Review: Disunion, the VR guillotine simulator

Last week, Cory posted about Disunion, the guillotine simulator for the Oculus Rift headset. This weekend, I got a chance to "play" the virtual reality game—which amounted to getting my head virtually chopped off.

Though this is a far cry from the Oculus Rift's peaceful "Tuscan villa" demo, the experience is just as immersive. Your entire vision is filled with the in-game world, and the headset itself is unobtrusive, like wearing a large pair of ski goggles. After a few minutes, you lose track of the real physical space you're in. So much so, in fact, that the slight inconsistencies between the game and your head movements can make you seasick.

But it's a pretty good start on experiencing things you can't in real life—death being the ultimate example.

Because the Oculus is so new, setup took a while. As my friend, Phill, worked on the hardware, I realized that the pizza I was eating was my last meal before my virtual death. Preparing to play out an execution was exhilarating, and it made me think a lot about how I wanted to die and how I'd like to kill Phill. We set up a space for the chopping block, and planned to use an iPad to simulate the blade since Phill didn't trust me enough to use the back of a kitchen knife.

Setup was excruciating and took a long time to get right, but finally we got down to business. The game is short: He put on the headset and I pushed him onto the chopping block. You start the game already in the guillotine, so I played a little rough to make sure it felt like an execution. The sound of the blade dropping came quickly and I lopped off his virtual head, chopping at his real neck with the edge of the iPad.

Being executed myself was a little less exciting. The virtual world is very simplistic: a sunny day in a French town square, with a motionless announcer calling out for your death to the crowd. You barely have time to look around before the blade comes down and your head rolls into the basket. My head actually missed the basket, which was surprisingly disappointing but maybe realistic. Your death isn't final, either: you can still look around after you've been decapitated, which probably ought to be replaced by a fade to black in a newer version.

Disunion demands the right executioner to set the mood in advance of your death. The ritual was a major part of the fun, the virtual world itself less so. An execution party with canvas bags for the condemned, perhaps, and a devoted guillotine operator would really make it. Phill was shy with the iPad blade too, bumping my neck rather than getting in a good chop.

Hopefully someone will make similar games for drowning, hanging, seppuku and burning at the stake. Dying was fun, and I recommend you give it a try.

Disunion, for Oculus Rift


  1. I wonder if a correctly timed hit of adrenaline, to provide a subset of the symptoms you’d get as the body enters the late stages of ‘freaking out about homeostasis’ would enhance the realism?

    Given its… popularity in certain contexts… oxygen deprivation clearly has some sort of dramatic chemical effects…

  2. Somewhere in the train of virality the little face that this was made in < 48 hours at a game jam (EXILE.DK) got lost. The idea came to two complete strangers during lunch and they set out to build it in two nights, and did so magnificently. 

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