Where the MOSES grid gets its content

When most users first make the move from Second Life to OpenSim, they have two main concerns: will they be able to find a community, and will they be able to find the stuff they want?

When an organization — a school, a company, a government agency — makes the move, however, it typically brings the community with it, in the form of students or employees.

Content remains a problem, however. Bringing stuff over from Second Life can be difficult, and even impossible in some cases.

The US Army Research Laboratory Simulation and Training Technology Center launched its MOSES grid in early 2011. The content for that grid came from mesh uploads, generated from actual terrain data, created by grid users, and downloaded from Linda Kellie’s website.

Mesh objects

OpenSim has long supported mesh uploads, but the technology didn’t start catching on with grids until Second Life added mesh support to its viewers. OpenSim had Second Life-compatible meshes the day after the Lindens opened up their mesh data.

This is great for the military, since it already has a lot of content in 3D format.

Douglas Maxwell

According to Douglas Maxwell, the science and technology manager for virtual world strategic applications at the U.S. Army’s Simulation & Training Technology Center, MOSES supports the Defense Department’s Advanced Distributed Learning 3D Depository, where all the content is free to use, and Creative Commons licensed.

“Many of our in-house developed models can be found here,” Maxwell said.

OpenSim Creations has a nice explanation of how to upload mesh objects, or you could watch this tutorial video from the University of the Aegean in Greece. The mesh objects have to be in the Collada format, which has the .dae file type extension. Autodesk has a free format converter here, called the FDX Converter.


Mesh vehicles on the MOSES grid. (Image courtesy MOSES.)

Real terrains

OpenSim comes with a default region terrain — a little circular island. There are also tools built into the viewer for manually adjusting the terrain. There are also online websites where folks can download a few other terrains as well. See our article, Where to get content for OpenSim.

But the military needs more than a few pretty island landscapes.

“If you are simply training for procedural knowledge, then the area doesn’t have to be accurate,” said Maxwell. “If you are training for a specific mission, then the virtual environment has to be highly accurate.”

However, traditional methods of creating accurate terrains were costly and time consuming, he added. So the MOSES team had to create its own method.

“We have developed a semi-automated process that ingests data from both military and civilian sources,” he said. This process takes in digital terrain elevation data from the Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and digital elevation models from the US Geological Survey, he said.

One benefit of working in OpenSim is that terrains can be changed in real-time, he added.

“Using scripts, we can create craters in response to explosive detonations,” he said. “We can also move the explosives to any place in the sim.  This means the training scenario can be randomized and the students cannot ‘game’ the system.  For example, let’s discuss a hypothetical convoy driving scenario that tests your ability to spot signs of IEDs.  If you know that every time you enter the town square there will be an explosive, then the test is of your memory of the location and not the signs of an IED.”

Moving scripted objects is easy in OpenSim and doesn’t require developers or 3D artists — just the ability to right-click on an object and click on the arrows to move it to a new location. This is a major advantage of OpenSim over some of the high-end virtual environments and training platforms.

“Current training systems are not flexible enough to allow the trainer to move events to any other place in the simulation,” he said. “It is all pre-scripted and canned.”

In-world editing

The traditional development process for a training simulation starts with 3D modeling in Maya or 3DS Max and Photoshop, which generally requires a professional content company. Then this 3D content is imported into a world building tool which is specific to the chosen game engine. Then lighting is added and the world is compiled into a level, which is then added to the game. The whole thing is then deployed to a game server.

“OpenSim is admittedly low fidelity, but the content creation process is vastly simplified,” Maxwell said. “Content creators have the option of using offline 3D modeling tools, but they can also work in prims for a quick and dirty solution.”

Then, after the content is created, authorized users can easily move it to desired locations and combine it with other content — all in real time.

“The holy grail of simulation-based training initiatives is to have an editing capability that is at the level of complexity of PowerPoint ” Maxwell said. “The trainers are the subject matter experts in their instruction.  We would much rather have them create the environments to their satisfaction.”

Off-the-shelf and ready to wear

OpenSim also benefits greatly from having a large library of pre-made content — avatars, clothing, buildings, animations and a lot more — freely available for any use whatsoever. The original creations, all made by Linda Kellie, come with no licensing or use restrictions, making them the perfect choice for organizations looking to outfit a new grid.

Her site includes individual downloads of hundreds of items, as well as more than a dozen fully-made regions in the form of OAR files. These regions are landscaped, stocked with buildings and scripts, and can be quickly and easily uploaded to a grid. For example, her Freebie Mall region comes with more than 23,620 prims worth of goodies.

“Linda Kellie’s work is high quality and I’m a big fan,” Maxwell said. “Her OAR files have provided the MOSES residents with clothing and basics.”

A prototypical urban environment. (Image courtesy MOSES.)

