Before Starcraft, There Were Space Marines

Before Starcraft, There Were Space Marines

This has nothing to do with Starcraft the game and everything to do with Starcraft the universe.

I like Starcraft! Both the game and the universe. The game is a robust real-time strategy classic, the universe one of the more enjoyable in video games, managing a science-fiction setting with a dash of humour. But that universe is – like most fictional worlds – not entirely of its own making. Just like Star Wars is The Hidden Fortress with lasers, Starcraft owes a creative debt to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K.

All three of Starcraft’s races are based largely on factions from the Warhammer 40K series of tabletop miniature games, which pre-dates Starcraft by over a decade. Long time and/or hardcore Starcraft fans will probably already know this (Judging from the number of Horus jokes in the comments of a previous post, 40K fans do too), and for you, there’s not much more to read here if you’re the type to get angry at people pointing this out.

If you’re simply a casual fan of Starcraft, however, and like the whole Marines + swarming alien menace + wise old alien race thing it has going on, then use this as a launching point to learning more about the franchise’s creative predecessor!

Below are the key areas – the factions – in which Starcraft is heavily based on Warhammer 40K.

SPACE MARINES – The most immediate and obvious comparison between the two. Starcraft’s Marine and 40K’s Space Marine are both the backbone of their respective armed forces, both have the word “marine” in their name and, most critically, both look eerily similar. Big collars, big boots, big shoulder pads.

What’s not the same? Starcraft’s humanity is a dishevelled, splintered group that’s a little rough around the edges. Truckers in space, as they were originally portrayed. 40K’s are a vast empire with an ancient mythology, and are about as far removed from truckers as you can imagine.

PROTOSS – The Protoss are the most advanced race in the Starcraft universe. There are “light” Protoss and “dark” Protoss. They are a proud and ancient people. They possess psionic powers. Everything I just said also applies to the Eldar, the elves of 40K’s universe, whose elegant and ornate armour even looks a little like that of the Protoss.

ZERG – Starcraft’s third race is the Zerg, a swarming race of insect-like creatures operating as a devastating hive mind. The Tyranids, a major faction from the Warhammer 40K universe, are a swarming race of insect-like creatures operating as a devastating hive mind.

So, yeah, while the storylines and adventures of the two universes are radically different, on a fundamental level, Starcraft is built on the same foundations as Warhammer 40K. Just without the Orks. Or Chaos (though you could argue there’s a little of that in Starcraft’s Kerrigan). So if you’re a fan of Blizzard’s series but have never really looked into 40K before, maybe now’s the time to try! It’s not like Blizzard looked to it for inspiration because it sucked.

If you want to read up on the history of the universe and the tabletop game based on Warhammer 40K, this wiki page is as good a place to start as any. And if you want to play some Warhammer games? May I recommend Dawn of War and Dawn of War II on the PC, or if you’re after something a little more retro, Space Hulk, again for the PC.


  • An internet urban legend is that Warcraft was originally supposed to be a Warhammer Fantasy game to be sold to Games Workshop (or variations on the story). Regardless of if that’s true or not, I still find it highly amusing that Blizzard have two universes that happen to be not dissimilar to two universes put out by Games Workshop.

    Oh well. FOR THE EMPEROR!

  • Much of 40k(1987) was based on the company’s other major product Warhammer Fantasy Battle(1983) which was heavily influenced by the works of Tolkien(LOTR c1943). The Tyranids(Zerg) are heavily based on the work of Giger (Alien was released in 1979)

  • This article gets two thumbs up from me, as a big fan of WH40k as well as your average SC fan.

    Heh, I still remember I played Halo before watching Aliens and reading Ringworld as well…

  • And before Warhammer 40k there was… Warhammer classic, which is pure fantasy. Warhammer 40k is juts an extrapolation of that Eldar (elves) > Eldar, Orks =… Orks etc.

    If we’re going to point fingers at who came first, the Warhammer franchise first derived from the fantasy genre, mostly Tolkien’s work.

    Now. How similar is Starcraft to LOTR.

  • Breaking News – Every Idea has been done before in a similar fashion. Originality only exists in the execution.

  • i rather enjoy articles that give warhammer 40k the respect it deserves rather than just “WARHAMMER R FER NERDS!!!1!!1ONEONE1!!!”

  • I did think blizzard borrowed a little too heavily from 40K when SC one came out.

    They could have made the marines look a bit more different. Only the helmets really changed.

  • id kinda disagree on the Protoss=Eldar example and say that Protoss = Tau, the tau even look more like the Protoss than the Eldar do

  • Without trying to suggest that my theory is more valid than anyone elses I rather see it as they both sourced the same materials. Starcraft seems to be more inspired by Aliens which of course also seems to be an inspiration for Warhammer 40k. Although you can’t create anything in a vacuum so there would have definitely been influences from games workshop’s games.

    The protoss is the race that I think is the biggest stretch to compare to 40k. There are examples of “wise old races” in fiction going back as far as history itself. Visually I believe they are based somewhat on the aliens from ID4. As for their personality perhaps that aspect is elvish though I’m yet to find a comparison that I completely am comfortable with (I assume it’s just I haven’t seen the source of inspiration).

  • On the surface they’re very similar, but Starcraft is really up-beat compared to Warhammer 40,000’s really dark, almost depressing universe. In Starcraft there are good guys but in 40k I’m struggling to think up any factions that aren’t complete bastards.
    Tau have what is arguably a good agenda but they’re not above wiping out people who don’t follow the greater good. Eldar consider themselves above everyone else, so they don’t care enough to try and wipe everyone out (and couldn’t if they tried), but they’re still hostile jerks.
    The Space Marines and Imperial Guard (the military forces of mankind) along with the rest of humanity are barely recognisable. If its not human, or its human and it doesn’t worship the Emperor as a god, kill it. Mankind has access to a wide range of technology, but knowledge of how the technology works is almost lost so its treated sort like magic.
    Chaos is basically pure evil spewing out of the warp, Orks live to smash and fight, Tyranids are part of an endless swarm that will (no question about it) engulf the universe and if I remember right Necrons want to harvest the souls of every living creature in existence (except the Tyranids, which have no souls).

    So Warhammer 40,000 is pretty much the end of days and nobody is going out gracefully. =P

    Its easy to see Warhammer as a kids game because Games Workshop is full of kids, but its actually full of stuff that wouldn’t be considered appropriate for kids.

  • I’m certain the Tau as an army and Codex were released for 40k well after Starcraft, so no, the Protoss look like Eldar.

    But then they may have existed prior and just never been made in to a physical army, that I do not know.

  • It’s no surprise that Starcraft seems similar to Warhammer 40k…. Causes Blizzard approached Games Workshop with the proposal to develop a Warhammer 40K RTS.

    The game turned out to be rubbish, to which GWS (rightfully so) rejected the deal.

    In the end Blizzard modified the game to look somewhat different to 40k, while still looking rather similar.

    The result was Starcraft. :3

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