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...
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.
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".
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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." .
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.
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)
- D-pad: Rotate, move forward/back
- A: Sprint
- B: Punch/fire weapon
- L: Enter vehicle
- R: Jump
- L+R: Strafe Lock
- Select: Change weapon
- Start: Pause/Menu
Controls (In Vehicle)
- D-pad: Steer car
- A: Accelerate
- B: Brake/Reverse
- L+R: Fire weapon
- L: Exit vehicle
- R: Hand Brake
- Hold Select + press R: Change Weapon
- Select: Horn/Sirens
- Hold Select + press L: Begin/cancel Vehicle mission
- Start: Pause/Menu
"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 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:"
- Liberty City Survivor:
Standard death match similar to GTA 1&2 on PC.
- City Circuit:
Racing on pre-set routes round the three islands.
- Car Jack Crazy:
Players race to collect a list of vehicles and return them to their garage.
- Special delivery:
All players fight over a package which must be taken to their base.
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.