The Initial Steps and Development
When I decided to make the site I knew that I wanted to make a site about the mechanics and physics of skiing and snowboarding and show how they are linked to technique. To do that though I knew I needed a structure that would split everything up efficiently but also let everything come together to explain manoeuvres. So I decided to split the website how it is, separating physical equipment, theory of effects, and established technique. Making sure that there could be links between all the sections so that anything relevant could always be found easily. I then decided that I would start with one sport and then cover the other sport after the first was finished (or close enough). I decided to start with skiing, as I thought there would be a larger need for a website like this for skiing, and then went on to write very brief versions of all the pages so that I knew roughly what was going to be covered and had a better idea of how I would do it.
Right at the start I also realised that the graphics for the site would be very important, as I was going to try and show things that cannot be shown in real life, they needed people to believe them. People always find it helpful to see something showing what has been explained, and the easier it is to link that to what it would be like in real life, the easier people will understand what is said. So because of this my next step was to create the original 3D skier, knowing that he needed to look realistic, with all his limbs the correct length and size, the ability to move his exactly how a human can move, and be able to show how his equipment works.
The original 3D skier was created from scratch, starting with the skis, then bindings, then the boots, and then the skier, with the head being the last part made. The ski boot was probably the most complicated part of the skier, but it still started off as a cube made of 8 points and 12 lines, which got manipulated all the way to its final form. I made all the equipment so that it could function properly, with the bindings working fully, and even the buckles on the ski boots able to show how they work if I need to. The only problem I had, is that due to bugs in the program I use the skis couldn't bend, which is something that delayed the last sections of the website. This is now rectified although has not been put into all graphics yet. I then found data on anthropometrics to make sure all the skiers joints were the right length, and studied how the body can move to make all the limbs able to move in the same way as a human, and to the same limits. All in all the original skier took a few months of my spare time to make, but it turned out fairly well, especially considering he is the first 3D model I ever made.
With the original 3D skier made, I could then get on to start making actually pages of the website. I started by trying to write all the pages as fully as possible, so then I could work out exactly what graphics I wanted to show. Before I could make any real graphics though, I had to program the skier into all the different positions used in skiing. This also took some time, as every time I moved a joint it effected another, and then there was the problem of exactly what position is used for everything as well. To make the correct positions, I let the mechanics and physics of the sport guide me, as they have to be complied to. This meant that the weight always needed to be over the correct part of the skis lengthways, and over the correct ski as well. I actually found that as soon as the weight was put into the right place, and a few basic other changes were made, that the positions looked amazingly true to life, which just goes to show how much mechanics and physics really do govern the sport.
I then took the positions I needed and made images of them from all the angles I needed to create the graphics, adding arrows etc to show what the positions do. As well as using the positions to make the animations on the site.
Initially I meant for the site to be more technical than it is with the sections going into a lot more detail and even showing the equations behind things. As I worked on the site though, I realised that I needed to start off with the technical parts that everyone can understand and use to help them learn to ski, and then once that was there I could go into more detail if I found the time for it. I haven't found time to go into the detail that I want to yet, but it could still happen in the future.
The site was first launched on the internet at the very end of January 2008, in a beta version, with a lot of graphics still missing, not all links working, the more advanced pages not included, and the animations unable to work in Internet Explorer. The site was complete enough to be of use to people though, which was why it was put onto the internet then.
Since the initial launch the site has changed hugely, with new sections added, and all the older sections reworked and added to, until you see what is here today. At the start of July 2008 the beta label for the site was also removed, along with the warnings of not working properly in Internet Explorer and of incomplete pages. Although the site was still far from complete, it had got to the stage where there was nothing major missing, although the more advanced sections were still to be added fully.
At the end of August 2008, the feedback forms were added to the site so that it can be seen better what peoples opinions of site and it's features are. Two different forms were added to the site, one form about the site in general, and a smaller form at the bottom of most pages to give information on what people think of each specific page. These continue to give valuable information for the site to be matched to the needs of the people using it, and will hopefully keep enabling the site to improve.
Towards the end of 2008 the animations were put onto the virtual ski area to try and give a better overview of the manoeuvres. I wanted to put shadows into the animations to make them look more realistic and easier to follow, but unfortunately my laptop was nowhere near powerful enough to compute the shadows, so they had to be left out.
Decisions and Dilemmas
It has taken a long time to write all the sections, as although I understand everything well, it is not always so easy to explain things. For some of the sections I spent a lot of time working out the best order to go through things, before starting to write them. It is also amazing how things can be missed out when something else is being concentrated on. In making and improving the sections some of the explanations changed many times to add things that needed to be said but hadn't been before.
It was also very important to make sure everything important was included, but without making the explanations too long. Again this took a lot of time to go through and try to optimise everything. In some of the sections the positions have been cheated on slightly as they do not allow enough for the G-forces that would be created. This was a decision I made to make these sections easier to understand, and it was decided that if they were strictly true it might actually encourage people to make mistakes instead of using the correct technique.
