How I Prepared for and Passed the Unity Certified Developer Exam in 22 Days (Part One)
Obviously I can’t tell you what’s in the exam (other than what Unity provides to potential test takers), but I can tell you about the how I studied for the exam, what I thought was really helpful in the study materials, and about the day of the exam. I consider this a review of the study materials without any exam spoilers.
(Disclaimer) About Me and why I don’t like video games
I have this about me section so you know I didn’t just pick up Unity a few days ago and pass the exam. It isn’t an easy exam.
I have been using Unity on and off since either late version 3 or early version 4. I wanted to make video games and heard good things about Unity. I wanted to get into Unreal Engine, but it wasn’t publicly available back then and I didn’t think very highly of other available game engines. I’m not your average case, however. Truth be told, I’ve played many games, but I think a lot of them are a waste of time and not very fun. I often see gameplay as an obstacle I need to overcome to get to the story (I’m a writer and love a good story). There are a few games that I love for the mechanics, but for the most part I only play a game if I know the game has a compelling story. My time is valuable and limited so I can’t justify spending it on a blockbuster game until I know it’s something I would enjoy. I find that I just don’t enjoy playing very many games.
Now you may ask, “if you don’t like video games, why do this at all?” The reason is: because, as a writer, I see video games as a unique and powerful way to tell a story. There are several cases I feel have mastered game development as a story telling medium, but it feels like it hasn’t fully met its potential as a serious entertainment platform. Many in the movie making industry scoff at game development when comparing it to other forms of entertainment. That being said, the combination of color, animation, story, sound, mechanics, and how users interact with the system can create a fully immersive experience that will impact the player in ways that no other entertainment platform could ever dream.
I currently work for TroopTrack (a software company that builds tools and solutions for youth management organizations) as the Operations Manager. Part of my job is to be a teacher for our Code Camps. We teach basic programming principles to kids and help them have a good first experience with coding. Having a good first experience makes all the difference down the road.
A good artist friend of mine had a great idea for a game. Now, ideas are cheap. Execution is key. It doesn’t matter how wonderful or amazing your idea is, it will always be “just an idea” until you do something with it. On that note, whatever you do with it must be done well. Back to my original thought: A friend of mine had a great idea for a 2d game with a fun story. We started planning out the music, color, levels, etc. I was very excited because it was something we could actually DO with our level of knowledge in game development.
We failed to execute.
I built the first level and used some placeholder sprites for the characters and bad guys (It was a sword-wielding Kirby fighting off a bunch of Bowsers). I kept asking for the art and never got it so I didn’t move forward with development. I’m not mad at my friend; he is busy trying to find a way to pay for the Art Institute and didn’t have the time to work on our project. Life happens, but I’m confident we can get back into it and develop a solid game. Why is this important to my story? Because I consider this the first real big step in pushing me toward the Unity exam. I had heard of it by this point, but the courseware hadn’t been released and it didn’t look like any testing facilities would be available near me any time soon, so between work, my writing, and life, I decided to just drop game development for the time.
After a while, I received an email about the courseware being released and a multiplayer Roadshow + certification exam being offered in northern Texas. I didn’t think I was ready so I ignored it. I was discussing our Code Camp offerings with my boss, Dave, and we agreed that we wanted to offer a more advanced game development course to high school aged kids. I mentioned that I was a bit familiar with Unity and that certification could increase our value and reputation. I looked back at that email and it said “Roadshow and Certification, Irving Texas, Microsoft HQ, September 24”. It was September 2nd. I looked up the study guide for the exam (https://certification.unity.com/themes/certification/docs/unity-certified-developer-exam-objectives.pdf), read some information about the courseware, and began calculating. I found that I could get through the courseware three times by the exam day if I spent three hours a day studying. It sounded like a great plan, but looking back I laugh at my ignorance.
I bought the ticket for the exam ($250), I paid for my roadshow ticket ($20. It’s free, but they make you pay and will refund you if you actually show up. It’s funny how much more likely you are to show up to something if there’s a financial incentive), I paid for the Unity Plus membership ($35 a month with a yearlong commitment and includes one month of courseware access), and began my studies.
