harbors, on the lakeside of Chicago. However, and not to give Ubisoft too much credit, it does appear to be based on Monroe Harbor. As of July of 2015, I noticed a lot of boats anchored in this area.
In the game, it’s also located near Stafford Memorial Fountain/Buckingham Fountain. Although in real life there are no docks (which would be more like Burnham Harbor or one of the many marinas further North). There is also no warehouse just off-shore like depicted in the game. From what I’ve seen it does appear to be a prominent harbor due to the vast amount of water for “docking” one’s boat.
The Secret Six
Ok so, like me, you’re probably wondering “Eric what the hell is this? How can you incorporate another game reference into real life?” (bonus points if you’re from Chicago and were doing that a lot already). Well after doing an insane amount of research, and using what little info the hotspot card gives, I discovered that The Secret Six was a real group of businessmen that were fed up with Al Capone’s operations. They formed after Phillip Meagher was shot outside of what is now one of the University of Chicago hospital's Neonatology wing. From what I can surmise they fought crime with a checkbook and through connections.
Although they did carry out their own investigations through buyouts and subterfuge. Realistically I doubt any of them put on a bat cape and started kicking mobster ass. For what it’s worth they are said to have been responsible for uncovering Al Capone’s tax evasion activities which eventually led to his imprisonment.
Miller’s Rail Bar/Miller’s Pub+The Rail/Ravenswood Bar
Imagine you’re a hard-working game researcher going around the Windy City collecting information for an upcoming video game. It’s a multi-million dollar project (really this game cost $68 million, Google it). You and your crew have a bottomless budget, it’s been a long day, and you’re bragging in a French accent about the hard work you’re putting into the project. The bartender says “wow that’s cool, if it’s a free roam game could you put our bar in-game?” I don’t know anyone that worked on the game, I don’t know if this happened, but from my experience shooting the shit in various watering holes, I bet a dine-to-a-dollar that it happened EXACTLY like this.
Therefore we get this double reference to two of the best, and well known, watering holes you can drink at in the city by the lake. Miller’s Pub is situated in The Loop of Downtown Chicago, but The Rail Bar is located much further North in Ravenswood. Coincidentally The Rail Bar is also known as Ravenswood Station Bar, but in December of 2015, it was still known as The Rail Bar. Go ahead Google “The Rail Bar Chicago” it’s still the same place, they must have changed owners since I’ve been there?
Face Fountain/Crown Fountain
When I first went to Chicago imagine my surprise when I walked across Michigan Avenue and saw a giant face in Millennium Park. It was the 4th of July so the streets were semi-packed with people. A large crowd was in the park with children giggling and running about. I understand why Ubisoft called it face fountain. In game it's a hexagonal sculpture that still displays images. During the story the main character, Aiden Pierce, hacks the sculpture to play a blackmail video in order to recruit another character to his revenge mission. In real life Crown Fountain is a large rectangular block displaying images on all sides. One of the coolest being a face that squirts water out of it's mouth.
Chicago Commerce Building/Chicago Board of Trade
Chicago’s answer to Wall Street and an elderly middle-class couple’s worse nightmare for retirement funds; The Chicago Board of Trade. The stockbroker “magic” happens somewhere inside this majestic skyscraper at 141 West Jackson. I went to this location unassumingly during my first visit in July of 2015, while hell-bent on trying to find places where The Untouchables was filmed.
In-game the building looks similar, and it even has the statues in a courtyard. However, this courtyard is part of a cobblestone road that runs past the Miller’s Rail Bar hotspot mentioned above.
Vault Tower/Chase Tower
This was another one of those times where my research was spot on, but for whatever reason, I didn’t visit the location until my trip in November 2016. It wasn't hard Vault Tower looks just like Chase Tower. The surrounding area is also similar; especially the courtyard. The cafe in-game is actually a McDonald's, but in the same general area. Of course not to give Ubisoft too much credit there is a lack of trees.
Bram Steffan Pavilion/Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Wether you're a music lover or someone that admires amazing engineering Jay Pritzker Pavilion is pretty outstanding. Unlike other outdoor concert venues, J.P.P. has a trellis work, above the grass field, holding a series of speakers that replicate the acoustics of an indoor concert hall. I have never experienced a concert here, but the idea of it sounds amazing.
In Watch Dogs, like other areas around “The Loop," looks somewhat kindred to the real-life location. Though there’s more of a hill because I guess playtesters complained everything was too flat IN DOWNTOWN CHICAGO? Come to think of it locations like this might have been the reason I started doing this project. Realizations are never good while writing . . .
Forever Sculpture/Cloud Gate
I would have gone ahead and called this "the bean" but I don't want Chicagoans to think I'm trying to fit in again. Cloud Gate is another interesting attraction at Millennium Park that is typically surrounded by tourist, but when you can get close chances are it's the "off-season." Which means it's cold enough for an overcoat, but at least you can get close enough to enjoy its reflections.
