FSDreamteam have made a name for themselves over the past year or so with what I consider to be some of the best scenery add-ons for FSX. As innovators in scenery design, I believe they set the standard with their first scenery release, Zurich, by embracing FSX and the eye candy delights the FSX SDK, and a decent computer have to offer. Since then, numerous releases have allowed this team to hone their development skills which now see’s them branching out into an area of scenery that brings a new dimension to FSX. Points of Interest (XPOI).
On their website, FSDreamteam promote XPOI as a geographical information tool that utilizes the couatl engine (I don’t know what that is but we will get to it) and claims 8 million points of interest across the globe; each one of these represented by a graphical icon and descriptive text. XPOI was originally released in October and since then, this has been updated to version 1.5 with the inclusion of Navaids.
Installation and Documentation
Like all FSDreamteam products, XPOI comes in a self installer which in this case is an 18MB download. Double clicking gets you into the process quickly and easily and in a few minutes, the files were installed. If you have any other FSDreamteam add-ons, you will find XPOI has been added to the FSDreamteam folder in your main FSX folder.
The 18 page PDF manual is extensive and gives excellent information on what XPOI will do, how it works and how the user can get the most from it. The manual provides good information on how the user can tweak settings to suit themselves and this includes problem solving if the Geonames database XPOI ‘talks with’ can’t be reached, plus an interesting section on performance and potential impact on FPS.
FSDreamteam make a good point that you could potentially have thousands of POI’s on screen at any one time in large cities, so the menu and settings is covered in detail to help users match their system capability. Plenty of screenshots are used as visual cues to guide you through settings making the manual attractive without being overbearing.
Once done, I started FSX to ‘purchase’ XPOI through the in-program activation method. Like their other products, you can try before you buy, but unlike their sceneries, XPOI gives you 30 minutes to roam in a 20-25 mile radius of 8 fairly well know locations across Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the US.
If you want to go beyond these areas, you need to buy it. I really like the whole "try before you buy" process; you lose nothing and know exactly what you are getting.
Aztec Mythology Slithers Into FSX
Ok, let's deal with couatl first and how it works. The couatl engine, as explained on the FSDreamteam forum, is a scripting engine for FSX that has been developed using the open source Python programming language, and appears to be something that will enhance FSDreamteam's add-ons for the foreseeable future.
The name couatl was given to a creature in Aztec Mythology and is basically a flying snake. So given couatl was developed from Python for use in a flight simulator, the name is quite clever, in my view anyway. The mythology of this is less important than the functionality, which in this case allows XPOI to talk to two internet based resources, these being the Geonames database and Wikipedia, the two vital ingredients that make XPOI possible.
XPOI is a living utility. What does that mean? XPOI doesn’t access a pre-installed database but instead utilizes geographical information it downloads in real time from Geonames which it then displays visually within the FSX world. Where appropriate, and the information is available, it will also access details through Wikipedia to display in an on-screen browser, all within FSX. The beauty of this is three fold.
First, FSDreamteam doesn't have to develop and maintain a database that would most likely never give global coverage, making XPOI less relevant in smaller countries, and we don’t have to fill our hard drives with the data.
Secondly, if I choose to join the Geonames database, I can add new POI’s or correct those that already exist if they are incorrect, and this is then instantly available within FSX.
Thirdly, as an end user of that data, I have instant access to it through XPOI, and because it's all open source, it costs me nothing to do so.
So in its simplest form, XPOI is a conduit for geographical information that flows continuously on an internet feed from Geonames and Wikipedia. The couatl engine reads the data, interprets it in the FSX world and utilizes the icons, markers and interface developed by FSDreamteam in FSX to display this information and allow you and I to explore. Technologically, I think this is an awesome use of the internet and open source information.