For example, Linda Kellie’s urban OARs were used as settings for urban combat scenarios, he said. “Using the content was a cost and time savings.”

One such OAR is the Urban City region, available as a free download here.


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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

11 Responses

  1. storybooklove@yahoo.com' Araxie says:

    Nice article Maria! I’m a fan of Linda too. Linda’s sharing ethic is rocking and cool to some silly mountain fella who likes to waste time playing on his own grid with Faerie NPCs, Trolls and Pirates (me), and even to huge organizations like branches of the United States Military. Yay for Linda! Crossing fingers that she keeps that love of sharing.

  2. Ener Hax says:

    “where all the content is free to use” this is probably only true for US citizens, because their tax dollars fund this, the content actually belongs to all Americans, just like photos and videos of the military and NASA

    • Keith Selmes says:

      No, the site is US government, but anyone can upload there and choose a licence. The tank I downloaded earlier was on a CC BY SA


      • Ener Hax says:

        exactly, the US Governemnet is the property of American citizens =)

        the licenses are nice because that opens it up internationally as well

        however, remember that Creative Commons isn’t a legal institution like copyright is – it is an attempt to expand what licensing is since most of copyright, and even the DMCA act can’t keep up with all the new media and many derivatives possible

        very cool about the tank, what are you working on Keith? =)

        • Keith Selmes says:

          well i just picked the tank as an example, i downloaded several collada files, and the tank worked as a mesh upload in firestorm. Not all of them did. There seem to be some wrinkles with collada that i don’t understand (yet). Also it was a useful example as being from a private company and CC licensed – good marketing I think as it prompted me to check their website.

        • Keith Selmes says:

          well i just picked the tank as an example, i downloaded several collada files, and the tank worked as a mesh upload in firestorm. Not all of them did. There seem to be some wrinkles with collada that i don’t understand (yet). Also it was a useful example as being from a private company and CC licensed – good marketing I think as it prompted me to check their website.

        • trrlynn73@gmail.com' Minethere says:

          “exactly, the US Governemnet is the property of American citizens =)”

          I dunno, but as an American citizen, I often feel it is me who is the property of the us government…in so, so, so many ways-(( [but I digress]

          @Catherine..I read the article as saying the army is simply using Linda’s stuffs. As far as I know, she didn’t go to them, but them to her stuff. As to her blog entry concerning island oasis, I am familiar with this, and Linda’s stuffs are and will be there, as they are, and will be, on tons of grids and in tons of builds…it will not disappear-)) As to the concept of -free- in general…the net has always offered free content, it is one of the wonderful things it offers…it’s a wonderful thing-))

  3. trrlynn73@gmail.com' Minethere says:


  4. I see the US military is part of the problem and not part of the solution regarding the rampant copyleftist doctrine on the Internet. Supporting Creative Communism undermines small business. What, the US military can’t pay for some digital designers? Or rather…there are only certain designers digital who get big contracts, and all the little dressmakers can’t get a cent? In making the world safe for itself, the US military is part of what nukes commerce on the Internet and destroys other people’s livelihoods.

    • Catherine —

      As a US taxpayer, I’m happy that the military is saving money where it can. However, they also tell me that they do pay design firms to create more high-end training simulations.

      The problem with the government — any large organization, really — in buying content from the little content creator is the license terms.

      When they hire a big design firm, they can negotiate a contract where they own the rights to the finished product. This is important for a company, since they want to be able to modify it, expand on it, reuse it, etc…

      But when you buy content from a small designer in a typical in-world shop, you don’t get to negotiate your license agreement. You get the license that comes with the product — and, by default, that means that the content stays on the grid of origin, the creator retains the original copyright, and the buyer may or may not be able to copy, modify, or transfer, depending on the permission settings.

      A better marketplace for small 3D designers looking to sell to big corporate or government buyers is something like TurboSquid — http://www.turbosquid.com. The license terms of TurboSquid are much more enterprise-friendly — and the prices are correspondingly much higher.

      We *definitely* could use something like TurboSquid for OpenSim-compatible content for private, company, and government grids.

  5. services@stonegrid.org' Alicia Stone says:

    A good souce of terrain data for US based or themed Simulations is to use the USGS data which is open for free use by the public. I have done some tinkering with converting USGS data into terrain RAW files and it does work. There are even some free use ultilities written to make this process easy. I’ll try to dig up the link on the article I found this bit of information in.

    @Maria, I agree also that I like seeing the US Gov’t use fiscal common sense when it comes to pioneering their own 3D Web. I wold rather true open source content creators be utilized whenever possible to save the taxpayer money.

    I know I and other Open Source content creators would be honored to think the MOSES project is using our creations instead of taxing us so they can pay a private desinger. Heck even Uncle Sam has a Gnu-ish beard!