The Unreleased
Grand Theft Auto Titles for Game Boy Advance


Although Grand Theft Auto: Advance was released in October 2004,
there were several other GTA titles that never saw the light of day...

Details on the unreleased GTA titles were slim back at the time, but are even slimmer now. Most websites originally sourced no longer exist, and google searches are diluted with information on the final, released version. As an avid GTA fan, when word first came out of a GBA version in 2001, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation. However, after many delays, conflicting reports, and even reported cancellations, it all started to intrugue me in a different way. It became a huge mystery that I wanted to solve. I began cataloging all that I could find on the game, as it happened. Now, a decade later, I've decided to dust off the archive and post it here.

The information shared on this site was all posted publicly by others between 2001 and 2003. None of these details were shared with me directly, in confidence. I hope that sharing this landslide of information will help uncover the rest of the details, give us insight on what could have been, and finally solve these mysteries of these unreleased Grand Theft Auto titles.



The GBA Grand Theft Auto Titles
Grand Theft Auto 1 & Grand Theft Auto 2

Developed By:
Tarantula Studios (now, Rockstar Lincoln)
[Unreleased]

Grand Theft Auto 3

Published By:
Destination Software Inc. (later, DSI Games)

Who were the developers?

[Unreleased]

Grand Theft Auto 3

Developed By:
Crawfish Interactive

Was Destination Software involved in publishing this?

[Unreleased]

Grand Theft Auto: Advance

Developed By:
Digital Eclipse
[Released]

Additional Information
News Archive (2001 - 2003)
Archived stories on the GBA GTA titles from 2001-2003






Grand Theft Auto 1 & Grand Theft Auto 2
Developed By: Tarantula Studios

January 2002, C&VG reported [i] that Game Boy Advance versions of both GTA1 and GTA2 were "around six to eight weeks from completion" after being "underway for sometime", but development was "put on hold for the time being, and work has stopped".

   
Above: GTA1 and GTA2 for Game Boy Color. GTA1 was a GB+GBC title, while GTA2 was GBC-only, enabling it to take advantage of the faster CPU.

C&VG later specified [i] that Tarantula Studios, developer of both GTA1 and GTA2 for the Game Boy Color, were behind these GBA ports.

Interestingly, Tarantula Studios ported the GBC version of GTA2 to Palm. It was essentially a direct port with the original GBC graphics (as seen above), featuring only enhanced artwork for some of the UI (seen below). One would assume the GBA versions may have just been raw ports of the GBC titles as well. C&VG believed that the GBA's power would've been utilized, leaving the GBC versions in the dust, but no actual quotes verify this claim, making it most likely speculation on their part.


Above: GTA2 on the GBC vs GTA2 on Palm. The game itself on Palm featured the original GBC graphics, but had enhanced art for the UI.


What's especially strange about this is that GTA3 for GBA was announced in 2001, initially to be released in the fall of 2001. In January 2002, this information of GTA1 and GTA2 for GBA being cancelled was reported. Was Tarantula Studios simply working on these without the license, hoping that Rockstar would bite, even though GTA3 had already been announced long before?


Grand Theft Auto 3
Published By: Destination Software (DSI Games)

Announced for Release in Late 2001

In May 2001, IGN reported that Destination Software had licensed Midnight Club, Smuggler's Run, and Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA. Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run both shipped, but GTA3 never did. IGN stated, "GTA3 is being handled through Take-2 by way of the original GTA developers at DMA Design working on the PS2 version (now Rockstar North), though that game might be passed external and supervised by DMA." .

No screen shots of GTA3 were shown, but this announcement stated that these games were to be released in the fall, GTA3 for GBA alongside the PS2 title. Midnight Club for GBA was indeed released in November of that year, and Smuggler's Run the following summer. If it were actually targeted for later that year, it would've needed to be deep into development by the time of this announcement, so this is a bit strange. A year later, Destination Software officially stated that GTA3 was "still in the early stages of development" .

In November 2001, Digital Worldwide announced an agreement with Destination Software to publish and distribute their titles in the UK/AU/NZ. They specifically mention GTA3 for GBA as one of the titles. In January 2002, Digital Worldwide sent out another press release, confirming a Q4 2002 release date for GTA3. Nintendo's official website would later be updated to state “Q1 2003”, “May 2003” and so on, with Destination Software still listed as the publisher.

Destination Software LosING the License

In November 2002, rumors began spreading that GTA3 for GBA had been cancelled.