Like any system that is relying on data, it is only as good as the information fed into it. The example above is a good one. The original data in Geonames, and thus displayed through XPOI in FSX, had the Massey Memorial in Wellington New Zealand (my home town) sitting in Wellington harbour. Looking on the Geonames website, I found geo points spread all over the place, most of them incorrectly located. A quick and free registration process allowed me to modify the location of the Massey Memorial and save it, thus updating the online database. My modified location is then reflected in the data downloaded from Geonames displayed in FSX.
The Pointy End of XPOI
Right, enough with the technical bits, let's look at the interface and options we have in FSX. XPOI provides a number of interfaces; the first is accessed through the top menu and deals with the overall settings. This is done by selecting the various categories and then specific information within those categories by checking or un-checking tick boxes.
Because Geonames drives this information, the categories presented are the same as those that can be selected for display on the Geonames web page. It can point out such things as rivers, mountains, reefs, buildings, roads, bridges, famous places, parks, hospitals, oil wells, cemeteries and more.
As mentioned in the opening section, with the latest release XPOI can add VORS, DME’s, NDB’s, controlled and uncontrolled airports, intersections, heliports etc. The information for these is drawn directly from FSX itself. That’s a huge amount of information, so having the option to be very specific on what POI’s are to be displayed, allowed me to focus on one or two things or see everything Geonames could show me about a region.
Once I had decided how much and of what type of POI information I wanted displayed, and initially it was bring it on and show me what you have got, it was time to get flying and start exploring. The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of POI’s and nav points displayed.
FSDreamteam claims 8 million POI's and I can believe it. It was interesting to note that the nav points appeared almost immediately, and this makes sense given XPOI doesn’t need to download these. But the POI’s then started to load, and load and load and..well you get the idea.
I started in Geneva and was initially quite shocked at the sheer number of icons. I’m not sure what I was expecting, maybe a few famous buildings, but what I got was an education in Geneva and its geographical surrounds that kept me very busy during my first flying session. My initial impressions were the icons and way POI’s were pointed out was very clear and easy to view. I noted a few overlaps where icons flickered slightly as they fought to be seen over each other, but I would expect that when 2 POI’s occupy the same space. It was at this point I looked at the interface.
In FSX, XPOI uses an interface similar to ATC. Pressing F11 brings up an initial list of options that allowed me to turn both the geographical and navigational POI’s on and off without having to go through the menu. There was also a search function which is split into two categories, and I will use Mt Everest as an example of how I used this.
I selected Search by relevance, a dialogue box opened up in the top left hand corner of the screen very similar to an ATIS info line and I typed Everest. After a moment or two, XPOI presented me a list of locations meeting my criteria in a numbered menu. I was able to select my choice by either pressing the corresponding number or using the mouse to point and click. A new dialogue then opened up and I had the choice to either lock my autopilot to the correct heading and fly to Everest, or use ‘warp’ and be relocated immediately.
Each option told me how far away Everest was from my current location. Initially, I knew where I wanted to go in the FSX world so this feature was great as it allowed me to zip around without having to go through the FSX menu or do it via the closest airport, meaning I saved heaps of time.
This feature also made all the difference when I was presented with a large number of POI’s in a region. This is very well illustrated in the New York night time screenshot below. As you can see, there are dozens if not hundreds of POI’s, so where do you start? Being able to search for a specific location makes a city like New York a little less intimidating.
The option to search by distance from your current location is the second option. So in the New York example from my position just west of the Statue of Liberty, POI’s were then listed from closest to furthest. In general, the search was fast and only on occasions when I was not that specific would this take longer.
An example of this is when I was flying in New Zealand heading towards a POI, and I ran a search on Australia. The search took longer given the scope of possible returns were much larger. I did have a few errors generated when XPOI wasn’t able to connect to the internet for some reason. FSDreamteam acknowledges in the documentation that this can happen occasionally and it wasn’t a big issue. Using either search, I could choose to have the information on the POI I had locked in stay on screen at the top, and as I traveled the distance, an ETA would be displayed.
