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Unity Game Programming Course Review by Diane Marie and Melanie Reynolds

CompuScholar
1-888-606-7263 (Homeschool & Individual Students)
980 Birmingham Rd., Suite 501-128
Alpharetta, GA 3000
http://www.compuscholar.com

My 9th-grade son has been interested in computers and programming for several years now, so I was happy to let him try out the Unity Game Programming Course from CompuScholar. The Unity Game Programming course is geared towards high schoolers and uses the Unity framework to teach video game design and C# scripting. (There is also a middle school version of this program.) I am pretty clueless about programming, but years ago, one of my older sons used a different software program to learn to script and now has a very good job as a .net developer. My hope is that my 9th-grader will either follow in his footsteps or at the very least learn a valuable skill that not a lot of people have. (I do not love my kids spending hours playing computer games. My older son learned to program because I told him he could only play games he made it himself, and I think it’s time to reinstitute that rule again!)

The entire game programming course is online and assumes your child already knows the basics of using a computer. It also requires you to download the Unity programming software because this is where your child will actually do the work. I have to state here that our computer is not exactly fast, and it was a bit cumbersome to run the software. Our computer has always run slowly; however, if your computer is reasonable fast, I don’t think you’ll have any issues. You do need to be running either Windows 7, 8, or 10, or Mac OS Version 10.7 or higher on a desktop or laptop.

The Unity Game Programming course is very well laid out and easy to work through. Though it’s set up to be used over two semesters, when used as part of a homeschool program, you are not required to begin the program at the beginning of the school year. Your child can begin the program at any time and work at their own pace. There are 26 chapters, plus three additional supplemental chapters. (I like that one of the supplemental chapters is about ethics.) In each chapter, there are lessons, at least one activity, and an exam. Almost everything is corrected right in the program, so it’s okay if the parent is not knowledgeable about programming. I have had to check a couple things to make sure he did them, but there is a simple to follow rubric to help you assign a grade. Parents also have their own account where they can follow their child’s progress and grade the activities. I didn’t have to constantly log in to check, however, because I received e-mail updates.

I have to admit, not being very familiar with programming, not a whole lot of the scope and sequence makes sense to me. Looking it over, though, it does seem that it packs in quite a lot of information in. For example, among the topics covered in the course are engine concepts, IDE basics, sprites, C# language concepts, etc. Obviously, I can’t make a very knowledgeable assessment as to whether what it covers is thorough or well organized. The program is, however, is also for traditional school use and aligned to standards in several states, so I trust that is well thought out and presented. So far, my son has been able to follow along and understand everything in the lessons and has been satisfied with the projects he’s done. As a final project, the goal is to “demonstrate everything that you have learned to create a new, unique game.” I think that’s quite a feat considering most kids will start out using the program with little to no knowledge of programming, let alone game design. I think part of what makes this course a winner is that the parents can be completely unfamiliar with computer programming (and the unique language of the profession) and still give their child a very solid foundation in a professional computer language, all in the comfort of their own home.

I had my son work on this program about three times per week. It took him anywhere from ten minutes to closer to an hour to finish for the day. There are a text version and a video version of each lesson. My son, not being a big reader, loved that he could watch a video. After each lesson, he took a short, five-question quiz. These are multiple choice quizzes with four possible answers, with only one being correct. He had two chances to take the quiz, and he was given the highest score. (This was the default set up. You have the option to adjust the number of attempts and/or how it’s scored.) One issue he had is that he was not given the correct answer if he got it wrong, though it did tell him which question he got wrong. I told him I actually preferred it that way because he then had to re-watch the lesson and figure it out for himself. After completing the three to four lessons in each chapter, and the activity (or activities,) he took a 20-question exam. The exam was corrected in the same way as the lessons. (Again, this was the default, and it’s customizable.) We had no issues running the program or figuring any of it out. There is tech support available, but we never had to use it.

I would recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn to program, and I could easily see even adults using it. Obviously, this is an elective course and not everyone will be interested, but for those who are, it seems like a great way to learn. I haven’t used any other programs to compare it to, but from what I’ve seen it’s very well designed, organized, and flexible. As I stated above, you can work at your own pace, each lesson is presented in both text and video (which is helpful for different learning styles,) and the testing and grading can be customized. On top of that, the program is available in English, American English, and Spanish. The self-study monthly subscription for this course is $15; however, if you sign up for a year the cost is $120. I believe it’s well worth the price, and again, if your child has any interest in programming, especially game programming, I would definitely recommend it.