The in-game "Forever Sculpture" is less like a bean and more like a strange doughnut. I suppose for legal reasons it had to be done that way . . .
Chicago Arts and Sciences Center/Chicago Cultural Center+Museum of Science and Industry
This is gonna be another hotspot that’s a stretch, as if 90% of this project isn’t one already, but this was another one I had to double check. Because of it’s location, and building design in-game, it’s mostly based on the Chicago Cultural Center. It’s a Ubisoft game, of course they’re going to reference a Cultural Center to offset the fact they made a whole region of the map a ghetto. I visited this location in November 2016, and like the ass I am, mistakenly thought it was the courthouse from The Untouchables (seriously though is it!?). I didn’t have much time left in my trip so I had to keep it brief.
In December of 2015, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry thinking that the “Chicago Arts and Sciences Center” was based on this. I mean if they’re not going to reference the Field Museum (which is definitely a MUST visit if you’re in town) then at least they could be paying some homage to the Museum of Science and Industry, even if by name only. I might be making an error with this one by even bringing it up, but I don’t think anyone’s going to see this anyway. Otherwise, you’re probably reading this from the future determining if you should fire me from whatever movie I’m directing for your studio.
The building in Watch Dogs looks very much like the real-world Chicago Cultural Center, but there are no German U-Boats, I’m just letting you know now.
Randolph Street Subway Terminal/Millennium Station
Based on the name it’s Millennium Station which was formally called Randolph Street Terminal/Station. Rather than catering to the subway lines, it’s a station for the Red and Orange M.E.T.R.A. commuter train lines. It’s also a part of Chicago’s pedway system, an underground series of tunnels and stores that stretch around The Loop and Downtown. I, unfortunately, have not yet explored the pedway fully yet. In fact, the only part of it I have seen is the Millennium Station in July, 2015. It’s not an easy attraction to get to which is probably why I don’t ever hear a lot of Chicagoans talk about it. Is it even still there?
In Watch Dogs, the “station” is just a street corner. There is somewhat of a “station entrance” depicted as a stairway that, in real-life, would lead down to Lower Michigan Avenue. In the game, it’s not even depicted as a subway station. These staircases, that are marked on the map with the tunnels, are used to escape helicopters I guess? I never paid much attention to the underground because I was too busy mashing the X button to hack Blockers, Street Lights, etc. to escape from enemies in ground vehicles. I suppose this is one of those aspects that would have been explained if there was a more extensive tutorial in the game.
The hit on Antonio Lombardo is considered to be one of the most brazen hits in mafia history. It occurred on September 7th, 1928, on the corner of Madison and Dearborn streets. You can read the full story here at the Chicago Crime Scenes Project. Two gunmen shot Lombardo in the back of the head near the location pictured below. The building that Lombardo, business partner Joseph Ferrara, and Lombardo’s bodyguard exited from was raised in 1965 to make way for Chase Tower. One of the reasons Antonio Lombardo was assassinated was for the fact he was a supporter of Benito Mussolini. Which a lot of Italian Americans were not a fan of, though it was the 1920s. Instead of Twitter wars over political b.s. there were pro-fascism rallies and “unions”. Times haven’t changed everybody, the technology has just made it more convenient.
The Haymarket Square Riot
Protests happen, and in the case of the Haymarket Affair it was for the chance at an eight-hour work day, so some protests aren’t completely useless. At least not the ones in the 19th century it seems, but in every crowd, there’s that one anarchist who’s a hardcore psycho. Someone without any patience for the power of an honest strike. In this case, that man was identified, by several witnesses, as Rudolph Schnaubelt. Who turned a peaceful, though tension-filled, protest into a full-scale riot with the toss of a bomb at police. The explosion, and the unfortunate riot that followed lead to the deaths of seven civilians and four police officers (not counting the injured parties).
I’m already pissing off enough people as it is with this project, so to prevent seeming insensitive to the events of the Haymarket Square Riot let’s just move on. I tried to find the memorial in honor of those who died but Google is either not very helpful or the memorial has been removed, I’m uncertain which. In March 2019, I came across the memorial for the eight men that stood accused of the bombing but were of course innocent. Like I’ve said before; times haven’t changed, just the technology on which accusations and public opinion/outrage spread.
Desplaines Street Police Station
Now a parking lot, this was a police station directly involved with the above mentioned Haymarket Affair. However, Watch Dogs makes reference to Patrick Eugene Pendergast, actually in the hotspot info panel the story is short and bittersweet. To say this guy had issues is an understatement. After assassinating mayor Carter Harrison Sr. his lawyer's insanity plea didn't fly in court. Pendergast was hung the following year. Talk about a hung jury huh? I can hear the groans so let's queue the pics . . .
Saint Jude Police League
Originating in Chicago, the Saint Jude Police League is a non profit organization that provides services to the families of fallen police officers. Kudos to Ubisoft for adding this as a reference to the game.
Some say Saint Jude is the patron saint of hope, while others say he's the patron saint of lost causes. I suppose it's a optimist/pessimist thing? I'm a protestant so I don't know personally.
