Why buy unlicensed models taken from the videogames Morrowind or Oblivion, when you can quickly extract your own — for only the few dollars needed to buy the games? Only for non-profit personal use in your own fan movies, of course, and don’t forget to credit Bethesda.
Here’s my ten-step guide to how to do it…
1. Buy used copies of the Windows PC version of Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and/or Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Install.
You can pick up plain old Morrowind used for about £2 ($4) on Amazon inc. post and packing. You don’t need the Bloodmoon or Tribunal expansion packs, or the GOTY edition, unless you plan to actually play the game. And Oblivion, without expansion packs, can be had used for about £6 ($10). Neither game has any nefarious rights-management preventing the sale of used games.
2. Register yourself with the free Planet Elder Scrolls mods repository, and with IGN’s Fileplanet mod-hosting service. Both are free, both are required to get files from Planet Elder Scrolls. We need bsa_browser_v1.0.zip. Do not sidestep these registrations and instead Google for bsa_browser_v1.0.zip, since the only other copy is on what looks like a dodgy Russian website and could be packed with malware.
3. Now, for Morrowind download the BSA Browser (bsa_browser_v1.0.zip). This peers into the .bsa archive that Morrowind stores its meshes and textures inside. BSA Browser is a very simple utility, and it doesn’t need to be installed. Once you’re extracted its core files, right-click on BSA_Browser.exe and give the program Windows Administrator rights — as it’ll need to be able to write files to your hard-disk in a moment.
3. Now find the huge Morrowind.bsa file that’s sitting in the top of your game’s Data_ directory, and copy it to a fresh folder. Then double-click on BSA_Browser.exe to run it, and point it at the morrowind.bsa you just copied. It won’t work if you’re pointing it to the morrowind.bsa in the main Morrowind data directory…
BSA Browser will ponder for a moment, and then pop up a directory structure. You’re now able to browse the main .bsa, just as if it were a normal .zip file.
4. Yummy! 11,000+ files! Rather than fiddling around with extracting files one at a time, it’s best to unpack the entire archive in one go… thankfully this is a very quick process (a few minutes at most), and you only need to do it once…
5. You now have all the models unpacked as plain old .nif files, which is what Ken Rolston and his developers at Bethesda used when making these classic games. You can close the BSA Browser now, we don’t need it any more. Now you download the free open source NifSkope, which will allow you to browse through all these 11,000 models and textures in a quick and robust way. The file-naming and folder-structures are fairly straightforward (Item Index here). NifSkope will also let you load and extract models as standard .obj files, which is what we’re now aiming at.
6. Use NifSkope to freely navigate the folders with the .nif meshes in, and instantly load them with visual previews, thus…
7. You don’t need to worry about what all the detail means. Just export your model as a standard .obj file, thus…
8. These .obj files can then be easily loaded into 3DXchange 4, for conversion to iClone…
9. However, you’ll see that the textures are missing. Annoying, but this is fairly easily fixed. Go back to NifSkope, and in the top-bar menu go to: Render | Settings…
Now set the path to all those textures that the BSA Browser extracted a few minutes ago. For good luck, also set it to your main installed Morrowind textures directory. It can handle more than one directory. When you go back to the model you loaded, you’ll see that the model preview is now properly textured.
10. Now that you’ve learned how to do it, extract the .obj for a second time — and this time you’ll see there’s also a little .mtl file sitting alongside it, telling applications the required texture names and where they are stored. But 3DXchange and iClone don’t handle .dds textures, so your model will still come into 3DXchange untextured. Hmmm. What follows is for Oblivion, but is also usable for Morrowind.
We need to get those .dds textures into .jpg format. The only Windows 7 batch converter that can handle mass conversion of Oblivion .dds files (find them in your game’s data directory) seems to be Easy2Convert DDS to JPG Pro ($20 – the free Compressonator couldn’t convert Oblivion’s old? .dds format). As long as you can cope with .jpg textures on your final model (rather than the more preferable .tif or .png), it’ll do the job without errors and very speedily.
Once Easy2Convert DDS to JPG Pro is installed, use Notepad to open the accompanying MTL file that’s been output alongside the OBJ you saved from NIFScope. Make a note of the paths to the texture folders. These are the folders we now need to convert with Easy2Convert DDS to JPG Pro. Or you can spend a couple of hours converting the entire Oblivion textures directory one folder at a time.
Make sure to save the resulting .jpg files into the same directory as the original .dds.
Now use Notepad to open the accompanying .mtl text file that’s sitting alongside the .obj that NIFScope exported for you. Then simply search and replace “.dds” with “.dds.jpg”. Close. Your model should now load with textures in 3DXchange.
(You can also use simple software such as Sobelsoft’s Find and Replace In Multiple Text Files to search and replace inside multiple text files at once, and this will accept .mtl text files.)
You can use 3DS Max to load up a model with .dds textures applied (about the only 3D app I found that would do that) — but it simply refuses to create .jpg conversions on export, even when you tell it to and try all possible output config options. You also get weird transparency issues, inc. on .fbx export.
So, for less than $5 and some time, you now have access to all the Morrowind props and interiors you could ever want. The same ten-step process will work for Oblivion, but substitute the free BSA Commander to make your initial extraction of the .bsa contents.
Obviously, you can’t host them anywhere or give them away free to friends, and you certainly can’t sell them. Just use them for your own personal non-profit fan movies, and give Bethesda a big credit.
You can also get your .nif files straight into 3DS Max with the free NIFplugin, or into Blender with the free Blender NIF Scripts. NIFplugin is the better choice for newbies who don’t want to wrestle with the infernal way Blender does scripts. Blender 2.49 is probably the better choice for those who already have Blender set up properly with script handling and Python installed — not least because the NIF Scripts confer .dds texture import and automatic conversion abilities on Blender, which it doesn’t ordinarily have.
Other games that use the NIF format are: Sid Meier’s Railroads; the Zoo Tycoon games; Civilization IV; Dark Age of Camelot; Freedom Force; Sid Meier’s Pirates; and Bethesda’s Fallout 3 (the Fallout 3 .bsa extractor is here and both Meshes.bsa and Textures.bsa need extracting. Wolf has experience of extracting Fallout 3 models for Strife, and may be able to give additional advice).