8 Hidden Secrets In The Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa Wikipedia

Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th Century work the Mona Lisa is probably the most recognisable piece of art in the world. Well, maybe second to maybe The Scream, The Girl With The Pearl Earring or that sticker of the kid peeing on football shirts you see in the back window of people’s cars. What is it that’s so beguiling about this particular portrait? What made it „the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world“? Why this painting above all others, let alone all others in the impressive and sizeable oeuvre of literal renaissance man da Vinci? Well, as much as it pains us to admit it, we think Dan Brown might have been onto something.

The Da Vinci Code might be a bit of a hacky, pulpy thriller that has made way too many people believe in ridiculous conspiracy theories, but they tap into something that’s genuinely fascinating about the artist’s work, and especially the Mona Lisa. There actually are a whole bunch of hidden mysteries, secret messages and ongoing rumour surrounding the portrait – five hundred years after it was painted. Critics, historians and Brown fans alike are still arguing about everything from Lisa’s identity to whether it was actually a much larger picture that got cut down for some reason.

That’s not even the nuttiest thing that people have read into this quincentgenarian artwork – to be honest, we reckon even Dan would have a problem getting his head around some of these. Here are eight hidden secrets in the Mona Lisa.

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Destiny 2 combat is a punchy, kinetic joy

Destiny 2 [official site] comes with a lot of baggage. It?s the PC debut of an enormously successful new series from a mega-developer, and the original is precisely the kind of multiplayer co-op shooter that even some die-hard fans are a little burned out on after nearly three years of DLC and grinding for gear.

Enter Adam. I came to Destiny 2, at E3 last week, with barely enough baggage to fill a pencil case, having only played the demo of the original, and am immediately greedy for more. Whatever more it might offer. Destiny 2 is colour and light and the majestic spectacle of a Saturday morning cartoon and a space opera fused into a punchily satisfying shooter.

My play session took place at the Nvidia booth at E3. The console version of the game was elsewhere and placing the PC version on a hardware stand was a statement of intent in and of itself: this is one of those games that show you what your expensive machines are capable of. I?ve spoken to enough people who see the sequel as something of an interloper on PC that the attempt to sell this version as the ultimate, be-all-and-end-all incarnation of Destiny 2 could easily seem like overcompensation; the guy who wasn?t really invited to the party, then shows up late but brings a truckload of liquor.

Frankly, if Destiny 2 is buying, then I?m drinking, because it?s not just gorgeous, it?s a proper sci-fi shooter.

I need to clarify the use of the word ?proper? there and I?ll do so by introducing another word: ?sponges?. Bullet sponges, specifically.

The first time I shot one of the flame-throwing alien beasties that make up parts of the initial onslaught in Destiny 2?s first campaign mission, I recalibrated my expectations significantly. Talk of loot and incremental weapon upgrades, as well as MMO-like special abilities, had led me to expect enemies with hitbars that whittled down bit by bit. I thought I?d be in for a bit of a slog ? an enjoyable slog perhaps, but a slog nonetheless. So imagine my surprise when a couple of shots to the canister on the thing?s back caused a thumping great explosion that sent the creature somersaulting through the air, and blasted some of its buddies tumbling backwards.

Sure, these are the first enemies in the game, so they?re obviously going to be somewhat feeble, but I was using a bog standard gun and everything just felt so beautifully kinetic.

Jumping lacks weight, which I found to my disappointment as my Warlock character got stuck halfway up a wall and slowly trickled down the side of it. The fight was taking place on some kind of space station/ship or orbital platform, so it?s possible that gravity was all awry, but it?s also possible the warlock has magical jetboosters on the soles of his feet or his bottom. I have no idea.

There are lots of confusing things in Destiny 2, and perhaps a knowledge of the first game wouldn?t have helped me to overcome them given that the game?s director has admitted a big chunk of the original game?s lore didn?t make a great deal of sense.

All I know is that a wizard came from the moon. Destiny?s entire setting is essentially a meme in my mind.