The Study Materials
· Unity Courseware (Unity through Docebo)
· Pass the Unity Certified Developer Exam (Udemy)
· Mastering Unity by Building 6 Fully Featured Games from Scratch (Udemy)
· Documentation, Tutorial Videos, etc. (Unity)
I have a few amusing things to say about each of the study materials I chose. Not going to give any spoilers, but there are a few things about them that I need to warn you about.
The Unity Courseware
This is not a good experience. Necessary? Yes. Happy about it? No. It was hard to get to, didn’t save my progress, and frequently crashed. The exam is divided into sixteen sections. It’s 100 questions over 90 minutes. The courseware is divided up into a similar number of sections, each (except the last) containing a review and self-assessment at the end.
When I finished all the videos in a section and go back to the menu, it changes the name of the section to a different color to show progress. After going through several of these and it working just fine, it stopped keeping track of my progress. Each time I came back into the courseware, it reset me to the end of one of them as if I hadn’t completed it yet. Very frustrating.
When you are in a section and watching videos, it doesn’t keep track of that at all like you would expect. The only clue as to where you are lies in a random string of breadcrumbs at the top of each section.
When I went back to go through all of the assessments, I couldn’t do ANYTHING on the first one. It was just stuck. Overall, the UI (User Interface) was a very poor experience.
The UI experience is not a good reflection of the material. The content of the courseware is golden. You go through and make a Zombie Toys game step by step. Very well thought out and it includes everything you need to know. It doesn’t just straight up say, “Hey, this is in the exam”, it flows naturally from one section to the next and you learn what you need for the exam by doing.
A few funny things about the courseware that made me chuckle. The man who narrates a good portion sounds like Perd Hapley from Parks and Recreation. “The thing I am about to teach you is… The Unity Developer Courseware.” Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it does feel that way in some points. He does show a human side, though. I forget when it is, but when you are doing some work on the ZomBear, he makes a bear pun. I had to pause the video so I could laugh.
During parts of the course we switch to a different man — one with an accent. He refers to “lighting” as “lightning” and it is pretty amusing. I really felt like I was in good hands when he spoke, though. He knows his stuff and makes it easy to follow along.
One thing that distracted me was the impression that this courseware was pieced together. It felt like much was taken from a preexisting video series and the rest was added in later to make sure everything was covered. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was a distracting thought.
Recommendations to improve: Ditch or improve Docebo. I understand that Docebo does this for many clients and offers some very good security for the videos, but is the added security really worth the sacrificing of the user experience? I could have built something better myself in Rails (Ha! I probably could have built something better in Unity!). No offense to Docebo. It would be a solid option if they would do a major overhaul of the UI.
I would also do a smaller game. A Zombie Toys game is great. But it feels like a really big game for this type of learning. If I keep it, I would redo the whole thing with just one narrator. Either one of the current narrators or even a whole new person is fine. Maybe a woman? There aren’t many women in gaming so that might be a good move to have a woman narrating the course.
I’m conflicted about this, but it’s worth noting. The external tools used in the courseware are the best in the business. Photoshop, Maya, etc. I know there are lite version of these, but they are still way too expensive for an independent developer or even a small team to afford. A part of me wishes they would have used examples with Gimp or Blender, but I do see how using the absolute best tools can be a good thing. I kind of wish they would use tools that better apply to me, but at the same time, those are the tools I know I need for the absolute best development.
I wish there were more practice questions. Maybe one or two hundred more. This could be a dual edged sword, though. I went through the self-assessments (except the first one because it was broken) maybe five times. There comes an unfortunate point for some people where if you answer the same questions again and again, you start to memorize the answers or parts of the answers, rather than grasping the actual point of the question or the self-assessment as a whole (“I’m not going to be on the exam, but make sure you know the area I’m located in Unity and all the stuff around me” type of thing).
Buy? Yes. Even with the few quarks, it’s 100% worth the money if you plan on taking the exam. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time. A month is not going to be enough for the average person.
To be continued.