Walking into Hamilton’s Canadian Heritage Warplane Heritage Museum, Bob Middleton, 97, still has a spring in his step and a quick sense of humour.
The Second World War veteran helped inspire a new video game based on air warfare and the Lancaster bombers he once flew. Not that he plays video games himself.
“None,” he said proudly. “Computers are for working with!”
Last week, Middleton was invited to the museum for a flight on its Lancaster — one of only two of the famous heavy bombers that remain in operation.
In April 1942, Middleton graduated early from Toronto’s Danforth Collegiate and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was 18. Middleton went on to become a navigator after completing training in Canada and Britain, and was eventually sent to Croft, Yorkshire.
“It was known as the chop squadron. Gone for the chop means you get shot down. You didn’t come back,” Middleton said in an interview.
Although many of his fellow airmen did not come back, Middleton successfully completed 33 missions. They were extremely dangerous, flying large bombers over Europe to attack heavily guarded enemy targets.
Valiant Effort video game
Those harrowing and history-shaping flights will be what gamers experience in Valiant Effort, created by Hamilton-based developer Andrew Spearin and MicroProse Canada.
While it began as Spearin’s own stand-alone project, Valiant Effort will be included in the next version of the popular B-17 Flying Fortress series.
WATCH | Bob Middleton speaks to his experiences in the Second World War
Spearin, who served in the military himself and volunteers at the museum, arranged a flight on the Lancaster to gather images, video and inspiration for the game.
“We certainly want to capture what it was like in those tight quarters, in the darkness, lights flashing in, and at the same time, what was it like to cooperate with your crew members,” Spearin told CBC Toronto.
Spearin learned about Middleton though the museum and as he was organized the flight, he decided to invite the veteran flyer along. Elements of the game are based on Middleton’s own experience.
“Bob Middleton is one of the very few veterans who are still around who can provide us with sound advice on what it was actually like,” Spearin said.
“To be able to look Bob in the eye and hear his voice, and get a sense of what it was really like, that’s the biggest value I can possibly find.”
Realism is important to Spearin and not only for the quality of game play. While he isn’t looking to glamorize what Middleton and other veterans went through, Spearin wants gamers to feel the reality of the war.
“If we’re going to portray real people, real aircraft, real events, then we have a responsibility to get the authenticity right,” he said.
With video games becoming more advanced, there’s hope that Valiant Effort will help younger generations understand the sacrifice veterans made.
It will incorporate virtual reality flight simulation. And part of the game will follow the training program that Middleton and other RCAF veterans went through.
“The more kids that get to see that game, when it comes out, the better it will be for all of us,” said Leon Evans, chief pilot at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.
“We can’t forget these veterans.”
Playing pretend war games on a screen may seem a little odd to Middleton. But he too sees the value in it.
With fewer veterans among us, younger generations will have to connect with the past in other ways. And even if it’s video games, Middleton wants them to learn from it.
“They don’t understand what went on. People your age, they signed on the dotted line: ‘I’m paying the mortgage with my life.’ It’s tough to understand that.”