Trivia: Libby Custer graduated Valedictorian of her class at the Young
Ladies Seminary and Collegiate Institute.
I just finished a lovely, relaxing stroll through the Neill-Cochran
House Museum in Austin, Texas, courtesy of White Rabbit Adventure Games.
Along the way I enjoyed some beautiful music, discovered a little history,
and solved an enigma.
George Armstrong Custer and his wife, Libby, lived in what is now the
Neill-Cochran house near the end of the Civil War. Sterling’s Gift
tells the story of Libby Custer and Sterling, a blind orphan boy. Even
though Libby has a profound effect on Sterling, he makes an even greater
impact on her life. Their tale is set in 1865, though your investigations
will be in the present day.
As the Civil War comes to an end, General Custer endures a poignant
death watch with an unknown soldier. Thus begins a series of events that
sets a mystery in place which will only be solved by the perceptive gamer.
Trivia: Libby has been portrayed onscreen
by Olivia de Havilland, Mary Ure, Blythe Danner, and Rosanna Arquette.
The graphics in Sterling’s Gift consist of clear
photographs of the Neill-Cochran Museum, its grounds, and its contents
presented á la Myst (slide show). Also, there are two video clip
sequences. The graphics are all static, with no movement in the
background. Often you’ll have the chance to take a closer look at some of
the beautiful period furnishings. As you travel around, you’ll find the
house much as Libby left it.
As is usual in this type of presentation, there are one or two awkward
camera angles that necessitate walking past an area and then turning to
access it. As the game play area is not large, learning the layout of the
house minimized this problem.
At some point in the game you will find a diary introducing the player
to Libby and Sterling. Though crucial to the game, it is not an archival
document. Rather, it was created referencing Libby’s writings and other
historical documents. It is well crafted, though I wonder if the somewhat
spidery cursive will present problems for some players.
Trivia: General Custer was once
court-martialed for leaving the field in order to visit Libby.
The leisurely pace allows you to play at your own speed.
No need to hurry. There are a great many drawers to rummage in (though
they are often empty), certificates to read, portraits to admire, and
rooms and grounds to search.
As always, there were doors I couldn’t open, leaving me wondering what
I was missing. In addition, I was curious about the identities of the
people in the numerous paintings. For instance, there is a likeness of two
small boys in one of the bedrooms. I assume that it is the Custer
brothers. I’d really like to know.
Hotspots are easy to find, and I did no pixel hunting -- though close
observation is necessary in one spot. I noticed an inconsistency in their
availability, however. Some points were active throughout the game. Some
only became hot after activating certain triggers. Keep this in mind if
you become stuck.
One facet of game play quickly wore thin. You have to put everything
back the way you found it before you can leave a screen. For instance, if
you open a drawer, you must close it before you can progress. This was
mildly annoying and it broke the flow of the game.
You are free to explore the Museum and the grounds in whatever order
you wish. Though an unhurried and appealing stroll, it was usually a
Trivia: Libby lived as a widow for 57
years, dedicating herself all that time to rehabilitating the reputation
of her beloved Autie (General Custer).
Although you come to know Libby and Sterling through the intriguing
diary entries, you’ll never see Libby. Sterling and a few other characters
make short appearances in the full motion video cut scenes. There is very
little spoken dialogue and the voice acting was adequate.
Sterling’s Gift provides enough ambient sound to set the stage,
though not enough to provide immersion. For instance, you hear
doors and drawers open and shut, and you hear wind or machinery while
outside. But, other than the excellent background music, everything is
quiet. No radio plays; no foot steps echo; no birds call.
The background music (which is found only indoors) shines. With the
exception of a beautiful rendition of Beautiful Dreamer, it’s
original, it’s soothing, and it’s easy on the ear. Although it loops, it
never grates. I was never tempted to mute it.
Trivia: Libby died in New York City two
days before her 92nd birthday and is buried beside her beloved husband.