In making the website I have learnt a lot about skiing myself as well. There are many things that are very important to how skiing works, but not so important to instructing, as they can happen naturally without a choice, or just be too much to someone to try and comprehend while trying to ski. In making the animations I also had to program every position in each manoeuvre, which means I actually had to move limbs manually to do things that you would do without realising in real life. Through this there are lots of things I have come across where I hadn't realised the extent of what they did before. These can create conflicts with instructing though, as instructing needs a few lies to be told to get the best results. Like telling people to lean forwards as much as they can sometimes, you know they aren't going to lean too far because they are too scared too, but in saying that they might get to the position that they need to be in. It comes to another reason why it is important to have lessons when you learn to ski, as well as learning about the theory behind it. Although theory is the perfect way to do something, the best way to start doing something how the theory says it should be done, can be to break the theory along the way.
It may sound strange, but I am not so familiar with some of the English vocabulary used in skiing, as all the instruction I have received in becoming a ski and snowboard instructor was all in German, and for a lot of the manoeuvres I still use the German words for them, even when speaking English. I actually find that German is a much better language for skiing as it has many words that describe things very well, that we simply don't have in English. German explanations always seem to be more precise and to the point, whereas in English we can have to use longer explanations, which don't always explain things as well still.
In the writing of the site I am trying to please everyone, giving enough information that the most technical minded of people can't see anything much missing, but yet keeping it simple enough, that most people will understand it, and not get bored with there being too much detail. Doing this is not easy though, and especially in the basic mechanics sections I have had to go over the explanations many times to get them to the point where they are, and will probably have to go over them many more times before I am completely happy with them.
Spring 2009 Code Update
In the spring of 2009 the website was updated to use the latest internet standards, and the code was majorly tidied up so that the site should run and load faster. The code the site had run on before was left over from all the experimentation in initial development without being tidied up, as it was seen that getting content out first was most important. It was decided at this point to make very little effort to make the site compatible with older web browsers, as the site is aimed at people who are clued up enough to know that they should always use the latest web browser. Although there are still a few small things in there that help in older browsers, to actually make the site properly compatible would have taken away development on further content which was in no way worth it.
The update also added a new Mechanics of Sport logo to the site, to replace the older logo that had been used from when the site was in initial development, and a few other small changes in the graphics used. The site was left looking very similar to how it first did, although the code that drove the site had changed completely.
A password verification system was also added to the feedback system to stop spam entries from robots. This is a move that wasn't intended to be done initially, as it makes adding feedback take a bit longer, but the system put in place is very small and easy to use, adding a very minimal effort to submitting feedback, and was deemed worth it.
In mid October 2009 the first parts of the Snowboarding section were added. Initially it only covered snowboarding equipment and how to set the equipment up. Although the same 3D man model was used for the graphics, the 3D snowboard equipment models were made to a higher resolution than the skiing models, instantly making the graphics more striking than the skiing graphics. Most of the snowboarding graphics had also been rendered with shadows, which gave them a more realistic look.
Although all this made the snowboarding graphics look better than the skiing graphics, making the graphics also required more computing power than the already laptop destroying skiing graphics. This meant that the snowboard graphics took longer to produce, and that destroying a 3rd laptop due to rendering graphics was and is a real possibility. Although there were some adverts on the site, the site still wasn't making anywhere near enough money to cover it's server costs, never mind any advertising or new hardware. This was and is a gamble that was taken as if continuing to make the snowboard graphics had or does go through another laptop it would have delayed or will delay any progress massively.
Creating New 3D Models
By 2010 the complexity of creating all the positions and animations for the more advance skiing manoeuvres, and the snowboarding manoeuvres, had dramatically slowed down how fast new content could be added to the website. Therefore it was decided that new 3D models were needed with a more advanced 3D modeling program, to enable to the site to move forwards more quickly. This was no small task though, as not only did it mean creating all of the 3D models again from scratch, but also learning all the ins and outs of a completely new 3D modeling program. Understandably while the work on this was being done, adding new graphical content to the website slowed down even further, but as the new models became ready to be used, the speed of creating new graphics, and the quality of the graphics, was improving immensely.
Towards the end of 2010 the website was updated to use many of the new HTML5 standards that were starting to be well supported across the major browsers. Since the update the code has continued to be gradually changed as more and more HTML5 elements become supported. The end goal will be to completely remove any code intended for old browsers from the website, and also take away any left over flash videos on the website. However it will take a while before all the new HTML5 standards needed are fully supported and defined.
New 3D Model Graphics
Due to time and computer power restrictions, the new 3D models took longer to start making an appearance than initially hoped, but in July 2011 the first of the 3D graphics using new 3D models and software were added to the website in the Helmets page. The new graphics are vastly more detailed than the older graphics, but before they will be able to be used all over the website, more computer power will be needed. The 4 year old mid-range laptop being used, simply can't handle the simulation of a full ski area and skier with shadows for many of the animations and graphics needed.
Through 2011 and 2012 the new 3D graphics continued to get rolled out, with the equipment pages being updated to include them, as well as more in-depth information. The graphics weren't appearing on the site as quickly as had been hoped though, as I just hadn't had as much time to work on the website as I wanted to.