Destination Software denied the claims, responding, "The game has not been canned. We'll be making an announcement at the end of the week". Sure enough, shortly after, news leaked that Crawfish had GTA3 for GBA in development. What's more, was that the report claimed it was already well into development with an expected 2003 release. Insanely, a week after this report, Crawfish shut down, laying off all of its staff and putting the development in limbo. That was, until Rockstar handed it over to Digital Eclipse. Over the next year, Destination Software still claimed they were publishing it, both after Crawfish shut down and after production begun at Digital Eclipse. Whether their claims were truthful or not, when they ultimately lost the license is unclear. However, they were not the publisher by the time Digital Eclipse's version hit store shelves.

It's possible that Destination Software was involved with publishing while Crawfish was the developer, but it's also possible that they'd lost the license by the time Crawfish landed the project. A former Crawfish developer confirmed that "There was one before ours that also got canned". It's unclear whether Digital Eclipse was involved with both the Crawfish one and this cancelled one, or if that previous title had been the end of the line for Destination Software. Either way, it would seem that there's still at least one pre-Crawfish GTA3 prototype out there, somewhere.


What Was It Like?

In May 2002, C&VG interviewed Destination Software's Bruce Kain. Kain stated that GTA3 is "still in the early stages of development", and that they were evaluating game engines to use. They were aiming to make it 3D, but still unsure if it could be pulled off, in which case, it would need to fall back to 2D.

As Destination Software has previously announced a 2001 release, and reports surfaced (although likely speculation) before this that it was to be 2D, is it possible that Destination Software had a 2D version in development before this? Did they then decide in May 2002 to investigate going 3D instead? Or had they not even started development at all this entire time?


Above:
Destination Software's Midnight Club Street Racing for GBA. Released around the time that GTA3 was first to be released for GBA.






Grand Theft Auto 3
Developed By: Crawfish Interactive

The Life and Death of Crawfish's GTA3

In November 2002, immediately after rumors began to spread that GTA3 for GBA had been cancelled, and after Destination Software denied the claims, news leaked that Crawfish had been developing the game, and that gamers could expect it the following year. However, a mere week later, news broke that Crawfish had shut down, once again striking the hearts of the anticipating fans.

As for the cause of the closure, it was an all too common scenario that plagues work-for-hire studios. According to former Crawfish head, Cameron Sheppard, “Crawfish had many titles finishing and a number of publishers not paying on time. These issues joined meant that the company couldn't continue quite long enough.”.

Exactly what happened behind the scenes with the publishing, cancellation and shift of studios is very murky, because all parties asked for comment (Destination Software, Digital Worldwide, Crawfish) all gave non-answers, such as, "that is in the hands of Rockstar", and Neither Rockstar nor Take-2 would comment themselves.

Although key members of Crawfish joined Climax and showed optimism that they might be able to finish GTA there, Digital Eclipse ultimately landed the contract. It's unknown whether it was simply Digital Eclipse's track record for shipping, and developing with a lower budget, or whether there were specific reasons the original team was snubbed.

The Leaked Details

In July 2003, several former Crawfish developers began to share details on their unreleased GTA3. This wealth of information described elements which showed up in Digital Eclipse's GTA Advance, and aspects which did not, such as the controls and multiplayer.

   
   

The information began to trickle out with a former programmer posting screen shots on their website portfolio. A second story reported that GTA was still under development, although as a second developer would clarify, it was a studio in the US [Digital Eclipse]. This second developer also shared a landslide of additional information. They described many things which held true for the final release over a year later, as well as what was changed.

The Story and Characters

Former Crawfish developer, Dave Murphy explained, "My version was set a few months before the events of GTA3.". Digital Eclipse's version also took place prior to the events of GTA3.

As for the characters, Murphy explained, "[the game] featured a mix of old characters from the PS2/PC version and new ones based on my colleagues.". He reiterated, "Many of the characters were based on other members of [Crawfish] staff". It's clear that these characters didn't persist in the Digital Eclipse version.

Murphy continued, "The main character wasn't the same as the PS2 but he looked kind of similar. He is taken on by the mafia at the beginning of the game, like the original, but stays working for them throughout, as he chases a mafia deserter and a case full of money from the Callahan bridge to the Cedar Ridge Observatory.".

Interestingly, the story is different from Digital Eclipse's. Were any missions recycled, or were they are all redesigned from the ground up? This is unclear.

