In the beginning of the Grand Theft Auto series, players were given the option in Grand Theft Auto 1 to select one of eight different protagonists to play as (nine in the Game Boy Color version) in the game. Despite the varied selection of characters, they are no different in-game in terms of abilities, the only variance being the color of their pants, skins and hairs (their top is consistently yellow). Each character has a default first name which the player may immediately use, but can be renamed to the player's choosing; the latter feature may be used to enter cheat codes into the game.
In addition to featuring characters of different appearances and backgrounds, GTA 1 is also notable for featuring both male and female protagonists to choose. The characters are illustrated in the same manner as other characters in the game, with a semi-realistic but somewhat stylized facial design.
The PlayStation version of the game limits the player to only the male characters, a total of four.