Rockstar Games says they have divided the Grand Theft Auto series into distinct universes. These parallel universes are designed to be completely separate to each other, so that no physically appearing characters or storylines would overlap.
- "Dan says that no one before GTA IV will be in it – the move to HD created a schism in this fictional universe, rendering CJ, Toni and co, as mythical characters from a bygone era. But will we see stories from the previous game looping into this one? "I think that might be too mannered," says Houser. "Niko had a particular kind of story and we're trying to make this different. We might allude to things from that world, but we didn't want it to feel like, well, here's the opposite of an immigration story – we wanted a fresh take on what it means to be a criminal in this world of hyper-real Americana"."
- ―Interview with Dan Houser in The Guardian
A universe can be considered a completely separate 'canon' of places, people, and events that exist in the same universe. Locations that appear in multiple universes are completely rebuilt, rather than just updated. Each successive universe re-boots the franchise and may retcon the "canon" established in a previous universe. A previous universe would be like a mythical universe that never really existed. However, some things do exist appear in multiple universes, including company brands, vehicles, placenames, weapons, and in-series celebrities (e.g Lazlow).
|2D Universe||3D Universe||HD Universe|
Games being in the same universe means that they exist on the same planet, and theoretically characters could occur in multiple games across that universe. However, that does not mean that many characters will do so, nor that the games are similar or closely related at all. However, there are elements (characters, places, vehicles, companies, etc.) which appear (or at least, seem to appear) in more than one universe, but these cases usually tend to have some differences between the Universes.
Although the universes are supposed to be completely apart, there are occasional references to previous universes, as well as some minor characters, places, names, etc. shared by different universes. Some of them, however, may be only internal jokes.
- Different renditions of Head Radio exist in the 2D and 3D universes. During development, the radio was planned to appear in Grand Theft Auto IV too.
- Radio Los Santos and WCTR both appear in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V.
- The restaurants Burger Shot and Cluckin' Bell, as well as the brand ECola and its lemon soda, the Sprunk, all appear in 3D and HD Universes.
- Grand Theft Auto features a boss of Mexican origin named El Burro, while Grand Theft Auto III features a homonymous Puerto Rican gang leader who appears as the first phone boss. Although El Burro from GTA III does not appear physically, the game features an artwork of him, in which he looks strikingly similar to El Burro from GTA; plus, both are Latin American. There is also a character named El Burro in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, though this one's physical traits are completely different.
- There is some speculation as to whether Claude Speed, the protagonist of GTA 2, and Claude, the protagonist of GTA III, are the same person. With respect to Claude from GTA III, Rockstar have commented that his surname "may or may not be Speed" but have not elaborated further.
- Francis International Airport is the name of the airport of both 3D and HD renditions of Liberty City.
- Mount Chiliad is the name of the tallest mountain in both 3D and HD renditions of San Andreas.
- The Liberty Tree is a newspaper in both versions of Liberty City.
- An easter egg in GTA IV shows a Liberty Tree headline reading: "Love's hate relationship with taxes", next to a picture of Donald Love, a 3D-Universe character.
- Lazlow Jones, a fictional character based on a real life talk-show host with the same name (voiced by himself), and Fernando Martinez, a Latin American radio person, are the only characters whose voices appear in almost all games of the 3D and HD universes (Lazlow also appears physically in Grand Theft Auto V).
- Reed Tucker's voice can be heard on radios in GTA III, GTA San Andreas, and GTA V. He is also mentioned in GTA IV.
- Grand Theft Auto V makes several references to the plot of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The maps of both games feature a gang-controlled cul-de-sac named Grove Street, which looks very alike in its two versions. In GTA San Andreas, it is controlled by the player-allied gang, Grove Street Families (iconic for its green colors), whose main enemies are the Ballas (who use purple colors). In GTA V, a reincarnation of the Ballas has control over Grove Street while a green-wearing gang named The Families is their arch enemy and the player-allied gang.
- Misty, a minor character and promotional icon of GTA III, is possibly mentioned in GTA V's Self Radio.
- The band Love Fist, which appears in GTA Vice City, is mentioned in GTA IV, and one of its members, Willy, appears in a GTA V mission, in which he can be optionally killed.
- 3D Universe actor Jack Howitzer is also featured and mentioned in GTA IV and GTA V.
- Stuntman Jock Cranley appears in GTA Vice City Stories and GTA V.
- The founder of the Epsilon Program, Cris Formage, is heard on the radio in GTA San Andreas and appears physically in GTA V.
- Several 3D Universe celebrities and radio hosts, like Kent Paul, James Pedeaston, and Marvin Trill are featured on the Vinewood Walk of Fame.
- Lazlow's 3D Universe roles as the DJ on V-Rock, presenter of Entertaining America on WCTR and host of "long defunct" Chatterbox FM, are mentioned on radio station Integrity 2.0 in Grand Theft Auto IV.
- Liberty City Free Radio, a radio station in Liberty City Stories, is mentioned on WKTT Radio in Grand Theft Auto IV. It is claimed that WKTT shows The Martin Serious Show and Conspire used to broadcast on LCFR.
References to the real word
- The song Grand Theft Auto, which can be heard on the radios N-CT FM in GTA, and Lips 106 in GTA III, references the NYPD and LAPD, respectively the police departments of New York City and Los Angeles.
- References to Miami in the 3D Universe raises doubts about its existence, especially in relation to Vice City, the playable city based on it. A Francis International Airport outdoor near the Shoreside Lift Bridge in Staunton Island reads "See you in Miami" (seen on right), and Ray Machowski's last words sent to Claude on his beeper were also "See you in Miami".