Content

Murphy described new vehicles which showed up in Digital Eclipse's version, "A Mini, a Monster truck and a secret F1 racing car", as well as weapons, "I only included two new weapons: Katana and Minigun. I added these to the design before a really saw anything on Vice City so I was kinda disappointed to see they were already in that." .


Graphics

In regards to the GTA2 style 2D/3D hybrid, Murphy explained, "I had always intended on making GTA in the original 2D style because I knew that we wouldn't be able to get it looking very good in 3D. Of course the buildings, trees, fences and pretty much all other pieces of scenery were 3D. I would have liked to make the cars 3D as it would make stunts and rolling look a lot more realistic but we didn't have time and I hoped we would be able to do something like that for a sequel.". This could be seen in Digital Eclipse's version, as vehicles could tilt when making fast turns, and even flip in certain cases. The frames were limited, as it was all done with 2D art, but it was functional.

Both Crawfish and Digital Eclipse's GTA titles both used the same approach of mixing 2D with 3D. Where they differed was the art style. Digital Eclipse went for a cleaner, more colorful, cartoony look, while Crawfish's had a more serious look. It's unknown whether Crawfish planned to further iterate on the graphics, or if that's how theirs would've looked once it shipped.

 

Above: Crawfish's GTA3 (left), Digital Eclipse's GTA Advance (right)

Controls

Regarding controls, Murphy explained, below:

"I've just pasted the interface section straight out of my design. However these weren't necessarily final. There may have been some minor changes before the final version."

Controls (on foot)

Controls (In Vehicle)

"The pause menu will include the alternative weapon select and the radio station select (While in vehicle). "

While similar to the controls in the final game, Crawfish's title used "tank controls" on foot, the same controls used by GTA1 and GTA2. Rather than pressing up to move up, you steer the player much like a vehicle. This can benefit gameplay when aiming to fire at enemies, but Digital Eclipse's version showed that the strafe button worked well enough for aiming to work even without rotation.


Multiplayer

Multiplayer never made it through to the final version. Although it was planned during the Crawfish development, even Crawfish expected it to be cut. Crawfish's Dave Murphy explained, "Yes multiplayer was planned but we probably wouldn't have got it in there, with the time the project running over.".

As for Murphy's design, he revealed the following:

"We decided on four different modes:"



Grand Theft Auto: Advance
Developed By: Digital Eclipse

Prior to the Digital Eclipse version, Crawfish was developing GTA for GBA. The studio unfortunately shut down before it was finished, and a new developer had to be found. What's curious is why Rockstar didn't continue work with the key members of the original team, who moved to Climax. Instead, they decided to start over on many fronts and craft a largely new game with the new developer.

While the credits in Digital Eclipse's version list only one programmer, a former Crawfish developer stated on after its release that it was clearly based off code from their original project. Other evidence backs up this claim, in the form of information revealed by various former Crawfish developers over a year before anything on Digital Eclipse's version was officially revealed. The leaked information accurately described new weapons and vehicles added to GTA Advance, which weren't present in the PS2 GTA3. The leaked screen shots also sported the same HUD art. Although it's common for publishers to provide assets to developers, and it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for them to insist that specific elements such a vehicles or weapons be included, former Crawfish members specifically stated that they returned all assets and source code to Rockstar to hand off to a new developer. This all seems to line up.

Digital Eclipse still spent towards two years working on their version of GTA Advance, but it would seem that at least parts of the Crawfish game essentially lived on, although much of the game itself, including art, characters and story, were overhauled.

   
   
Above: Screen shots of GTA: Advance, developed by Digital Eclipse and released in 2004.

 



NEWS Archive (2001-2003)

Date Title/Description
May 18, 2001

IGN.com: "E3: Three New Ways to Break the Law"

Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA and other Rockstar games were announced at E3. No screen shots of GTA3 were shown, but it is to be released along side the PS2 version Fall 2001! (full story, original page)

November 16, 2001

OverGame.com: "GTA 3 sur GBA !" (GTA 3 on GBA!)

French site OverGame.com states that Destination Software Inc., known for such titles as Midnight Club and Smuggler's Run are currently working on Grand Theft Auto 3 for the Game Boy Advance! It will allow players to be a car theif on their portable system! No release date has been stated yet. (full story, original page)

November 19, 2001

DigitalWorldwide.com: "Digital Worldwide Ltd. announced today that it has signed a two-year agreement with Destination Software Inc."

