GrrlGotGame - That's not my Seattle! The creative geography of Infamous: Second Son

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The Stranger weekly billboard in Infamous: Second SonMILD SPOILER WARNING: This article contains specific visual details about locations in Infamous: Second Son but does not discuss gameplay or story.

There's a unique thrill to seeing your hometown onscreen, be it in a movie, TV show, or game.

Sucker Punch Productions (based just outside Seattle in nearby Bellevue, Washington) takes that thrill nearly to 11 with Infamous: Second Son, a sloppy wet kiss to the Emerald City.

Of course, as with any work of art that attempts to evoke a real-world location, there are plenty of WTF?! moments for the people who actually live there. One of the games that came closest to faithfully re-creating a specific place was Test Drive Unlimited, and its take on Oahu was still a far cry from the real Hawaiian isle - as we found when we visited a few years back. But it's remarkably close.

Second Son, on the other hand, doesn't seem to aspire to replicating the real Seattle all that closely - most likely to compress locations into tighter quarters to reduce the player's travel time and cut the cost of licensing pricey brands and landmarks. Herein, I have collected some of our favorite Seattle scenes, from popular locations to obscure touches of local color.

But let's start with some of the things that make us Seattleites go "Hmmmm."

 

I-90 Bridge relocated several miles north, becomes the 520

Does this image look familiar?

Mount Baker Tunnel on I-90

Once you manage to get across what's left of the "520 Bridge" in Second Son, you encounter a tunnel that seems identical to the Mount Baker Tunnel (one of the first things we saw upon entering Seattle for the first time when we moved here in the mid-1990s).

There's just one problem: That tunnel is part of I-90, a second floating bridge a few miles to the south of the real-world 520 bridge.

Why not just name it I-90 and be done with it? Someone at Sucker Punch knows, but they aren't telling. Maybe they were too busy coming up with bizarre impossible exits like the Bellevue/Kirkland one that's right before Seattle's "City Center."

520 signage in Second Son

For the record, Bellevue and Kirkland would be BEHIND you when facing downtown. This exit itself is a bit forgivable, as it's at least got you headed in the right direction. Alas, you would find a similar sign a few miles down the road on another highway that 520 dead ends into: I-5 South.

 

Tourist traps we love, but pretend not to

Locals love to deride the downtown attractions. Most of the vitriol is hurled at Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, and several large entertainment venues. If you've seen a picture of the Seattle skyline, you've seen Seattle Center. If you've managed to avoid our city somehow, well, consider this your introduction to our top attractions.

 

The Space Needle

The top of the Space Needle changes periodically, but it was orange during a significant part of Second Son's development period.

The real Space Needle

The tangerine glow paid homage to the Space Needle's original color during the 1962 World's Fair. I'm pretty sure that "Space Needle roof painter" is right up in there in "jobs worse than whatever you do for a living." Unless you're the painter, in which case, rock on.

The Space Needle in Second Son

The Second Son version of Seattle's iconic tower retains the orange hue, which is more visible once you ascend to the top of the Space Needle. Those spiny scales leading up the side were added for the game, however. I do wonder if it looked something like that during its construction in the 1960s, however.

 

The Pacific Science Center

Despite what Second Son might suggest, the Pacific Science Center is not a military zone.

The Pacific Science Center in Second Son

That's nearly the only thing they got wrong in their digitized model, which is a spitting image of a place we spend many days a year. From the always empty but oddly damp shallow pools to the giant dinosaur statues every visitor wants to climb, this beloved children's museum has been lovingly recreated. (Well, there isn't a giant dinosaur model in the back; in its place, you'll find the "Pac Sci" - as we call it - abuts a busy thoroughfare called Denny Way.)

The real PacSci at night

Fun Fact: The Pacific Science Center buildings were originally the United States Science Pavilion, built for the 1962 World's Fair. The Pacific Science Center arches were home to the World of Science. Today, the arches are like giant mood rings, lit to reflect the successes and sorrows of the city.

 

Pike Place Market

To outsiders, Pike Place Market is "where those guys throw the fish." Go deeper into the market, and you'll find an incredible Italian market, fresh-from-the farm fruits and veggies, and what is typically much better (and generally cheaper) seafood.

