A virtual escape game awaits visitors to Forum EPFL

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Users of Codex D virtual escale game will be asked questions along the way, whic

Users of Codex D virtual escale game will be asked questions along the way, which they can answer by photo or text 2018 Alain Herzog

Visitors to this year’s Forum EPFL will be able to use a new app to learn about the different start-ups being showcased. The app will take users through a "virtual treasure hunt" as they discover the young firms one by one. The app itself was developed by EPFL start-up Codex D., which plans to roll out other scenarios, including one taking place in Paris.

A virtual escape game awaits visitors to Forum EPFL

When visitors attend Forum EPFL’s Start-Up Day tomorrow at the SwissTech Convention Center, they will be challenged with questions to answer, riddles to solve and people to meet. This will all take place during a 30-minute virtual game that, according to its developers, is a cross between Pokemon Go and an escape game. For Codex D., the EPFL spin-off behind the app, this game is just the beginning; the company already plans to introduce a new scenario next spring, taking place in historical Paris.

To play the game at Forum EPFL, visitors simply need to install the app on their smartphone and launch it whenever they want. As they go through this virtual treasure hunt, they will learn interesting facts about each start-up’s business as well as anecdotes about them. Users will be asked questions along the way, which they can answer by photo or text. Automatic recognition programs will analyze the answers and, if they’re right, send out the next challenge.

"This game is only the first of a whole series of adventures," says Stefan Rotarus, one of Codex D.’s founders. He and the other founders - Jeremy Bensoussan and Paul Renauld - are already brimming with ideas. Several new scenarios are in the works, all taking place at various tourist destinations - starting with Paris in 2019. The scenarios are interactive and structured as gamebooks where the story unfolds according to choices that the user makes along the way. Codex D.’s target market is young people and techies, although a family version without time limits is also planned. The scenarios will be designed to provide a fun way of learning interesting details and anecdotes "without having to schedule a session ahead of time, as is the case with conventional escape games," says Rotarus.

Players writing their own scenarios

Just like with any online game, the key to success is building a community. Codex D. will aim to engage with the most creative users first through an app that enables them to create their own scenarios - taking place at any location they wish - and post them online. No special programming skills required. Other users will then be able to vote on the scenarios and a ranking will gradually be established of the best ones.

The ideal opportunity for applying theory learned in class

Codex D.’s founders didn’t wait until they had their EPFL degrees in hand to launch their business. Currently third-year students at the School of Computer and Communication Sciences, they are big fans of escape games as well as history, programming and even philosophy. This new business venture lets them combine the skills they learned in class with their hobbies and entrepreneurial spirit. According to the founders: "Being at EPFL gives us a chance to launch our start-up without risking anything but our time and energy. And it’s the perfect opportunity for applying all the theory we’ve learned."

Just a few months after they created Codex D., they received funding from the XGrant program which also includes training for entrepreneurial-minded students. They likewise received support from the European Venture Program, which brings together universities from across Europe and gives the Codex D. founders an international perspective.

In late September the founders launched a crowdfunding campaign (

) to raise the CHF 9,000 needed to design graphics for characters for their new scenarios, purchase libraries for their scenario development app, hold real-world events to expand their user community and put together advertising campaigns in Paris and eventually other cities. "We hope that this venture will give users a new way of experiencing tourism and their favorite destinations. We all have our own vision of a particular city - we aim to make it easier to share that vision," says Bensoussan.