That doesn?t mean I can?t appreciate some glorious space spectacles though, and Destiny 2 delivers immediately and repeatedly. Enormous guns cast shadows across the ship?s surface, booming as they send their payloads toward enemy vessels. Everything is turned up to eleven. There are no single-seater fighters to be seen, just hulking great capital ships tearing each other and an entire planet?s surface to pieces. I was reminded of Battlefront 2, a game that relies on recognition to create so much of its impact; Destiny 2 is completely alien to me, but the star war unfolding is something I very much want to be a part of.

It doesn?t rely on cutscenes, having these scenes of combat and destruction on a ridiculous scale play out right in front of your eyes, as you play. You?re at the periphery of the fight rather than in the centre of it, attempting to fulfil specific objectives to serve the greater good rather than participating in the battle as a frontline soldier, but the world is wonderfully alive, even as it burns.

And the fights I found myself in were distracting enough to drag my attention away from the preposterously impressive displays going on in space. The kinetic quality runs through the movement as well as the shooting. There?s a slightly frustrating opening segment that involves fighting off several waves of enemies, while occasionally having to retreat beneath an AI ally?s shield (magic shield or tech shield? I DO NOT KNOW) as fire rains down from above. The bubble effect of the shield is as handsome as everything else in the game, but the fight-fight-retreat rhythm becomes a little tiresome even though there are only three small waves to destroy.

Once Destiny 2 gives you the freedom to jump and run and whip out a great energy sword, it finds a satisfying pace in no time. There is something of the ARPG about it, your character being so overpowered against the grunts and then occasionally meeting tougher elites and bosses, but there?s nothing of the clickity-clicky about movement and combat.

It?s a proper, honest-to-goodness, mouse and keyboard shooter, that rewards accuracy, speed and precision rather than careful management of cool-downs and clever use of loot. I didn?t even collect any loot because I wanted to reach the end of the mission before I ran out of time, and fumbling through inventories seemed like a dangerous distraction. Truth be told, I was too busy popping flame canisters and lining up headshots to worry about the details of the weapon I was using.

That?s remarkable in itself. I love loot to a degree that would make me a massive nerd even if I wasn?t already a massive nerd for a hundred other reasons. I love inventory management as well, which makes me a completely hopeless case, but also precisely the kind of person Destiny 2?s RPG bits and bobs are aimed at. But there I was, playing a game that felt good enough as a shooter that I didn?t even care about my +1 modifiers and status effects. Imagine Diablo or Path of Exile had actual melee combat worth playing with in its own right. Imagine World of Warcraft did.

Quite how well Destiny 2 will hold up over hours, weeks and months rather than thirty minutes, I can?t rightly say. As well as snubbing the loot system, I only played singleplayer, and just the one mission from the campaign. It put all of my doubts to rest though. Proper shooting, with great tracking of hit locations, weapons that feel dangerous rather than like whittling knives, and a ridiculous, glorious sci-fi setting.

This is definitely a game that I want. Even the boss I killed wasn?t enough of a bullet sponge to make my eyes roll, and it used movement and different attack types to offer a threat beyond its hitpoint count.

Of course, it?s worth nothing that I was playing it at its absolute best, in 4K at 60 fps. The machine running it could probably have stood in as a prop spaceship model, and there?s no way I?ll get the same performance here at home. But on the right PC, it?ll be one of the most beautiful games around. It?s not just the technical qualities, it?s the design, which is colourful where so many games would tend toward mood and gloom, and has a sense of scale that allows it to be the sci-fi fantasy I hoped it might be.

I?ve only seen a small slice, but it?s a delicious slice. Whether I?ll be able to make any sense of the story, with its moon wizards and Guardians but-not-of-the-Galaxy, I do not know. Perhaps I?ll miss the satisfaction of these initial shoot-outs when the complexity ramps up and I?m trying to match damage types to enemy vulnerabilities, but at its core, Destiny 2 is something I hadn?t expected. A shooter worth its salt, even without the joy of companionship and loot.

Destiny 2 will be out October 24th.

