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Military History Online
"The only thing missing is the gun smoke..."

Having traveled to Gettysburg National Park about a dozen times in the past three years, I felt I was pretty familiar with nearly all of it – until I previewed this excellent production by Stephen Recker of Another Software Miracle.

Now, not only can I get more familiar with it, I can visit the battlefield any time I wish…

This is a professional production presented in a great package that includes the interactive Virtual Gettysburg program cd-rom, three audio tour CDs, with an accompanying booklet that includes all of the narrative (or close to it). The tour was written and is narrated by Gary Kross; a well respected Licensed Battlefield Guide at the park for over 20 years. I personally checked with several of my LBG friends who have nothing but awe when speaking of Mr. Kross’ knowledge and insights.

Stephen Recker has spent the past five years in developing and production of Virtual Gettysburg, and every moment of that time has been well spent. Now that his format is established, no telling how great future productions and projects will be.

With 99 (count ‘em) panoramic views of the Gettysburg Battlefield, anyone can visit and study the fields as they are now by simply installing a cd-rom on their home computer. Not only that, the visuals are interactive with zoomable maps, photographs of the officers, timelines, and then…there are the monuments.

One of the greatest art museums in the world is the Gettysburg National Park. Each statue and marker has a story, created with love and honor from those that survived the conflict and their relations, emplaced on over several thousand acres of manicured grounds.

“Virtual Gettysburg contains a photograph of EVERY single monument and the text of EVERY single marker. As well, every monument and marker is present on the interactive map. Click on a monument or marker in the list and the map zooms in to that monument or marker. Click on the map and see a photo of the monument or read the text of the marker,” said Mr. Recker in a recent interview.

So if you have those questions about your great grandfather’s regiment and want to see their marker or monument—here you go…and you don’t even have to drive there! For those of you who live in California or Oregon or Texas, who don’t savor three to four days driving across America with three screaming kids and a dog who would rather be visiting Mickey…here you go!

The presentation of the tour is the real story, however—using the interactive features takes a little time to master, but that is understandable considering the scope of this overall project. With just a little practice, you can take the tour, stop it at any time, and zoom into the maps, view photographs, read the monuments, and actually take the opposite viewpoint of your present location – all with the click of the mouse! All this while a map in the lower corner shows where you are and what direction you are facing, shaded to show the present viewing area.

So how does this all work?

First you insert the interactive Virtual Gettysburg cd-rom into your computer and it will run automatically. It will install QuickTime 5 if you do not have it on your computer, but this is fairly quick and simple. Once that is finished, you are off and running…well, walking anyway. Minimal computer requirements are given at the end of this review.

The opening screen fades in, and like a movie, it dramatically takes you to the field. Mr. Kross opens his narration with an overview of the First Day Tour, accompanied by pictures taken right after the battle. There are seven major parts to each day’s action, broken down by general geographic locations like McPherson’s Ridge, Evergreen Cemetery, etc. This means 21 different tours, followed by a great presentation of the Gettysburg Address by James Getty, renowned for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.

The actual tour begins after this preview, which you can interrupt at any time. The panoramic views come into play here and rotate accordingly to the narration. At some points, I did find the picture changes to be a bit quick, and had to “Stop Tour” a couple of times to orient myself. A “pause” button may help here, as when I pressed the “Resume Tour” key; it took me all the way back to the beginning of the segment. At first, this was a little inconvenient to folks like me who are a little impatient. However, I found that by going to the Info button, I was able to adjust the QuickTime program to a more acceptable speed. Again, a little practice makes perfect, and I am more likely than most to notice any difference.

Stopping the tour, I explored other buttons on the split screen. I found I had the option of “Show Hot Spots,” which highlights monuments or geographic references to that view in light blue shaded areas. Clicking on those shades, I discovered close-ups of the highlighted areas, and were able to read the markers, monuments, and reference points of interest accordingly with my map orientation. For example, having visited the Peach Orchard many times before, I never realized the vantage point that Lee must have had from the Point of Woods—this presentation showed that! As an amateur historian, I can really appreciate this production even more.
Another great feature of the panoramic views is that the map at the bottom right shows shaded areas of your directional orientation and viewpoints. A central compass also shows the same, which is a big help in determining just where you are, especially for those that have never visited the field.

You also have the option of viewing from the exact opposite of the current panoramic photograph. I discovered this by accident when running my mouse over the picture itself, as it showed an arrow going off into the distance. The scene was the Peach Orchard, and in clicking the arrow, I found myself suddenly viewing the Peach Orchard from the Longstreet Tower about 600 yards away—wow! Very nice feature indeed!

The Options are especially interactive and just generally neat stuff. You can choose to show the monument or marker or picture full screen for further study. After a little experimenting, I found that pressing the “Full Screen” button again would reduce it back to normal. Perhaps a “Reduce View” button or something similar might be of help here.