Digital Worldwide Ltd. signs a two-year deal with DSI Games to exclusively publish and distribute DSI-developed Game Boy Advance games in territories including UK, Australia and New Zealand. Of the titles, included is Grand Theft Auto 3, which will be released in January 2002 within their distribution region. (full story, original page)

November 29, 2001

GamecubeAdvanced: "Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA"

States that Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA will be done by Destination software and be released some time in 2002. It states that the game will stay intact, other than the fact that it will be converted to "2D". (full story, original page)

January, 2002

DigitalWorldwide.com: "Digital expands and outlines 2002 Nintendo GBA release schedule revealing GTA 3 Advance for Q4"

Digital tells their upcoming 2002 game lineup, including GTA3. It has been pushed back from Q2 2002 to Q4 2002 to ensure it is the best possible game it can be. (full story, original page)

January 10, 2002

C&VG.com: "GRAND THEFT AUTO ADVANCE... JACKED"

A news revelation! Mentions that there were Tarantula Studios' GBA versions of both Grand Theft Auto 1 and 2 which were very close to being completed and manufactured, and could have been on shelves by April (2002), but due to reasons that are only speculated, it has been put in a development freeze (basically cancelled). This is possibly because Rockstar wants to keep GTA 3D and next-gen for the new consoles, or if it is because of a Sony license. (full story, original page)

March 16, 2002

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GameBoy Advance"

Mentions that GameStop has an article on the game and states some facts that make it sound as if they have first hand information on the game. They claim it will be top down 2D and that it is being pushed back once again. (full story, original page)

April 5, 2002

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GBA Developer?"

Mentions how Destination Software's website is continually popping up in the search engines for the GBA GTA. Their site's keywords include "... game boy advanced, grand theft auto 3...". Questions if they could be the developer. (Editor's note, it was already known long before this that they were the developer) (full story, original page)

April 18, 2002

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GBA"

Notes that Nintendo.com has posted GTA3 for GBA in their game list as coming soon. No valuable information about the game is contained on the site however. (full story, original page)

May 2, 2002

C&VG.com: "GTA ADVANCE GETS THE GREEN LIGHT"

Big news! The GTA1 and GTA2 ports to GBA were unfortunately cancelled, but now they officially state that they are bringing GTA3 to GBA. A lot of information is given in the interview, but it's all preliminary. (full story, original page)

June 21, 2002

HardGamers.org: "GTA 3 sur GBA ?!" (GTA 3 on GBA?!)

French site HardGames.org states that Nintendo has confirmed that GTA3 for GBA is under development. It will most likely be more similar to the PSOne/PC versions (GTA1-2), but this is still great, one couldn't ask for more on the GBA. (full story, original page)

August 20, 2002

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GBA"

States rumours that it has been confirmed by Nintendo and that it will be 2D. (full story, original page)

October 5, 2002

GameSpot.com Forums: "Can anyone tell me what is happening with Grand Theft Auto? "

A forum topic and responses on the releases of GTA3 for GBA. It catalogs the constantly changing release dates of the game.

"October 2002"
" October 15th, 2002"
" November 1st, 2002"
" November 5th, 2002"
" November 25th, 2002"
" November 29th, 2002"
" February 5th, 2003"
" February 7th, 2003"
" March 2nd, 2003"
" March 5th, 2003"
" April 1st, 2003"

(full story, original page)

November 2, 2002

HardGamers.org: "GTA 3 abandonné" (GTA 3 Abandoned)

According to HardGamers.org, Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA has been cancelled without reason. They suspect it may be because Driver 2 did so poorly on the GBA. (full story, original page)

November 3, 2002

HardGamers.org: "Pas de GTA 3 pour la GBA" (No GTA3 for The GBA)

French site HardGamers.org states that it's official! GTA3 for the GBA has been cancelled, but that's it's no surpise, as it's been so long since any news has been made. (full story, original page)

November 4, 2002

GamesRadar.com: "Handheld Grand Theft Auto 3 canned"

Discusses how the game has alledgedly been officially cancelled and how not even a screen shot was ever released, questioning it's existance. (full story, original page)

November 4, 2002

MadGamers.net: "GBA GTA3 canned"

Discusses how the game has alledgedly been officially cancelled and how not even a screen shot was ever released, questioning it's existance. (full story, original page)

November 5, 2002

N-Archives.com: "GBA Grand Theft Auto Cancelled"

States that the game has been canceled according to Nintendo.com. (Editor's note, it's constantly changing) (full story, original page)

November 5, 2002

C&VG.com: "GTA 3 ON GBA 'DEFINITELY NOT CANNED' "

After delay after delay, and after many have stated it was cancelled, the spokes person for DSI games claimed that it is not true. They claim that they will make an announcement at the end of the week. (full story, original page)

November 8, 2002

C&VG.com: "EXCLUSIVE: CRAWFISH BRINGS GRAND THEFT AUTO TO GBA!"