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SEND Round-up: Awareness, behaviour & care

SEND Round-up

Photo credit: EvgeniiAnd via Shutterstock

Many SEND Bloggers took some time out of social media during the recent awful events in Manchester and London. After a break though, there has been a general desire to not let the events stop us continuing our lives. And so to our June SEND round-up.  Last month, various aspects of behaviour and care that have been highlighted by our ever passionate community that is, as always, raising awareness too.

We don?t talk about ?bad behaviour? much in SEND. Maybe because many of our kids actions are misunderstood.  However, some of us may find Caring in the Chaos? 10 simple strategies to stop challenging behaviour and idea?s from Autism with Lots of Love and Affection quite useful.  Autism Mumma is wondering what will come along with puberty  and Little Mama Murphy is discovering about behaviours that are communication.  A Blog About Raising My Autistic Son, on the other hand, is helping others worried about their child?s behaviour.

Someone?s Mum considers the idea that ?if you?ve met one person with autism ? you?ve met one person with autism? and Faith Mummy discusses the assumptions about her daughter?s autism.  Sensory Sensitive Mummy thinks about how autism can be masked with her post linking to an awareness day covering a subset of autism ? Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PDA).  This was also supported by both This Little Boy of Mine and Stephs Two Girls who discuss life with PDA .

Knowing how to best support our kids isn?t always easy.  But I?m glad to say that some SEND Bloggers are also talking about the need to support and care for their whole family and themselves. It?s a Tink Thing discusses how the stress of waiting for a school is breaking her while Mum Making Lemonade stresses the importance of post natal/post diagnosis mental health care.  Both these posts are also supporting Mental Health Awareness Week. 

The Long Chain highlights Children?s Hospice Week when talking about not wanting respite.  And whereas Joseph and his Amazing Spectrum Coat talks about being so tired, she?s Slangry, Ordinary Hopes find herself enjoying a cuddle in a special moment.  

Some of the SEND blogging community had their own different special moments at the inaugural BAPS Blog Awards. Those attending were relaxing, having fun and taking some time for themselves.  Feel free to commiserate and celebrate with all the finalists and winners. 

That?s all for this month.  Please do drop links if you?d like them to be considered for next time.

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About Ann .

„Rainbows are too beautiful,“ said Anthony. „I just can’t look at them.“ Ann says her son’s statement characterizes so much about how her autistic and neurotypical family interacts and interprets the world in their own wonderful way. Originally a PR and marketing professional for the third sector, Ann now does some lecturing in this topic but spends most of her time being a full time mum and sharing her experiences through her award nominated blog. Ann?s three kids attend different schools and have multiple diagnoses including Autism, ADHD, anxiety and more. Ann is a Trustee on a local disabled children?s charity and speaks at SEND conferences and consultations.

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Don?t hate on tutorials

?Press B to Crouch? under the obviously placed fallen ceiling. Remove your abilities to show you how to aim your gun. Wrest the camera control away to show the low cover you?re meant to be hiding behind. ?Onboarding?? Vomit. Usability is a mark of all that is bad about modern game design. It undermines all the best things about games, sanding off their edges, taking autonomy away, designing for the lowest common denominator. Right?

Nope. ?I?ve never met anybody yet who only wanted ten people to play their game,? says Graham McAllister, founder of Player Research, a playtesting and user research specialist for games. ?These are passionate people who want as many people as possible to love their game.? Usability is one of the more misunderstood elements of game design. It doesn?t strangle challenge, depth and imagination. In fact, it?s meant to do precisely the opposite.

If you played Minecraft back in its earliest years, you might wonder whether usability is essential to finding an audience. It dumped you in the wilderness with no pointers on what to do next or how, and you had to read guides or watch videos to know how to craft torches and tools and to build a house so you could survive your first night.

A lot?s been made of how this helped build Minecraft?s success. PC gaming is full of similar examples, and always has been. The games we value tend to be complex and experimental. Many, from DayZ to DotA, rose out of modding scenes, evolving their own conventions for interfaces and progression systems and forcing players to learn them for themselves or to dive into forums and YouTube. Objectively, they are usability hell, and yet they?ve led to some of the most popular games of all time.

