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This Is A Dreamcast Disc: The Search For The Voice Of Dreamcast

This is a Dreamcast disc and is for use only on a Dreamcast unit. Playing this disc on a Hi-Fi or other audio equipment can cause serious damage to its speakers. Please stop this disc now.

If you've ever put a Dreamcast game into a device that isn't a Dreamcast, you will instantly recognise that foreboding little passage. It's a pretty simple warning, clearly stating that you risk damaging your audio player's speakers if you continue on that well-trodden path of wanton destruction. For the uninitiated, the message is an audio track recorded on Dreamcast GDs from all regions, and the only real difference is the language that the ominous caution is relayed in.


Naturally, being from the UK, and primarily playing PAL games back in the day, the message I hear in my mind is performed by a well spoken Englishwoman, clearly and concisely, as if she were a stern teacher speaking to her class. Indeed, if you are a listener to our podcast DreamPod, you'll also be familiar with the warning as it forms an integral part of the intro and outro jingles. The warning is also recorded in other European languages on PAL GD-ROM discs, but for the purposes of this article I want to focus on that haunting English language delivery.

It's almost a part of Dreamcast folklore these days, that cold, clipped and commanding voice booming out whenever a curious gamer feels the need to see what would happen if the disc is improperly used. "Please stop this disc now" she orders, and naturally, you do. Because she damn well said so. Indeed, there are plenty of Dreamcast games that have special bonus messages recorded on them, hidden in plain sight on the audio portion of the GD, and there's a list of the known games here at Sega Retro. But they aren't the focus of this particular caper. No, what I want to know is slightly more mundane, dull, esoteric and pointless than that. I want to know who that curt English lady is. What's the story behind that recording? When and where was it recorded? Who is she and did she do any other voice over work?
Before I continue, it's probably worth explaining a little bit about this specific warning track stored on Dreamcast game discs. See, Dreamcast games come on GD-ROMs. and GD-ROMs were intended to be Sega's unbreakable proprietary format for the Dreamcast that would prevent ne'er-do-wells from pirating Dreamcast software (and we all know how well that worked). It does this by partitioning the storage area of the GD-ROM into two areas - a high density and a low density area.
The low density area is the part of the disc closest to the centre and high density area is the area towards the edge, and these areas are separated by a ring embossed with Sega's trademark details. The high density area is where all the game data is stored. The low density area contains two tracks - Track 1 and Track 2. Track 1 contains the stuff you can see if you put a GD-ROM into a PC or a Mac - the Bibliogr.txt, Abstract.txt and Copyright.txt files. Track 2 contains the CDDA file which the Dreamcast converts into the scary audible warnings this whole article is concerned with.
The whole point of the warning is the notion that should the audio player try to play the game data stored on the high density area of the disc, the sound it's converted into would be horrendous and damage the speakers as well as your ear drums. A bit like playing a Nickelback album.

Now the science bit is out of the way, let's get back to Dreamcast lady. Or GD-ROM woman. Or scary warning Dreamcast lady. Whoever she is, those few seconds of her voice at the start of Track 2 on a PAL Dreamcast game are every bit a part of the Dreamcast story as the iconic swirl, the 'VMU with a dead battery' beep and the ADX, MPEG Sofdec, and Duck TrueMotion boot screens. And to be quite frank, the warning voice overs from the other regions just don't cut it when compared to the Iron Lady of the PAL territories.

I won't lie to you, dear reader - this will be a meandering and quite pointless escapade, but just as with the In Search of The Barber series from a few years ago, The Dreamcast Junkyard has always prided itself on documenting even the most trivial and niche aspects of the Dreamcast's evergreen existence. So if you're ready, buckle up, take the red pill and let's see how deep this rabbit hole goes...

