Science, Fiction, Life

How to Make a Space Marine

Hello and welcome to The Science of StarCraft! There’s tons of stuff in the StarCraft universe, both from the original games and the new one, that I can’t wait to talk about here, but I thought a good place to start would be the StarCraft 2 teaser cinematic.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:


You’ve gotta love the space marines. They’re the first armed boots on the ground when you start a game, they’re in the thick of even the most epic battles, and they’re the last resort when your base is crumbling around you. So it’s great to learn more about how they work!

This video actually tells us a lot about the technology involved in building a marine, and about the level of Terran technology overall. Marines are about as basic as it comes for terran units, but there’s some pretty high-tech stuff going on here, so we can only imagine what goes into, say, a battlecruiser!

Let’s jump right in and start dissecting this video to see what we can learn.

The opening shot shows the lights coming on and flickering. That tells us that even though we’re in the future, it’s not so high-tech that they don’t use recognizable technology like a good old fashioned fluorescent lightbulb. But it’s clearly futuristic. This is a room brimming with technology and a lot of the suspense of the early part of the video is in wondering what it is all for.

Next, we see a ridiculously thick set of blast doors. Are they so thick to keep something in this room or to keep something out? Do the marines have a power source in their suit that could explode or something? Or maybe these doors are how a barracks can keep churning out units even as a swarm of zerglings are tearing down the walls. Or maybe they’re just cool.

We finally meet our marine, and I was interested to see that he’s a convict. And also: this dude has some muscles! Superhuman, grotesquely huge muscles! If you look really closely when the computer screen shows his information, there’s a line at the lower right that says “Genetic Alteration”, so that might be part of it. But, the whole “shoulders larger than the head” thing is also sort of the Blizzard style so we’ll bypass that and get to the suit.

The machinery that emerges from the walls of the chamber is undeniably awesome, but it’s also quite realistic! Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this video of a Honda assembly line, with dozens of specialized robots that work together to construct the cars. Looks mighty similar to me!

The idea of an armored suit is also not nearly as science fictional as you might think! Various robotic suits are being developed by the military and robotics researchers, though nothing quite equivalent to the marine power armor exists. Most of the suits in development are intended to allow the user to lift heavier loads and are not armored or pressurized, but it’s only a matter of time before we see those. Still, the amplified strength provided by exoskeleton suits that already exist will be extremely useful on the battlefield, in construction work, and for the disabled.

If you look closely during the video, you can see that there is actually hardware embedded in the marine’s flesh. None of the current powered suits are quite so intimately merged with their wearer. Some, such as the Hybrid Assistive Limb do measure electrical nerve impulses via a patch on the skin, which actually seems like a more elegant solution than having to rely on implanted hardware.

The last thing I’ll mention about the marine’s suit shown in the video is the power source. There’s a shot of a cylinder of some sort being locked into place, and a few seconds later we see two vents on the top of the suit flare up like miniature jet engines. I’m guessing the cylinder is meant to be some sort of power source for the suit. If the jet engines are supposed to be heat vents for the power source, then I would guess it is either fusion or fission-based. That’s the only way I could imagine justifying wasting so much heat (and therefore energy). If that’s true, then of all the cool stuff shown on the video, the suit’s power source is the most advanced in terms of technology.

The smallest modern fission power plants are still about the size of a small shed, and fusion plants still can’t make enough power to break even, let alone be miniaturized to fit into a backpack-sized unit.

There’s a lot more to be said about the marines: how do their gauss rifles work? What’s in their stim-packs? What does the U238 upgrade in the original starcraft really do? But that will have to wait for a future post.

One week until StarCraft 2 is released!


  1. Kevin

    I really like your banner art and the theme. I think you should make a new symbol for the little thing that’s to the left of the URL bar. Maybe the three race emblems together or something else.

  2. Ryan

    Thanks! I was really happy with how the banner turned out! It’s amazing what Blizzard-provided art plus a free font and some skill with the Gimp can do. 🙂 Good idea for the icon, I’ll have to play with that…

  3. infamousginger

    will there be plants?

  4. Pon

    U238 upgrade no longer exists in starcraft 2 😛

  5. Ryan

    No U238 upgrade? Darn. I have a lot to learn about starcraft 2. All these minor (and major) changes!

  6. Preston

    Dude, don’t forget, the Marines are in All-purpose EVA suits. The nozzles that lightup arent vents. Their thrusters. No gravity in space. So how do all these marines get around in all these environments? Hi-gravity is covered by strength enhancement. He will need something to keep him on the ground in a combat environment. Can’t shuffle his feet like the Apollo boys now. The only issue I have wth blizzards design is this. The arms are large for design’s sake. But arms of that size for that body could not work his actual arms being inside them. Based on the way the armor looks when its assembled, i always thought they were completely robotic, with the arms being more in a seated-armchair position. With his two hands on controllers right behind the plates on the side of the belly armor. Ive seen that in the RIFTS RPG books as well. Anyone concur with this?

    • Ryan

      I guess that makes sense for low-gravity environments. But the problem if they’re thrusters is that they look like fighter jet engines, which burn through fuel like nobody’s business. If they’re for downward thrust to keep our dude on the ground, they could just be little hydrazine jets like on modern spacecraft. Not nearly as sexy, but much more efficient.

      As for the arms, they’re pretty huge, but then, so are the guy’s actual arms. I don’t think they’re so big or misaligned that he couldn’t have his real arms inside.

      • Preston

        Well, we could guess they are Ion thrusters, not too much space needed for them, and they wouldn’t generate too much flame.

        • Ryan

          But ion thrusters wouldn’t do a thing to hold a person on the ground. They generate thrust equivalent to the weight of a sheet of paper. I suppose futuristic ones could have more thrust, but then they would still burn through fuel rapidly unless the ions were accelerated to ridiculous speeds.

  7. Joe

    U-238. Uranium bullets, I guess. They’re quite dense.

  8. Jager

    U-238 is the main component of depleted uranium, which until recent times was the material used in the 120mm sabot tank rounds used in the M1 Abrams…which was phased out and replaced with tungsten alloy due to radiation risks on the battlefield. So i would assume that the upgrade replaces the munitions in the Marine’s gauss rifle with depleted uranium for better penetration.

  9. JtiksPies

    Note that the U238 makes longer range, not better penetration. I have no idea what it means, but mayeb a future post? The only thing I want to point out as with the flicekring lights, these marine barracks are ususally at distant outposts on far out planets. It would make a whole lot of sense that these buildings are not the best stocked buildings nor do they poses the best technology available. True, if that building is an outpost, I’d like to see waht their scientists are working on…

  10. Shard

    now what i don’t get if the back is a jet engine to allow the marine to stay on the ground then what system allows him to move the large arms. what i’m thinking is that he uses a water like form of power only uses fire turbines in his back.

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