So why should we care about usability? The answer is multi-layered, but first it?s important to note that we tend to forget the hundreds ? maybe thousands? ? of mods and indie experiments that didn?t get anywhere. Survivorship bias is a thing, and if you?re a developer wanting to make a living you?d be forgiven for wanting a little confidence in your game?s prospects. That?s why you don?t see big budget games attempting to do the same as Minecraft once did, and why Minecraft today has tutorials and help pop-ups to guide you through its opening days.

But a lot of players don?t think they need to be taught anything. ?We observe that people believe they know a lot of the elements of the MOBA genre and that they?re good to go and they don?t need any onboarding,? Celia Hodent, director of UX at Epic Games, tells me. While working on Paragon, Epic saw that a lot of players knew its basic controls, but they didn?t know the mechanics. ?If we don?t do anything, we leave a big part of our audience without help.?

When players don?t understand a game they tend to stop playing, and for Paragon, which is free-to-play, that?s bad. ?We can make money if we retain players,? says Hodent. ?We need to see what makes them churn, what makes them stop playing, and what we see through analytics is that people will churn when they?re dying to towers and not equipping cards. Most of these factors are what we saw in UX testing six months earlier, people not understanding Paragon?s particular subtleties. It?s our job to make players competent in playing the game.?

It?s tempting to think that the fun in games always lies in discovering things for yourself. In Minecraft perhaps that was true, and it?s certainly part of its overarching themes of exploration and creativity. But it doesn?t fit quite so well for other genres. ?When we speak to people who like deep strategy games, they say that lot of the time the fun comes from how to put the things you?ve learned together,? says McAllister. But if you haven?t discovered the constituent systems and units to combine, or simply don?t know how to, you?re missing out on exploring the depths of the game and finding what really makes it fun.

McAllister sees three layers to a player?s engagement with a game. First they need to understand what?s going on. Second they have to know how to do the things they understand. The final layer, the good bit, the game bit, is what he calls the ?user experience?: playing with knowledge of both what to do and how to do it. Grappling with getting players to get through these stages and find the fun is a big part of what a developer is doing when they?re polishing a game. ?Most people think that polish is visuals or art or audio, but polish is really: are people playing the game in the way you want them to? Is there any unintended friction?? he says.

?Game usability is about not having the game system get in the way,? says Katherine Isbister, professor in computational media at the University of California in Santa Cruz and author of various game design books on usability. ?It?s like you?re suiting up to climb Everest. You don?t want your gear falling apart on you. If your equipment fails, that feels quite unfair, but if you fail to climb to the summit on your own merits, that can all be in good fun. That?s the difference.?

After all, one of the big misunderstandings around usability is that it?s not about making games easier. ?Dark Souls is a very usable game,? says McAllister. ?It teaches you exactly how the rules work and it?s brutally difficult and that?s fine. It?s what the designers want. They tell you exactly the rules of the game, and it?s up to you to beat that.?

Isbister puts it this way: ?The thing about tutorials is that you?re not just teaching someone how to play the game, you?re teaching them how to have fun playing the game.?

?It?s our job to make players competent without being bossy,? says Hodent. ?And this is what?s difficult to do.? The things that many players hate in tutorials, like the game taking control away to show you some new feature or screens of text instructions, are equally hated by usability experts. Instead it?s about contextual instructions, showing by placing a player in a situation and giving them the information they need to deal with it and space to learn. Picture the room with a low wall that slows or stops the zombies as they shuffle towards the player.

Something games really shouldn?t do is something like Driver?s forced carpark tutorial, where you have to perform various manoeuvres with a goddamned time limit to get to the actual game.

One of the best tools is ?affordance?, which is to design elements of a game in such a way that they naturally suggest to players what they should do. The stone path that leads to the next important area; the lighting that guides the eye to the button that opens the door; the scrapes on the floor that indicates a crate can be pushed. ?The more good affordance we have and the more polished the signs and feedback are, the less we need bossy tutorials,? says Hodent.

