Stepan Anastovich Mikoyan was still in his teens when he climbed into a fighter plane in 1942, and prepared to participate in the nastiest battle of the 20th Century.
A son of a Politburo grandee, he learned to become a skilled fighter and pilot. After the Nazis had been booted out of Stalingrad, after the war was won, he became a test pilot for a new generation of jet fighter planes. He was recognized as a Hero of the Soviet Union.
Now, in his nineties, he still takes an interest in all things aviation-related. His most recent project has been as adviser to 1C Game Studio, the Moscow-based creator of flight sim IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad.
As a survivor of the Battle of Stalingrad, a moment of deep significance for his country, he is well known. He recently visited 1C's offices to offer some input on the game.
1C has been holding a torch for flight sims for over a decade, all the way back to IL-2 Sturmovik in 2001. The new game is built on a grand scale, a 48,000-square mile recreation of Stalingrad and its surrounding area, right at the moment the Nazis took the city, and almost destroyed it. The Soviets regrouped and spent months fighting back, in some of the most brutal and desperate combat of the war.
Mikoyan recently visited 1C's offices to look at the game and take a virtual flight. He approved of the aircraft's lovingly recreated detail, including in-cockpit controls and shafts. But this is still a game, and he found the switch to a third-person camera somewhat disconcerting.
"He said it was very unusual to see a fighter plane and the pilot from the third person view, when we switched to the external camera," said 1C Game Studios' Anatoly Subbotin. "He always thought of this only from the first-person view perspective."
What he liked most of all was the virtual world's ability to recreate dogfights. According to 1C, much effort has been put into making sure AI aircraft behave as real pilots would.
"He was also quite impressed by the whole virtual plane set-up," added Subbotin. "He said that he wished that we could have had some of these [in 1942]. They could practice a lot because it really is like reality."
When Mikoyan joined the real Battle of Stalingrad he had only about 10 hours of flight experience. The first time he shot from a plane, was in a battle over the city.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, which comes out on Windows PC in September, features a single-player campaign that is based on maps and documents lifted from recently opened files in the Russian Historical Military Society. It includes thousands of photographs taken by German spy planes before the battle, allowing the designers to place landscape features just as they were 70 years ago.
"The Germans did us the favor of taking a lot of photographs of everything they were about to destroy," said Subbotin, drily.
The game also comes with the usual multiplayer options and a host of different play modes. Although IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad is simple enough to play, it also features a lot of depth and technical detail. This is much more a deep simulation than the free-to-play flight games that are very popular right now.
This is a game for the sort of player willing to invest in a decent joystick, and who gets a kick out seeing the rear wheel of a fighter plane draw a line in the snow, as it taxis towards take-off. It's a far safer way to experience Stalingrad, than Stepan Anastovich Mikoyan's.