As with any good internet mystery, the search begins with good old Google. However, pretty early on it seems that Google isn't much help at all - well, not at first glance. Using terms such as 'Dreamcast warning' or 'This is a Dreamcast disc' simply brings up links to YouTube videos of the warning, and some pretty pointless creepy pasta nonsense about Track 03 on the GD-ROM summoning a demonic version of Sonic the Hedgehog. So far, so ridiculous.
I changed my search terms several times, again employing the strategy I first used when I was searching for the Barber. Using my impeccable powers of deduction, I decided that it might be worth going straight to the source, so to speak, and looking for references to the Dreamcast and Sega Europe on voice actor resumes and agency listings. The issue here though, is the age of the material I'm looking for. Searching for voice actors does bring up some interesting sites, such as Behind the Voice Actors which lists a number of vocal talents who were featured in Dreamcast games and adverts, but nothing remotely near the ballpark that I'm looking for.
The thing to bear in mind here, is that while the lady in the infamous recording sounds as if she could be in her thirties at the time the sample was created, it was probably back in around 1998 or that it was laid down. That would probably put the actor in question in her fifties right now. Add to that the fact that the internet just wasn't as prevalent in everyday life back in the late 1990s, and it becomes clear that there's every possibility this person never had a personal website or even thought it was worth creating an online profile or resume. Unperturbed, I pressed on with variations of the search terms, and did find some intriguing profiles on various voice over agency websites...but alas I exhausted these pretty quickly and came up with precisely zilch.

At this point, I went back to browsing the Sega Retro entry mentioned earlier that lists all the special bonus warning tracks on Sega games through the ages (they can be found on Mega CD and Saturn discs too). One particular entry piqued my interest - the Template:CDWarning page. This is an odd little stub of a page, and gives minimal information with a title of CDWarning:

CDWarning
Usage:
1. [data track] ({{{time}}})
2. CD Warning message (00:14)
Collapse3. CD Warning message (special) (00:14)
JP: 警告メッセージ
Vocals: Ryoutaroh Okiayu
► Running time: 0:28

This gave me a pretty thin thread of a lead: Ryoutaroh Okiayu. Turns out that Ryoutaroh Okiayu is a Japanese actor and voice over artist that has a career spanning over 30 years...and he's well known in the Japanese gaming community for his work in some pretty big franchises. I wondered if he is the voice of the Japanese warning...but then I listened to it and realised it's actually a female voice on the NTSC-J discs.

Although this lead to another dead end (I was thinking that if Ryoutaroh Okiayu had been the voice actor on the NTSC-J discs I could somehow contact him and ask if he knew anything about the PAL disc, however remote the chances of a reply or him actually knowing the answers were); it did make me think more about changing my entire strategy. See, as stated earlier, there are several other voices on the PAL GD-ROM, all speaking a range of languages - German, French, Italian...I wondered if a search for those voice actors may yield any further results. Alas, it did not. But then, you already guessed that.

Several hours of performing different Google searches later (insomnia's a bitch, right?), I happened across something in the search results I hadn't actually thought about in quite some time. Now, allow me to meander from the point for a second here. The blog you're reading right now has been going since 2005, and in the years since we started on this most pointless of journies back in the mid 2000s, I and the other contributors here have written many thousands of articles on all aspects of the Dreamcast scene. Reviews, features, collector's guides...loads of random crap about nothing in particular at times. However, what that has afforded us is a fairly decent ranking on Google whenever anyone searches for Dreamcast stuff online. I constantly see my own articles popping up whenever I search for Dreamcast related topics, and while that might seem like a bit of a 'humble brag,' it's actually a bit annoying. Especially when I'm looking for stuff I don't already know about. Also, it occasionally allows me to glimpse old articles from way back when, and I cringe at how crap my writing was (not that it's improved much!). The point I'm eventually getting to, is that an article about the Dreamcast Software Creation Standards Guidebook that I wrote back in October 2017 popped up.
Getting all nostalgic, I opened the link and then went to the download section of the post. For those not aware, the Dreamcast Software Creation Standards Guidebook was a document supplied by Sega to developers that instructed on best practice when creating software for the console. How menus should work, how VMU loads should be handled, how the pause screens should operate - that type of thing. At this point, I had a bit of a 'Eureka!' moment and so I went looking through the PDF in search of anything relating to the audio track warning. And here is where I got a break: hidden away in the depths of the Guidebook, on page 149, is the following:

On the Dreamcast-specific disc, the inner ring, referred to as the “Single Density Area” and the outer ring is referred to as the “High Density Area”.

20.1 DA Regulations in the Single Density Area


Required

In the single-density area of the Dreamcast-specific disc, DA (except for non-sound) should be input as voice data. DA sound should be made to run even if the specific-disc is put in a non-Dreamcast CD player.

