Why Manic Miner's music sounds funny... 🎵

~ 2 min read | Category: Newsletters

When I first got into computers as a kid, I was obsessed with a game called Manic Miner.

It’s a classic “platform” game like Donkey Kong where you climb levels, jump over bad guys and collect bits of treasure.

And what’s mostly firmly etched into my memory is the in-game music - Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” played in a super weird staccato style.

(Play the clip above and you’ll hear exactly what I mean.)

But the reason the music “stuttered” was technical not artistic…

Most computers back then could only do one thing at a time.

So if it was playing a musical note, it couldn’t also be doing something else, like moving the characters on the screen.

It had to play a tiny fraction of a note, then move the game along a bit, then play another note, and so on. And your brain did the job of meshing it altogether into a recognisable tune.

These days, computers have “multi-threading” and can do lots of things at the same time.

Want to play music in the background? No problem - just “spawn” a new thread to handle it.

Like my home computer though, a typical online course is a very linear beast.

What I mean is that there’s a single path through the materials.

You learn something (lesson) then do something (assignment). Then learn something else, then do something else, checking things off as you go.

Sadly, student progress doesn’t always break down so neatly.

Example: Creative Writing

Let’s say you’re teaching creative writing and you want students to adopt a daily “free writing” practice.

It’d be clunky and repetitive to have a separate assignment for each daily session, don’t you think?

So what do you do?

The answer is that you create one assignment that gets the student to establish their daily practice.

Maybe it gets them to block out some time each day in their calendar, then gives them reusable prompts for each session.

After that the course could move onto the next topic, knowing that the daily writing practice had been established.

It’s basically like a modern computer spawning a new thread so it can handle something important in parallel.

From a course design perspective the lesson is this:

Assignments aren’t always about getting students to complete tasks, sometimes they’re about setting up future behaviour.

See you soon,


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