Officially states that Crawfish is now developing a Grand Theft Auto game for GBA. What's more, is that it is appearently well under development (so hmm...what's DSI been doing for all this time?). The announcement DSI claimed they would be making at the end of the week never happened. (full story, original page)

November 8, 2002

N-Philes.com: "Crawfish Brings Grand Theft Auto To Game Boy Advance"

Discusses how DSI clamied they are still working on the game, while Crawfish has obtained the license and are well underway. (full story, original page)

November 11, 2002

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GBA Still Alive!"

States that the game has not be cancelled, but there is currently a custody battle between Take2 and Desitination Software Inc. over the development rights. (full story, original page)

November 13, 2002

N-Philes.com Forum: "Grand Theft Auto 3 for GBA"

A poster's comments asking if GTA3 for GBA has indeed be cancelled after hearing that is has been by news spread by an alledged "ex-designer of the game". A reply to this topic states some good information: "Dave Murphy was a crawfish employee when Crawfish was still working on it, then Crawfish went broke and the project + Dave moved to Climax. And this time, Rockstar put the plug on the project, so Dave is out on the streets again and the game is no more.". (full story, original page)

November 15, 2002

GameIndustry.biz: "Crawfish closes its doors"

States that Crawfish has shut down and possible causes and results. (full story, original page)

March 11, 2003

N-Philes.com: "Grand Theft Auto 3 This Month!?"

Discusses how uncertain the releasing of GTA for GBA is, and how Nintendo has updated their game list on their site once again for the game, now stating it is to be released this month. (full story, original page)

March 12, 2003

C&VG.com: "GTA 3 BACK ON TRACK FOR GBA"

Now that Crawfish out of business and thus, couldn't be working on it anymore, DSI Games still claims they are working on it. They are now saying it will definitely be out at the end of the year (They've pushed it back so many times, I have trouble believing them). (full story, original page)

March 13, 2003

Gouranga.com: "GTA3 GBA Not Quite Dead"

States that though Rockstar has not made any official statements, DSI Games claims to be still working on it. (full story, original page)

March 18, 2003

GameIndustry.biz: "Ex-Crawfish staffers join Climax handheld team"

Two former Crawfish developers were hand chosen to head the currently 20 person team for handheld development. (full story, original page)

March 20, 2003

GBAEYE.it: "GTA3 di nuovo in ballo (Crawfish Revived)"

Quotes an IGN article descrbing that though Crawfish now is defunct, the developer Climax has anncounced that it is starting a new development team for handheld games and recruting members formerly from Crawfish. (full story, original page)

April 3, 2003

N-Philes.com: "Interview: Climax"

Discusses the new handheld division of Climax and it's former Crawfish employees. They discuss how GTA3 for GBA was to use an engine very similar to GTA2, but have missions like GTA3 and Vice City (so could it have been a different game, or at least different missions to the PS2/PC version of GTA3, but with the same characters?). They also talk about their engines, development and such. (full story, original page)

April 3, 2003

IGN.com: "Ex-Crawfish Talks GBA"

Discusses the new division of Climax Handeld Games, and the demise of Crawfish. Former Crawfish empoyee states that all of the games they were developing before they closed revert back to their publishers, including artwork, source code, etc. (including Grand Theft Auto 3). The publisher can then decide what they chose to do with it. (full story, original page)

 July 15, 2003

Real Grand Theft Auto 3 GBA Screen Shots Surface!

After all this time, we finally get to see screen shots of GTA3 for GBA! Former Crawfish programmer Anders Granlund posted them on his site. To quote him,

"I was one of the programmers working on a Gameboy Adance version of Grand Theft Auto.."

"This game was in development at Crawfish Interactive. Sadly, as the company went into liquidation in November 2002 the game was never completed."

This is the most exciting point in the long wait for the game that may never be! Finally, what I always asked for, "just at least some screen shots"!

(full story, original page)

August 5, 2003

GameFAQs Forum: Dave Murphy Gives Excusive Information On GTA3 for GBA

Former Crawfish game designer Dave Murphy reveals some of the most informative information concerning the Crawfish version of Grand Theft Auto for the GBA. I really couldn't have asked for more information! (full story, original page)


 


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