How does one design an alien race like the Zerg from Starcraft?

The Zerg fascinated me ever since I started playing Starcraft years ago, their organic design inspires me today to create my own nightmarish race of evolving creatures.
I've looked at concept art and I am wondering how did Blizzard create a race that varies so much individually, yet remains part of a whole?


  • Unfortunately Blizzard can't claim much credit for the concept and general design of The Zerg. They're pretty much entirely based on The Tyranids from Warhammer 40k. (As an interesting note, all the original Starcraft and Warcraft races were inspired by Warhammer/ Warhammer 40K counterparts).

    It doesn't mean Blizzard didn't put tons of fantastic artists to work to help visualise The Zerg in an awesome style, but the hive-minded concept and general visual style of the creatures was already there thanks to Warhammer.
    Thanked by 2Jurgen Pixel_Reaper
  • @BenJets, wow, that's really interesting.
    I found this:

    So, The Zerg aren't as original as I thought they were:P
    The Tyranids are an extragalactic composite species of hideous xenos that is actually a space-faring ecosystem comprised of innumerable different bioforms which are all variations on the same genetic theme. The Tyranid race is ultimately dedicated solely to its own survival, propagation and evolutionary advancement.
  • edited
    And the Tyranids were probably based on parts from elsewhere too, like HR Geiger's Aliens.

    And no not to take anything away from Blizzard, they do fantastic design, even if their universe is very derivative. What isn't these days though? :)

    The Protoss were a lot like the Eldars also from 40k, but I think they broke further away from the Eldars than the Zergs from Tyranids.


    But then, back to the original question of "How do companies design amazing concepts like this"... Is there any answer other than work a lot on it and try different variations until something seems cool? And have a strong art/creative director or direction team that holds a strong vision? I'm interested in what everyone thinks of a question like this, because I can't really see any magical answer other than "hard work and lots of good people", which seems un-magical, but true.
    Thanked by 1Jurgen
  • For me personally, I draw a great deal of inspiration just from observing nature. If you're looking into hive minded behaviour, I'd look at bees, ant or termites who behave more like a single organism (rather than individual insects). Flocks of birds and schools of fish, using very simple rules move beautifully complex patterns.

    For example, let's suppose you want to create an arachnid race.
    - Some spiders have amazing jumping ability.
    - Some are massive and rely on brute force.
    - Some have up to 7 web glands for rapidly wrapping up pray.
    - They can use their silk to fly in the air, and make a bubble to breath under water.
    - They hear by feeling air vibrations through their feet and triangulating the origin.
    - Some are poisons but frail, others use camouflage, and some spin a sticky ball of goo at the end of a web to catch prey.
    - The Pea Aphid can photosynthesise, the Parasitic Wasp can survive 180 000 rads.
    There are so many fascinating insects out there that you could use to extrapolate fantasy creatures from.

    The rest is down to good design, making sure the individual creatures adhere to an overall theme you've set for their race. But the inspiration can come from anywhere, so the more types of media you expose yourself to, the better designer you will be.

    (I actually main Zerg because I love their design so much, despite them being one of the hardest races to play. The creep spreading over the stage feels like I'm consuming the stage itself ^w^)
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    How would you describe your approach to the creative process?

    It’s all about spin, right? We’re essentially sponges — especially artist types. If you’re a songwriter, a dancer, whatever — we’re sponges. We take in data. We take in things that we dig. In my case it’s likely comics or Star Wars or Dragonlance. I absolutely devour the stuff. Strangely enough, I devour the same stuff over and over. It’s really weird. I’m not very experimental. I keep grilling things deeper and deeper if I have an initial reaction to it creatively.

    I think we soak in content. We chew on it. We digest it. What are the bits of these themes or these characters or these places that strike the chords within us emotionally? And our job is to spew back into the world. Spin the archetypes, right? Sometimes it’s a matter of mixing and matching different archetypes. Sometimes it’s a matter of just paring an idea down to its most naked truth. I think spinning ideas back out with our own spin on it is really where the magic comes from. It’s not necessarily from the innovation, although that’s very striking as well. But I bet if you tracked a lot of innovative ideas, they’re born from two or three other things that that person had seen already. We all stand on the shoulders of titans.

    As it relates to my craft, or specifically, Blizzard’s craft, I think we’ve done pretty well by that. We don’t necessarily try and come out with the craziest new concept you’ve ever heard of. We actually base the games we do on whatever we happen to be playing. If we’re having fun with a game like Everquest [a 3D, massively multiplayer, role-playing game that predates World of Warcraft] — and we were — we were all sitting around pretty much going, “Dude, how much fun would it be to build one of these? We think we could do X, Y, and Z a little cleaner, a little better. We think we could simplify this, but we think we can blow all these other ideas out and really have some fun with it.” That’s the way we typically approach our projects….

    You know, the name “Gandalf” was not unique to John Tolkien, right? He pulled that from Icelandic myth. “Orcs,” means what? “Devil” in some language no one speaks anymore. Ultimately what Tolkien did was take these elements that were really disparate — they didn’t necessarily have a lot of [potency] anymore in the great membrane of pop culture — no one really cared about these ideas — and he brought them together in a way that reinvigorated what they were. He blew it out by a thousand times the magnitude they had had for hundreds of years. And he clothed it in a world, and he molded this world with older ideas, but in such a way that it was absolutely fresh and it was absolutely true.
    This is from:

    I also found this:

    Creature design video by Feng Zhu.
  • Sometimes premise can do the creative work for you. Instead of thinking of a creature first. Try to imagine it's environment and then consider the things a creature would need to live there. How much pressure and heat is it used to? How much gravity. If gravity at all. How big is it. What does it eat or drink or photosynthesize. How much bark and how much bite. Or slurp or acid or whatevr it uses to attack. How does it move around. With fin or tentacle or arms.
    Think of a fly. Everything else is bigger and stronger and far away. Everything tries to kill it. So it is small and can fly really fast. It needs to be able to eat almost anything and eat it fast... so instead of biting and chewing it just squirts acid onto soft tissue and slurps it up. Because nothing can catch it... it has a very soft squishy body and because it never carries anything it has tiny weak legs that are just long enough to clean its lArge eyes that allow it to observe surroundings.
    Everything about the fly is a result of the premise it needs to survive.

    Same goes for jellyfish and ants and giraffes etc.

    So maybe try that approach. Premise before design?
    Thanked by 2EvanGreenwood Jurgen
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