Affordances can work the other way around, though. Early in Fortnite?s development, Epic?s designers decided that players would use just one tool, a pickaxe, to harvest all materials from the environment. But Hodent and her team realised that when test players encountered an axe, which was one of the game?s melee weapons, they expected to use it to chop trees. ?It?s not the player?s fault, it makes sense, so in that case we removed the axe to avoid confusion and some bossy and counterintuitive tutorial.?

?You have to think about your onboarding process early on,? she adds. ?When we see pretty late that there?s a problem, you end up having to do quick fixes, such as taking control over the camera and showing something or having a wall of tutorial text pop up.?

Usability sits right in between empirical study and subjective design. It?s based on careful observation and hypothesis-making, but it deals with messy human nature. One issue Fortnite?s developers faced was around an ability that would allow players to harvest faster if they could hit a key when an icon flashed. The problem was that players didn?t understand the icon. They thought it was some kind of feedback, not a prompt for action. Epic tried changing the icon?s colour and placement on-screen to little avail, and in the end they solved it by making the ability an unlock in the skill tree. In highlighting it as a desirable skill, they finally drew attention to what it was and players understood it.

?Making games is just so damn hard, and integrating usability into the process adds another layer of trickiness,? says Isbister. ?Some companies do it better than others, but if the team is really struggling and they?re over-time and need to scope down, they can?t always deliver the usability they would like.?

Many of the things that can be so annoying in games are not when usability has attempted to smooth them out, but when usability has gone out the window. As experienced players, it?s easy to forget the moments of frustration when we were first playing. This is the territory that usability is taming, the wasteland between designer intention and player experience. You shouldn?t always have to hack through it to get to the fun.

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?I have never been fitter?, insists Kubica | F1 Fanatic Round-up

In the round-up: Robert Kubica has insisted he is fitter than he ever was during his years racing in Formula One.

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#SnapHappyBritMums Spotlight: June 2017

About Nadine Hill

Nadine is a busy mum (?Is there any other kind?!?) who writes the award winning family lifestyle blog, JuggleMum and self help blog Love Yourself Slim. Working from home at a portfolio career which also includes being the Editor at BritMums, running a small business and spreading herself all over social media, she has everything under control but still feels like she’s hanging on by her Gelish covered fingernails! Self employed for 12 years she’s been around the freelancing block a few times, so she created a YouTube playlist called The Businessmum Interviews to have a nosey at how other work-at-home parents are doing it. Watch and see – it’s a juggling act for everyone! Immensly grateful to be doing what she loves, Nadine’s most important job is ‚Mum‘ to her teen and tween who keep her up to date with Snapchat, Minecraft and how to do ‚brows on fleek‘. You can find Nadine on Twitter and Instagram as @Businessmum and @JuggleMumBlog.

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Live: WEC 2017 round 3: Le Mans 24 Hours | F1 Fanatic Live

Join F1 Fanatic Live as we follow round 3 of the 2017 World Endurance Championship championship from Circuit de la Sarthe.

F1 Fanatic Live combines updates from the teams and drivers in real-time via Twitter with comments from F1 Fanatic readers and more.

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10 Star Wars Theories That Make Appalling Sense

For all its fans love it, Star Wars doesn’t always make the most sense. It?s the tales of starfaring derring-do and the grimy, real and colourful universe that keep them coming back, not the finely-tuned plotlines.

For the most part they?re happy to be carried away by the flow of sassy droids, laser swords, and exploding spaceships. Star Wars isn’t ?hard? science fiction where spacecraft and blaster pistols need realistic physics, and its fantasy-in-space voice means fans can always say ?it was the Force? whenever something doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps if someone look a little too close, though, things make little enough sense that they are forced out of the cosy world of salty smugglers and gutsy princesses, and remember Star Wars is a work of often flawed fiction.

Of course, geeks being the creative weirdos they are, there are plenty of theories that help paper over the logical gaps in the Star Wars series. Some of them make a frightening level of sense given how much explain perplexing plot holes and inconsistencies. And some of them force us to rethink everything audiences thought they knew about Star Wars.

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