Pike Place Market

The less trafficked lower levels hide magic stores, bookshops, peek-a-boo walls, and enough reputed ghost activity to keep Spengler and Venkman busy for years.

Seattle Fish Market in Second Son

The "Seattle Fish Market" in Second Son is a smaller, sadder version of our vibrant market. I was disappointed to see Seattle's expansive, vibrant, iconic space reduced to little more than a few fruit barrels (which reminded me of the markets in Dead Island: Riptide).

I guess all those militarized checkpoints in Second Son's Seattle killed the farm-to-table movement?

 

The Monorail

The Seattle monorail, also built for the World's Fair, extends above a mile of 5th Avenue.

The real Seattle Monorail

Its primary purposes are to alternately 1) break down in the summer, and 2) thrill tourists traveling between the Seattle Center and Westlake Center, itself a short walk to Pike Place Market (and an even shorter walk to the open air crack market across the street).

The Monorail in Second Son

The in-game monorail has been converted into a closed loop around the city's central hub, providing a nice thrill ride if you can manage the jump onto the roof of the train.

In real life, your trip is short and limited – but you will see a good chunk of Belltown. Plus the train drivers will usually let you sit up front if possible. (Ask nicely – and locals, let the tourists have first shot!) Try to contain your excitement as you pass Tom Douglas row, and be sure to check for you all your belongings before you exit.

 

Seattle Icons you probably didn't realize were real... but are!

Seattle has a history of bizarre creativity in its local retail and public art. Sadly, our local color is disappearing faster than you can say "Ballard condos." There are still pockets of whimsy (and questionable taste) here and there, though. Here are just a few of the odd details sprinkled throughout the game.

 

Lincoln's Toe Truck statue

Let us take a moment to remember Seattle's fallen hero, Lincoln Towing's Toe Truck statue.

The real Lincoln's Toe Truck

The bane of grammar fans and bad pun haters alike, the statue stood proudly on a popular commuter route. It was big. It was pink. It was tacky as Hell. But it was ours, dammit. And now, it's gone...

...to the Museum of History and Industry, where tacky Seattle icons go when they get booted to make room for progress (or Amazon.com offices.) And now it's immortalized in Second Son.

Lincoln's Toe Truck in Second Son

Lincoln's Toe Truck, we salute you. May you keep on truckin'.

 

Elephant Super Car Wash

There are about a dozen Elephant Super Car Washes in the Seattle/Tacoma corridor. While they are not particularly prominent, they do tend to stick out at night when their iconic neon elephants are lit up. By far the most famous – and infamous – location is at Denny and Aurora Avenue, just on the tip of downtown.

The real Elephant Super Car Wash

Sucker Punch did a nice job of capturing the environment. Business meets sketchy during the day, and a different kind of commerce after dark.

The Elephant Super Car Wash in Second Son

 

The Lenin Statue

This genuine Lenin statue was purchased from the former Soviet Union and imported to Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, the self-described "Center of the Universe" - but nowhere near the downtown location where it's featured in the game. Lenin has been a controversial figure here through the years. Anonymous protesters have painted his hands red numerous times, while outraged locales have demanded that he be removed completely. Recent events in the Ukraine have renewed calls for Lenin to be deported from Fremont.

The real Lenin statue

The statue may leave Seattle one day, but a cheeky version that casts Lenin as a fisherman will live on in Second Son's "Lantern District."

The Lenin statue in Second Son

Lenin is one of the more notable relocations in the game, but it makes sense. Fremont is far away from downtown, which is the heart of the game. His new home is a heavily fictionalized and, perhaps, somewhat sanitized version of Seattle's Chinatown-International District.

Second Son's Lantern District

 

The Post Alley Gum Wall

This is the one thing that no one believes until they see it for themselves. But I'm here to tell you children, it's real – and all those dots you see in the photo are real gobs of gum that people have chewed and then slapped on a public wall.

The Post Alley Gum Wall

That window-shaped area below the red sign? That's a real ticket window for Unexpected Productions. And yes, it's covered in gum. Ishy bugle. That said, I have to give mad props to Sucker Punch for...