Pressing F9 brought up a list of Wikipedia POI’s in the immediate area. Pressing the corresponding number saw a bright red 3D Wikipedia arrow appear with the arrow unsurprisingly pointing in the direction of the POI just selected. Moving in the direction of the arrow revealed the POI with another large red marker with an ‘i’ for information logo above it. When the Wikipedia POI is initially selected, a green transparent box, the same type that FSX uses to display ATIS airport information, contains a couple of lines of information from the Wikipedia article before it disappears.
Pressing F10 brought up the in-program browser containing the full Wikipedia article complete with any photos or links, etc, it may contain. The browser, while being basic, will work in full screen mode as well as windowed and allows you to follow any links that may be on the wiki page.
Following links is great, so including back buttons would have been handy and seemed to be an obvious omission. As it is, if you leave the wiki article then you won’t be able to get back to it unless you close and then reopen the browser window. Overall, the way FSDreamteam have used the interface works extremely well. The geo pointers will be familiar to those who fly missions and the crisp icons makes it easy to see what types of POI’s are being pointed to.
Clutter is one of the challenges; I refer once again to the New York screenshot above. This is where taking the time to configure XPOI is important. This isn’t a fault at all; it’s a reality of the sheer scope of information that is available through Geonames. A note here about a useful feature of the nav POI’s that are displayed in FSX. They appear at the same altitude you are flying, and as you change your altitude, so do they, as well as keeping them around eye level all the time which is in contrast to the spot POI’s that maintain a constant altitude. All the icons turn to maintain a front-on point of view as you move.
With so much information at your fingertips, there is a natural performance consideration that users will need to make. While XPOI is in general very FPS friendly, the more information you want displayed, the harder your PC’s brain needs to think about displaying it. There were definite times when things slowed down, but the performance drop wasn’t huge and things remained flyable.
I did note slight pauses was when I turned on the browser. When
I was searching through wiki POI’s, I wasn’t thinking
about flying so much, so the pause wasn’t an issue and I
think that’s one of the important points about POI. The
context in which it is being used. This is where the easy interface
you turn things on and off as you like so you can enjoy the entertainment
in the cruise, and have a clutter free view on approach and landing.
While this is not an internationally recognized tourist attraction, I now know it exists rather than seeing a bit of brown area and thinking nothing more about it. Who knows, you may be reading this review and actually live near this park. The reason I include what may seem a somewhat pointless observation is because one of the things XPOI has done for me is provide a depth of reality to the FSX virtual world.
When flying with XPOI running, it’s no longer just a nameless landscape I was flying over. Almost all geographic locations have a name. As a result, flying with the intention of exploring has become a different experience. I also couldn’t resist typing my surname into the search to see if I am indeed relevant in the world. Various mountains, towns and even a cape in Canada were listed, but the oddest of them all is a seamount in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. How many people can claim a seamount shares their surname?
Summary & Closing
XPOI is a unique product, and as it evolves it will be interesting to watch what future direction FSDreamteam take it in. It utilizes a clean and easy to use interface to display as much or as little information as you want and by utilizing Geonames and Wikipedia, the depth of information available is nothing short of impressive. With the built-in browser, FSX takes on a different form. In a way, it’s like Google Earth on steroids but with the ability to fly.
I am immensely impressed with XPOI and have learned a lot since I started to use it. It looks great in FSX and I found it incredibly interesting and lots of fun to explore, even in my own country let alone others, and I could literally spend days in some of the bigger cities looking around.
The ability to search and then warp is also very handy and almost worth the asking price in itself given the time it saved me. Given its graphical nature, XPOI’s impact on FPS was minimal, but the demo will allow each user to determine what impact it will have on their system.
Integrating Wikipedia into the mix is brilliant, with only a small issue of there being no way to navigate within the browser and the occasional dropped internet connection. I can certainly recommend this add-on to anyone keen on learning more about what makes up the FSX world around them.
What I Like About Points of Interest
What I Don't Like About Points of Interest
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved