Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "The Wards" - LevelSkip - Video Games
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Finding Ubisoft's Chicago: "The Wards"

A series I've been working on since December 2015. Looking for where Ubisoft got the inspiration for "Watch Dogs'" version of Chicago.

Note that I took this picture AT NIGHT and I'm still alive to write about it. Try to take it easy on the "Chicago is dangerous" rumor.

Note that I took this picture AT NIGHT and I'm still alive to write about it. Try to take it easy on the "Chicago is dangerous" rumor.

The "scary" place the media doesn't want you to go.

"The Wards" are based on "Southside" Chicago, like "Brandon Docks," but is more focused on depicting the low-income residential neighborhoods rather than industrial zones. In Watch Dogs' version of Chicago "The Wards" seem more like a collection of Westside Chicago's "problem areas" as the media would call them. Southside, on the other hand, are some of the most down-to-earth neighborhoods you could ever go to (and geographically "The Wards" are south.) Sure realistically it's probably not a good idea to wonder the side streets around Cermak Road after midnight. That could be said for any city really.

This isn't a critique against Ubisoft, in fact none of the articles in this series are meant to be that. Please check out the "Brand Docks" article here for a full introduction to what I'm trying to do with this series. Hopefully, you have an idea of my reasoning for this. If not it's as simple as this; I love Chicago, not a mega-fan of Watch Dogs, don't get that impression, but I saw the city a certain way thanks to that game. If it wasn't for the need for researching this series and the traveling I've done I wouldn't have developed my first-hand understanding of Chi-town I have now.

Other regions of Chicago explored

"The Wards" Part 1

(A1) 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. Once again I was heavily into watching the news back then and let the liberals screw with my understanding of things. 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. His enemies shot him at this location, and he barely survived, but he didn't die until 1957 . . . of a heart attack . . . in Brooklyn New York. I don't know about you, but I think the assassins failed here.

(B1) 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. In March of 2019, during my let-me-get-smashed-for-Saint-Patrick's-Day trip I took the Pink Line out to Cicero specifically for rectifying this error.

The location now is a savings bank. Also discovered it's probably not a great idea to wear green in the area around the Pink Line Cicero station. It's either Latino El Whatever territory or they just don't like white boys wearing green? Ironic the ignorance of today's youth as I'm certain Mexicans and Irish were always on the same page . . .

(C1) 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 it's a much nicer area now than it was back in the late 1980s, you have to give them credit for that. 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 Watch Dogs' version of Chicago, the building looks similar to a bygone historic site. Fun fact: I while going through the area I think I walked through an area where Christopher Nolan filmed a 10 second shot for The Dark Knight, but keeping with his brand of narrative I can't remember exactly where that was, and if I did I'd probably be wrong about it!

The top wobbled before the cutaway! Get over it! It was a happy ending!

(D1) 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 God bless them.)

In November of 2016, at Hamilton Park, I rented a Divvy Bike and made my way west from the advice of a city worker who was fixing a bus stop. Then 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. Forget any bad stories you may have heard about Chicagoans in the Southside; they are some of the most helpful people you could ever meet. Especially if you're not a dick to them, but that's not a mentality you should carry with you anywhere.

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 it's an even bigger one that Richard Gere did all of that prepping for a climatic action scene that only lasted just 10 minutes. Also using a Beretta as a spring-gun trap? His character uses a 15-shot Beretta, to make a ONE-TIME trap, that could have been A LOT more useful during the shootout?

I've gone ways off-topic here . . . The stock yards are long gone, covered over by an industrial park BUT the gates are still standing. There is a memorial for the firefighters who died there fighting a massive blaze on December 22, 1910.

(E1) Rossi Freemont/Cabrini Green Housing Project

The large project block, where one of the game's antagonists operates his criminal empire, 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.)

(F1) 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? In 2002 Lloyd 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 Boston Massachusetts.

It could also be a reference to the house of Frank Lloyd Wright who was a famous architect and has several houses in Westside . . . Well, actually it's Oak Park Illinois. I'm not one of those guys who consider everything within a couple of miles of the city limits part of "Chi-town."

This one, like some others, was a brain twister.

My sources used for this location

"The Wards" Part 2

(A2) 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. Erasing the Google Street View image I went to this location during my March 2019 trip.

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!

V. Alley

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.

(B2) Big Jim Colosimo's Cafe

I visited this location back in December of 2015. The neighborhood it's located in, on Wabash Avenue, 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 its numerous possibilities. There are several (if not hundreds) of fires in Chicago, and its 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 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.

(C2) 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 faculties have a peaceful environment to work in. Even with it being in the "big evil Southside" of the news programs.

Shotgun Man

This hotspot is related to the hotspot below, Murder Corner. In 1910/1911 this guy murdered 15 Italian immigrants and was never caught. All of which occurred on the below infamous street corner. Was it mob related? Was it just a racist goofball with a gun? No one to this day really knows.

(D2) Deadman's Corner/Murder Corner

This is a notorious street corner that has been the site of several shootings, killings, and mafia/gangsta body drops over the decades. 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 years; this street corner might not exist anymore since Chicago tries to bury its past under a new paint job.

(E2) The Murder Market/Maxwell Street Market

I had no idea where the hell this location was in real life. I actually put a little too much research into this one. All the way to the point where I just determined that this is a reference to the world-famous Maxwell Street Market (or at least the old one) that went on from the 19-teens to 1994. When I went here back in November of 2016 I wasn’t expecting to see a grand farmer’s market set up on a Tuesday afternoon.

Recently I made my way back to Chicago for the Saint Patrick's Day Parade, however some idiot ate a bat and it got cancelled. Did not matter, I bought the ticket, I was going. Fun fact, Guinness is hand sanitizer for the mouth, and there was plenty of it! During my downtime of NOT drinking I made my way to the location of the original Maxwell Street Market. Managed to get the shots of the real location this time, AND not a lot of faces thanks to pre-citywide lockdown. See? Quarantine and public panic can be good for some things!

© 2019 Eric Seidel