Sterling’s Gift strikes me as a game of exploration woven around
a beguiling story with a handful of inventory puzzles integrated into its
narrative. There are few conundrums in this game, and none are difficult
to the observant gamer. Fans of code breaking take heart. You’ll find one
poser for your decrypting pleasure.
Like the save system, the inventory in this game is handled a bit
differently. Picking up an item places it in inventory. However, to
examine it you must set it on a specific table at the back of the house.
This seems clunky, requiring many additional steps.
There are no mini-games or riddles, and no mechanical, timed, sound,
color, or slider puzzles. You cannot die.
Trivia: Libby went with Gen. Custer on all
his assignments and authored several books about those experiences.
Sterling’s Gift is a first person, mouse controlled adventure
game. It is Alt+Tab friendly, and comes on a CD with an instruction sheet.
The smart cursor changes to indicate possible directions or actions.
Saving, loading, and exiting are available through either the Esc key or a
right click of the mouse.
I’d like to point out an area which stumped me for a bit—how to
actually get into the game. Upon starting a new game, you’ll see some text
screens. Next is the options page featuring a mirror in the upper right
corner. From here, you can turn hints, history, and spoilers on or off in
I quite liked that feature. I played with the history button activated,
thus allowing me to learn which parts of the game were factual and which
were imaginary. However, you can only set these options at the game’s
beginning. I wish they could be changed at will.
This options page is followed by another page with a bit more
information and another mirror on the upper right corner. It is from this
mirror, the one on the second options page (not the one on the first
options page), that you begin the game.
Trivia: Libby was born in Monroe, Michigan
and was an only child.
Sterling’s Gift has unlimited saves. You can save at will, and
you can name your own saves. These are all features that are on my Most
Wanted list. However, I ran into a snag as I first began to play.
Each time a saved game loads, you begin outside by a tree. Though
everything you previously accomplished stays done, you have to navigate
back to the room of that save to begin playing from your last screen. This
adds “clicks” to the game, and interrupts the game’s rhythm.
Though it’s my own fault for failing to read the instruction sheet that
came with the game, I wasted a couple of hours trying to discover why the
game I saved at the piano or in the bedroom (or anywhere) started by that
Trivia: Libby’s father withheld his
permission for the marriage until Custer was promoted to General.
I had some initial difficulty trying to install this game. It kept
asking me for the original disk, which was in the drive. I swapped drives
and changed computers. Finally, I cleaned my CD drive, enabling the game
to install on the original drive.
Too, I had problems with this game hard-locking my computer, but only
for the first three starts. (Weird, I know.) After that, it ran without
glitches. Though there is a patch available
here which resolves a few minor game play issues, it does not address
Trivia: The Neill-Cochran House was the
first Texas Home for the Blind in 1856.
Though this game is quite short (perhaps six hours), White Rabbit
Productions did a great job of intertwining their story with historical
facts. It was a gentle, serene, and mystical journey. At the end, I felt
as though I had sauntered through a slice of times past and peeked into
the soul of some famous, and not so famous, Americans.
Point and click adventure
Slide show style presentation
1st person viewpoint
Save at will
Name own saves
Unlimited saves, but will
always begin outside of house
Soothing background music
Mostly inventory puzzles
Has few puzzles, but they are
No sound, color, maze, timed,
or slider puzzles
No pixel hunting, though close
observation is required in one place
Took several tries to install
Patch solves a few game play issues
History, hints, and spoilers
all available in game
Short playing time
No interaction with non-player
Fictional story integrated with
Sterling's Gift is an
Independent Production of White Rabbit Adventure Games, and can be
Trivia quoted in review is courtesy of Wikipedia.com
I played on:
Win XP Professional SP1
3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4
1 GB Dual Channel DDR400 SDRAM
Sound Card: DirectX Version:
Video Card: 128 DDR NVIDIA
Geforce FX5200 Ultra
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