Not to be confused with the Saint Jude Children’s Hospital; a different but equally important charity organization.
Carding Center/James R. Thompson Center
“The big dome building where the ending of Running Scared was filmed.” To which someone born after 1992 usually replies “man Paul Walker was so underrated in his time”, at which point you have to gently shake your head at why Hollywood can’t name completely different movies something else. At least it wasn’t a remake for once . . . Regardless it’s required viewing if you like buddy cop movies. It was technically the first, beating Lethal Weapon by almost two years; though Shane Black’s script was of a higher quality.
Movie knowledge stroking aside the building in-game is practically identical; but sadly you can’t go inside. I mean seriously a mission set inside would have been cool. Besides Ubisoft is so in to repelling animations it would have been a nice homage to the late great Gregory Hines. Not sure why they renamed it the “Carding Center."
A giant Lego looking structure that you can see clearly from Millennium Park, and a few other areas of the city. Probably one of the only real-life locations (apart from the historic ones) where Ubisoft got permission to use its real name.
Tremont House Hotel/The Tremont Chicago Hotel
Not to be confused with the current Tremont Chicago Hotel, which is would be placed in the “Mad Mile” region of the game. “Mad Mile” is based on the Magnificent Mile where the real-life Tremont Hotel is located. Secondly, the original Tremont was called the Tremont House; which went under a few reiterations due to a few Chicago fires that burned them to the ground. The original, i.e. first, Tremont House was built on the corner of Dearborn and Lake. I didn’t get a picture of this, but for what it’s worth it’s just a parking garage.
Now getting back to the hotel that’s actually still standing let me seriously recommend Ditka’s which is right next door. Yeah THAT Ditka, as in Mike Ditka, the former coach of the Chicago Bears. When I first went in there I was worried it was a “black tie joint” but no it just looks classy; everyone’s welcome. The burger and oyster shooters were awesome! It’s a raw oyster in a shot glass with a cocktail and tobacco vinaigrette. If I was a rich man I would have ordered a whole tray of the bastards!
Right . . . So in Watch Dogs, the area looks sort of like the real-world location . . . I mean of the original Tremont House on Dearborn and Lake, not the modern Tremont Hotel which I’ll post a picture of below.
Ambrose Theater/Chicago Theater
I think this might be what Frank Sinatra was singing about when he mentioned State Street in the song Chicago. And I’m certain he performed that very song at this theater; both before in 1950 and its grand reopening in 1986. Since the reopening, it has been the venue for comedians, singers, orchestras, speeches, and even a mixed martial arts fight.
However, in game, it’s used as a venue for a techno(?) concert by one of the villains. Classy . . .
Fort Dearborn Massacre
One of those, almost ignored by tourists, unfortunate bits of Chicago history. In fact, Chicago wasn’t even a settlement at the time of the massacre in 1812. The Fort Dearborn Massacre was an engagement by a large force of Potawatomi Indians against soldiers and civilians stationed there. The reason for which being America declaring war on England in 1812, and England pledging to help the Native Americans, against encroaching settlers, if they fought for the side of the crown. Dearborn Street is of course named after the fort, but Wells street is named in honor of Captain William Wells who led efforts to try and evacuate civilians from the area.
The only monument still standing, that isn’t being contested against by the Chicago American Indian Center, is a sculpture by Henry Hering named Defense. It is apart of the DuSable Bridge, on Michigan Avenue. In this general area is where Fort Dearborn once stood.
Oh boy. You ever feel like you need to tread lightly when writing something, but you also have no respect for politics at the same time? I mean I don’t want to piss off any more Chicagoans than I already have with this project, so I won’t go in too deeply about corrupt aldermen and shady mayors. Then again that might be the only thing they might agree with me on, or at least give me a shoulder shrug and nod at. I’m a native of Baltimore (stay away Ubi you don’t want it) and I can sympathize when it comes to corruption in city politics; it’s hard for me to take them seriously. However, you know the real tragedy about Chicago’s City Hall? Boss getting canceled after two seasons. Which by the way had several scenes filmed inside the building. Oh . . . that’s probably why it got canceled. I guess the city didn’t want a negative depiction of their mayor… Has anyone ever watched the news by any chance?
The version of City Hall, which you can enter at all hours of the day, has an extra-wide corridor in the lobby. And yes IN GAME you can drive a car through it as a short cut. I think the developers, being French, knew what they were trying to say with that, yet there's no story mission that requires it.
Ocean Tower/Aqua Skyscraper
Ok so rather than research it, I’m just going to make an assumption on the back story, and I’ll let you determine if I’m right or not. Ok so an architect, Jeanne Gang, was hired to design a skyscraper. She looked around at the city skyline and thought “let’s build something that’s not shaped like a box on the outside." How did I do? Seriously though Aqua is a pretty cool looking building, something Ubisoft stuck to. The only difference being the color of the building and, of course, the surroundings at the bottom.