Student-run game development organization “DevLUp” finds success at UF and beyond

UF Digital Worlds Institute
5 min readDec 7, 2022
Members of the “DevLUp” leadership team

Written by: Ryan Helterhoff (MAMC ‘23)

Michael Tomadakis knew he had found his new passion when he joined the UF Game Developers’ Association. The club, which was founded in 2018, was a place for students to learn, socialize, and create video games.

Tomadakis began working on expanding the club into a platform that could bring together students who are passionate about game design after becoming president of the organization during his freshman year. Over the next two years, the club grew from 100 students to over 700 today largely thanks to other members of the leadership team including Anthony Bonet, Hanna Garrison, and Nathan Harris. The club was renamed “DevLUp” and incorporated as a nonprofit in the summer of 2022, as plans to expand beyond UF began to take shape and the leadership team continued to grow.

Today, DevLUp continues to expand thanks to its core leadership team. With the help of Manu “Kristian” Kolehmainen and Andrew Goldstein, the organization has established branches at Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, and the Florida Institute of Technology. Julia Whisenhunt and Diana DaSilva played a major role in the organization’s new look, while William Chen’s work on the website and Abraham Banos’s aggregation of educational content have been an invaluable part of this growth. Tomadakis sees this expansion as essential to the club’s educational goals.

“I care deeply about education,” said Tomadakis. “I think the most important thing we can do in running DevLUp is to create a vibrant hub of resources and educational content that’s more organized and effective than the disorganized aggregate of the internet.”

This educational foundation aims to help students become well-versed in the most modern aspects of game development by diving deep into the technical aspects of designing an effective and enjoyable game experience. Exploring industry-standard tools such as Unreal Engine and teaching invaluable skills such as 3D modeling and procedural animation are just a few of the services provided by the organization.

Putting education at the core of DevLUp’s mission is something Tomadakis had in mind from the beginning. While running his high school’s game development club, he realized that it was an effective way to teach people advanced math.

“Game development really helps people visualize vector calc, trigonometry, and other advanced math that students don’t really bump into until their freshman year of college,” said Tomadakis.

A recent educational endeavor the organization undertook was the creation of “DevLUp Studios”, a collaborative project led by Morgan Schafer, the organization’s former marketing lead that pairs some of the club’s top members together to build a game of a higher caliber that lets them deepen their skill sets and works as a piece for their portfolio.

Despite being the organization’s top priority, education isn’t the only opportunity DevLUp provides to students. The organization is also committed to cultivating a vibrant community and serving as a hub for professional development. The club is mostly active on Discord, where members communicate about upcoming events, plan workshops, and share progress on the various projects they’re working on. Each semester, they also host game nights and social events for members to interact with one another and make new friends. One of the best workshops this semester was a collaboration between DevLUp and the GAITOR Club, a campus organization focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). William Chen of DevLUp and Kyle Dampier of GAITOR collaborated during the workshop to teach AI how to play a custom-built game from DevLUp’s club-wide game jam.

Aside from education and community building, DevLUp serves as a space for students to begin developing professional skills and learning about the gaming industry in order to be prepared to enter it after graduation. They frequently invite industry guests to share their experiences and advice with students.

“We really try to foster relationships with our guest speakers,” said Tomadakis. “Many of them frequent our Discord server where they interact and answer questions from members. Some of them have even made appearances during past game nights!”

Members are also encouraged to gain hands-on experience by developing their own personal games. Currently, the organization has over 40 active projects from members, who can share their progress in real time via DevLUp’s website.

Following their success at UF and other institutions, the team behind DevLUp has a grand vision for the future of the organization that’s centered around the pillar of education.

“In the coming months, our website will include a hub for educational content,” said Tomadakis. “We hope to combine this with templates and instructional packages to seed game development clubs at hundreds of high schools across the country.”

Because the high schoolers would be linked to DevLUp, they would have access to many of the same resources as college students. The organization hopes to cultivate this collaborative educational space so that college developers can mentor high school students. The leadership of DevLUp recognizes that these objectives are lofty, but sees them as an opportunity to teach critical STEAM skills to young students and provide mentorship opportunities for college members.

Tomadakis and his team have recently started the process of recruiting new leaders for the UF chapter as the current team transitions to oversee the larger organization. They plan to expand to more institutions, create educational content for the website, and increase membership among aspiring game developers.

“DevLUp” members enjoy a post-meeting social

When asked what DevLUp members like the most about the club, Tomadakis let members do the talking:

“I love the environment that the club has cultivated. This is one of the most open and friendly spaces I’ve been in.”

“DevLUp has allowed me to meet people with a common interest who are passionate and inspired. But the connections don’t end there. Many times I find the connections I’ve made go much deeper than game development. I’ve met friends, teachers, and even co-workers through DevLUp. I also like that the Discord community has high levels of interaction and people are constantly working on projects outside the club that require deep levels of work. The best part is that DevLUp doesn’t have social events every week that are unrelated to the club. The community just exists in everything the club does.”

“You’d think joining a club of talented, skilled, self-motivated individuals as a beginner would be intimidating. It is. Until you realize how much they want to teach you. Game development is difficult to learn, but we all believe that games are worth it.”

Learn more about DevLUp here.

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UF Digital Worlds Institute

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