B-Movie Inspirations: Europa Report (2013)


Hardcore science fiction is very hard to pull off from a role playing game perspective because realism tends to bore the average player.  Yea, I know, there are those that prefer it and I can respect that. However, in my experience, the average player does not want to go through the mind numbing realization that space is big, full of long boring trips and the physics of space is the major enemy of a space traveller.  Be it the lack of visuals, the lack of understanding, or disinterest in the realities of space, many players would prefer the space spanning adventures of science fantasy (Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy) rather than the real world science of games like Traveller or the like.

Europa Report is a movie that portrays that some of the realities of space in s dark and gritty way.  The advent of the science fiction horror genre – thanks to movies like Alien- allowed us to see hard core science fiction in what I feel is true light – the terrifying kind.  Space is big – mind bogglingly big – so much so that it would turn you into a babbling moron if you thought about it too much.

It is an injustice to call Europa Report a low budget B movie because it does have some recognizable stars and the effects are top notch.  But I found it very inspiring.  Using some of the best and most realistic graphics I have seen to portray deep space travel to Jupiter’s moon, it shows you just how majestic as well as heart-stoppingly scary a journey like that can be.

The story of this movie is very simple and told is a fairly complex but intriguing way.  The story does not make this movie – the visuals as well as the way the story is told make it unique.  How is that useful in an RPG?  Referencing back to the visuals really creates the pictures in the player’s mind, assuming they have seen it.  Or you can pull the visuals up on a video screen if they have not seen it.

The story is told in a “found footage” manner and not chronologically.  It jumps between the weeks before landing and the build up to launch, and events that occurred in the middle.  It is hard to keep up with, but you get the total story by the end.  It i s a very satisfying story, in my opinion – leaving you feeling triumphant but also scared; sad but in wonder.

It is humanity’s first deep space mission and it was too important to send drones.  They loaded up a ship with international astronauts – 4 men and 2 women – and sent them off to Europa in search of water and hopefully life. At some point, the ship loses contact with mission control and later you find out that it was due to a sun flare. A crewman is killed in the attempt to fix it, left floating out in the middle of space (awesome but gut wrenching scene). The rest are left to finish the journey.  Arrival at Europa is visually stunning, but definitely leaves you with a feeling of dread as well, because it is so alien and untouched by man.  Lots of bad things happen during their attempt to study what is below the ice, but I won’t give away too much beyond that.

Although this is a straightforward storyline, it can inspire a GM to approach space in a different manner.  Instead of just the space between one planet to another, it too can be a place of adventure.  It can be a scary place.  It can be used to put horror in a traditionally non-horrific setting (which I do not see as a bad thing).  It can be used to knock a player group down to size.  Space is big and despite all the technology or magic advancements we might have, nothing is perfect.

Even in games like Star Wars, that treat space and its dangers as an afterthought, I think a GM should take a moment to remind the players just how dangerous and big space is.  Many probably feel that bringing in such hard core science fiction aspects is not appropriate for that kind of setting but I don’t feel that way.  It does not have to be a constant thing but I also never want my players to take space for granted.