The Port Alley Gum Wall in Second Son

...The Port Alley Gum Wall. New name, same disgusting idea. I don't want to touch it in real life, and I have to say, I wasn't in a hurry to press up against it in the game, either. If you were wondering how realistic the graphics are in this game, get up close and personal with the gum wall. You'll be reaching for the Purell within seconds of touching it.

 

Local business shout-outs

Seattleites will recognize homages to regional businesses that have been given a slight twist. It has a new name, but there's no mistaking the vaguely alien-like logo on the side of the Metropolitan Market grocery store in lower Queen Anne. You'll see The Stranger alternative weekly logo everywhere, from the familiar newspaper boxes to the occasional billboard. And just like Seattle, Starbucks is everywhere – disguised with a blue variant on the coffee giant's globally familiar and - no doubt - expensive-to-license seafaring logo.

Not every Seattle business has been fully disguised, though. A handful of local businesses have been sprinkled around the game for ambiance. Here are a few you might not recognize.

 

Dick's Drive-In

Dick's Drive-In is a Seattle institution known for cheap eats, good pay and scholarships for employees. It's also famous for its "You get what you get" mentality. No substitutions. If you don't want it on the burger, remove it yourself. At these prices, poor college students and teens aren't going to argue.

Dick's Drive-In

OK, technically Dick's does not appear in the game - but the Burger Mann chain sure looks familiar. Note the use of orange, the 1950s-style design, and the sign shape.

Burger Mann in Second Son

All that's missing is the "Congratulations Graduates" banner that hangs in front of the store each May, and the hordes of teens and college students surrounding the stores every night.

 

Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom is a hyper-local record store chain that brings to mind High Fidelity.

The real Sonic Boom

You just know the people who work there are judging you for your incredibly bad taste. That said, most people aren't there to buy Miley Cyrus records. This is where the Seattle music cognoscenti go to discover new sounds and buy records you won't find anywhere else, except perhaps on eBay. This is where you'll want to be on April 19 (Record Store Day).

 

Sonic Boom in Second Son

I'm fairly certain there are more Sonic Booms in Second Son than in Seattle, but that's not a bad thing. I like to think that music stores will survive anything, even the militarization of Seattle. Nice job on the neon, too.

 

Gone but not forgotten

That's just a small list of the things any good Seattleite will identify as they dash around the city. We didn't even discuss the mountains, ever-present construction cranes (nice touch, Sucker Punch!), the Pioneer Square Pergola, the vamped-up Crocodile nightclub, and countless other small touches. There are a few things I wish they would have included for selfish reasons, though.

I would love to spend some time bashing on the EMP/SFM, a giant Frank Gehry-designed blob of colors on the Northeast corner of the Seattle Center. To this day, I still think it looks like the Space Needle threw up, particularly when viewing it from above.

The EMP/SFM seen from above

It would have given me great joy to destroy a digital version of this violation against architecture. I also wouldn't mind doing some damage to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and the tourist-ridden Ride the Ducks amphibious tourbus/boats, too. Basically, the entire northeast corner of the Seattle Center.

Can you say, "Sequel?" Your move, Sucker Punch. Just next time, try to capture a bit more of the Seattle flavor. For us locals.

3 Comments

1.

Great article. Thanks for the hard work. I was really curious about the reality of it.

There was a game that was A really accurate representation of Los Angeles,True Crime: Streets of LA, I believe. I was actually able to find my aunt's apparent and drive to the Activision headquarters, which they removed smartly, but was able to find the restaurant next door. I knew infamous wasn't that accurate overall. But great to get info on the details. And possible landmarks should I visit Seattle again.

2.

Although they took some creative steps when recreating Seattle, it's reassuring that they put in that much detail to capture the essence of the city.

Also, seeing that gum wall reminds of one of the most disgusting videos I've ever seen. It makes me want to gag even thinking about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40lnDleet8s

3.

Interesting that they took certain liberties with the city while also paying respect here and there. Does Alan Wake do any of the same things? I know it's based on a fictional town, but it seems heavily inspired by Seattle. It's one of my favorite games and one of the few others that I know drew inspiration from that area. Adieu!

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This page contains a single entry by GrrlGotGame published on April 14, 2014 12:36 AM.

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