There is also a preview screen in the lower right corner next to the map, which shows a miniature of the picture that you wish to select to view. This is a great feature, avoiding having the press the “Next” button all the time. A list of the map, picture, etc shows on the left to further aid in your view selections. Your choices include Monuments, People, Scenes, and Tours—all interactive with one another, meaning you can click on one and still have options to view the others as you like.
In using the map views, I admit to a minor annoyance in having to click the zoom in feature many times to get to a specific point, although I understand that this just allows more options to the viewer to get to specific points. Also, the map pretty well just includes the monument and marker locations—which was a little puzzling to me at first, not understanding why not have the battle lines and troop dispositions? DOH!—dummy me! Because the monument and marker locations pretty well denote the battle lines anyway. Also, I learned that by clicking on the particular list item automatically zooms into the map as well.

I admit I didn’t take the entire tour, due to hungry kids and cats, and kazillion “urgent” emails, but will do so some late night soon without interruption. However, when I did select “Exit”, it took me to a screen that allowed me to view the Credits. I did so, and was pleasantly surprised at a humorous outtake from the recording of the narration by Gary Kross.

Any projects similar to this in the future? You betcha…

“The first project that I am doing in video format that pertains to my efforts with Virtual Gettysburg is Virtual Little Big Horn. I will probably release Virtual Little Big Horn as a DVD before I release it as a CD-ROM. The guide I used, Joe Marshall, has a book coming out next year on the anniversary date, June 25th, so I am starting with a simple DVD in order to have product to release on the same date as his book,” stated Mr. Recker during our interview. He continued, “I am in the process of rendering the (Gettysburg) battlefield in 3D so that photo-realistic videos of any pathway through the battlefield can be rendered with either tree as they are now or as they were in 1863.” Wow, indeed…

My overall impression of Virtual Gettysburg was excellent, and I give it five out of a five star rating scale.

Is Virtual Gettysburg for everyone? Hard question, as the retail price is just under $130, which at face value, seems a bit high for just another tour of Gettysburg product. But, in my humble opinion, it is worth every penny and more…
Why? Because now folks from all over the world have an opportunity to visit this historical monument to those that fought, died, and bled for their beliefs. Virtual means “near” and this is as close as you can get to being there without actually walking the fields. And, if you actually get to visit the fields, you can use the enclosed narration guide and audio cd’s to enhance your tour experience as well. I can even see using a laptop in the car while taking the tour, although you should have a partner drive the vehicle for you for safety reasons.

I see it as a great educational tool, for grade school to graduate students, and for the amateur historians like me that research specific reports and try to correlate them without being able to visit the fields. As Mr. Recker reports, Virtual Gettysburg is already being used by a captain at West Point in a class, and that the Office of Civil War studies at Gettysburg College have also placed a large order.

If this is the first of his offerings in this venue, I see great success for Another Software Miracle Company in the future. I look forward to the 3D and 1863 views of the Gettysburg National Park, as well as his offerings for Antietam, Little Bighorn, and others.

The only thing missing is the gun smoke…

Virtual Gettysburg is available at selected retail outlets or through the web site at www.virtualgettysburg.com. Comments and suggestions are most welcome. I found Mr. Recker to be most cooperative and available for any questions or comments at any time. He believes in Virtual Gettysburg… and it shows…

Rating - 5 stars of 5

Note: After clarification on several issues, Mr. Bump revised his rating to five stars out of five.

Note – I received some clarification on the “Pause” features of the tour from Stephen Recker in a quick response to my inquiries.

Anyway, at any point in a tour you should be able to "Pause" the tour by:

1. Hitting the Stop Tour button. You can start it again, from the middle of the tour, by clicking on the Resume Tour button, just like you said you wanted to do in the review.

2. If you go to the Photo Gallery (by clicking on the Full Screen button next to the small photo), return to the tour by clicking on the Go Back button on the right side of the screen. This takes you back to the tour.

Then hit the Resume Tour button and the tour starts where it left off.

3. If you go to the Maps section (by clicking on the Full Screen button next to the small map), return to the tour by clicking on a green (panorama) hotspot in the big map. This takes you back to the tour. Then hit the Resume
Tour button and the tour starts where it left off.

Join these satisfied users!
Visit the Virtual Gettysburg Store and order your copy today.

Thank you for the prompt shipment of my Virtual Gettysburg. It's exactly what I have been looking for. How great to see the battlefield from all angles and the narrative to boot.

The most frustrating thing about being a Civil War buff is the inability to visualize the battlefield while reading the accounts. You've brought the battle to life right on my computer and enabled me to go step-by-step throughout the battle at my own pace. It's a fantastic product and I have shared your site with a number of my Civil War enthusiast friends in the hopes that they will order it rather than risk being refused the loan of my copy.

Frank Barden, via eMail

THANKS for the GREAT turnaround time on this order - I was amazed to find it in my mailbox yesterday afternoon!!!

What you have accomplished is absolutely, positively staggering!! I am 110% satisfied with all aspects of this software - congratulations on a superb job!! The narrative is excellent, the photographs are magnificent - it IS truly just like being there....it certainly helps keep the park alive for me until I can get back there again!

Thanks again to you and Gary and everyone else for a GREAT product!!

Grant W., Humble, Texas,
vie eMail

I can finally justify my computer. I turn it on, open the window and I'm in Gettysburg!

Frank Z., Old Forge, New York, via registration card

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