-Product review by Diane Marie, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018



Another Reviewer Perspective:


Unity Game Programming Course
CompuScholar
http://www.compuscholar.com/

Is your teen interested in playing video games; and learning how to program them? And are you, as a homeschool parent, someone who lacks confidence in teaching this type of computer programming? If so, CompuScholar has just the right curriculum for you. Their Unity Game Programming year-long course teaches students in grades 9-12 how to design working video games. The course is offered via the CompuScholar website and can be purchased in two ways: either with a monthly subscription, at $15 per month; or with a year-long subscription at $120 (siblings can be added to year-long course purchases for an extra $40 apiece). Its 26 interactive lessons include video and text teaching, quizzes and tests, “Lab” assignments (both smaller ones and a final project), and instruction in Unity, a gaming engine used in many popular video games. All lessons are completed by students on their own, in self-study, and students will need a computer with Windows 7, 8, or 10 or Mac OS 10.7 or higher to utilize the course. The course logs students’ progress and test scores, and parents also receive a separate login account with a syllabus and student coursework records.

So what does a student need to learn in order to create his or her own video game? Unity Game Programming starts at a point that even students who’ve never programmed before will still understand and learn to apply. The course’s lessons teach students a complete menu for developing via Unity: C# coding and programming scripts; movement and input; 2D physics concepts; primitive data and math; decisions and flow control; game objects; debugging; loops and arrays; game design strategies; and virtual worlds. That’s only in the first 15 chapters! In the remainder of the course students will cover scrolling games, animation, sound effects, advanced game physics, artificial intelligence, user interfaces, game art, game publishing, and more. The course’s final chapter gives students the opportunity to create their own final projects, and supplemental sections train them on ethics, video game history, and additional topics that game developers need to be aware of (including ESRB ratings, collaboration and PIM tools).

Each lesson can be viewed by the student in video format or read in text format. Chapters contain from 1-5 lessons apiece, including quizzes on the daily material plus a chapter quiz. Vibrant images and screenshots accompany the text information and illustrate the programming information being taught. Students also get to put their programming lessons to work immediately, as they create scripts to cause their “sprites” (the objects/characters which populate the game) to move around or accomplish tasks.

My son has used Unity Game Programming for just over two months. He has generally spent 3-4 days per week working on lessons. Some days’ work has been more difficult and he has needed to spread a few lessons out over two days. But I can see that he is learning and apprehending this new language and making it work. He has been introduced to Unity and other game engines. He has learned about creating scripts and C# programming language. He is learning how to create movement with his sprites and use 2D physics concepts. We both feel that the lessons are presented well and that each one contains, for the most part, just the right amount for the novice game developer. The projects are interesting to complete and enable him to put to work the coding that he is learning and building on right away.

He did experience a few challenges when some of his projects did not work after he felt he’d followed the lesson’s instructions, which I do believe is part of the challenge of computer programming. And I was not able to help him with those (given that I have zero game development experience myself). However, all hope was not lost. We emailed the support center (which is available via the CompuScholar website) and my son explained the challenges he was having. Both times he had to ask for help, CompuScholar responded within one business day. This was fantastic for two reasons. First, because our student was able to continue progressing the very next day after he’d had a programming error. And second, because CompuScholar immediately provided help that I could not give myself. We felt that the company was so responsive and willing to help. 

I have to admit to you that I personally (the mom of a 16-year-old teen) have very little understanding of how to program much of anything. But I have a son who loves video gaming and has wanted to learn how to use Unity for several years. I knew that this was not something that I was likely to try to learn myself so that I could teach him.  CompuScholar really has come to our rescue in this. Their Unity Game Programming is clearly and concisely laid out. Its lessons are full yet bite-sized and students (even if they have minimal or no programming experience) really do learn and progress through the course. It truly is an excellent curriculum and it has accomplished everything that we hoped it would. My son is confident that when he completes Unity Game Programming, he will indeed be able to create a video game. (And probably, not just one!)

-Product review by Melanie Reynolds, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018

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