A final year computer science undergraduate from the University of Bath has been named amongst the UK’s best student game developers, having won an award in the “Games with purpose” category at the Games Innovation Challenge 2024.

Salmaan Zhang competed against university and college students from across the country to win one of seven categories in the competition, which is sponsored by UNiDAYS and delivered by NSE (National Student Esports).

The challenge asked students in the UK to create the most innovative game in just eight weeks. Submitted entries were shortlisted and then judged by industry experts in several categories and against a number of criteria, including technical quality, look and feel, entertainment, innovation, social impact and marketability.

NSE invited a collection of leading esports and gaming professionals to judge the games in person at NSE’s office. The winners are awarded a prize of £500.

Salmaan won the ‘Games With Purpose’ category with his game, Guilt For Dreaming. The game is an abstract adventure that delves into the dreams and nightmares of the protagonist's mind as they meet faces from their past and rekindle lost passions they once had.

The gameplay varies between different types as the protagonist reconnects with hobbies such as music, drawing and photography.

The game stood out to the judges as it allowed players to embark on an inner journey through the dreams and nightmares of the past, reclaiming lost passions and saving themselves from a bleak future.

Salmaan, who has just completed his final year studying a BSc in Computer Science, said: “Guilt for Dreaming is a mostly nonviolent video game that explores themes of mental health, friendship and identity.

“I wanted to make a game that explored mental health in a more PG-friendly way as most games often approach it as a fairly heavy and dark subject matter.

“Balancing my time between studying, working on my dissertation and making the game was tricky, but it was great being able to use my programming skills to do something I really enjoy.”

Alex Coulson, Managing Director at NSE said: “It was incredible seeing the quality of games submitted to the Games Innovation Challenge and it wouldn’t have been possible without the crucial support from UNiDAYS.

“This is just the start of helping UNiDAYS form deeper relationships with the NSE community through bringing value to their time at university.”

William Avery, Account Manager, Gaming, Tech & Entertainment at UNiDAYS said: “I had a great time playing the games the students made during the judging session and seeing first-hand some of the immense talent the NSE community has to offer, especially within the game development space.

“We are thoroughly excited to see what the partnership holds for the future and how we can enrich students’ day-to-day lives.”

Salmaan is now planning to begin another much larger game project and hopes to turn his skill for game development into a career.

He said: “Game design is one of my lifelong passions and was one of the reasons I chose to study computer science. This prize has spurred me on to make my dream of becoming a professional games developer a reality.”