Recommended
Use the warning.da file provided in Release R8 of the Sega Dreamcast Software Development Kit to warn users that attempt to play the GD-ROM on a standard CD player.

See it? 'Use the warning.da file provided in Release R8 of the Sega Dreamcast Software Development Kit.' Bingo.

Now, I don't and have never professed to be very knowledgeable when it comes to developing for the Dreamcast. I'm not a programmer. I'm not really that technically minded. I'm just a bloke who likes to write rubbish about the Dreamcast and occasionally some people read what I write. But I do know that a .da file in this context is a data file, and that a Software Development Kit is also known as an SDK. The sentence above is referring to the 8th revision of the Dreamcast SDK. A quick Google later (did I mention I use Google?), and I found a download of the Dreamcast SDK. Not R8, but R9 and R10 - both of which had change logs of updates which assured me that what I sought had not changed from R8 - the file named warning.da.

It's worth noting that last sentence at this point. I highlight the fact that warning.da had not changed from R8 of the SDK (also known as Katana R8) because R8 appears to be one iteration of the Dreamcast SDK that has never found its way online. Here's the entry in the Changes.txt file from Katana SDK R9:

A submittable version of warning.da was added. Developers will use this sound file in track 2 (CDDA) to warn people that the disc should not be played on standard CD players.

Contained within the various files of the Dreamcast SDK is a Utilities folder, and within that is a tool used in conjunction with a Dreamcast dev kit to create GD-ROMs. It's called GD Workshop, and while I cannot run the .exe files myself as I use an Apple Mac (and the Dreamcast dev kits run Windows '95 or NT if I'm not mistaken); the file warning.da - the file referenced in the Dreamcast Software Creation Standards Guidebook as being the audio clip warning gamers not to put Dreamcast discs into stereos - presented itself in all its obsolete and esoteric glory. I could taste victory. I right clicked on the file and selected 'Get Info.'
Unfortunately, shown above is all I got in the metadata. No author, no developer. Just that this particular iteration of warning.da was created using Katana SDK R9 in November 1999. Bah! As an extra avenue, I did open the file with Audacity, but the audio it plays is just a load of garbled static (obviously, as it's a data file), and trying to export it as an MP3 doesn't show any additional metadata. Double bah! What I was hoping for was perhaps the name of an engineer, a cast member, a studio that had produced the data. But alas, it was not to be.
I did take a look at the lengthy GD Workshop guidebook, hoping to find some kind of reference to warning.da, but - rather oddly - there's no mention of it. The very last page of the PDF gives some contact details for a company called Cross Products Ltd, based in Leeds, Yorkshire...and also a URL. As you'd imagine, the URL no longer works but by using the Wayback Machine it is possible to access a few snapshots of the Cross Products website. I had never previously heard of Cross Products, but after a cursory glance at this long forgotten site, I deduced that the firm had been purchased by Sega at some point in the mid 1990s and was responsible for creating all sorts of development tools for Sega consoles - there's even reference to the Sega Saturn on one of the earliest snapshots I could view. Sadly, while it's possible to still access some of the pages from the site, there's no mention of GD Workshop - quite probably because this was an in-house product and Sega didn't want any old Tom, Dick or Harry snooping around inside the contents of its brand new piracy proof format. Ahem.
After learning of Cross Products Ltd, I did some more internet sleuthing via the power of advanced Google searches (this time searching LinkedIn) I did discover the identities of two founders of the firm. This searching also lead me back to Sega Retro, which has a page on Cross Products Ltd. Who knew? Anyway, I discovered that two gentlemen - Andy Craven and Ian Oliver - were the brains behind Cross Products Ltd. With this information, I was able to find details of their current firms and have sent emails to them both about this wild goose chase. Whether they respond is another matter. It's also worth mentioning that it looks like Andy Craven left Cross Products Ltd in 1994 when Sega of Japan acquired the company as a subsidiary, so again, I'm not holding my breath that he'll have any idea what I'm blathering about, even if he does respond.
The whole point of this particular rabbit hole, is that Cross Products Ltd is listed as the contact on the back of the GD Workshop manual, and GD Workshop is the software used to master GD-ROMs. And it's using GD Workshop - as directed in the Dreamcast Software Creation Standards Guidebook - that developers were to place the warning.da file in the required place on the GD-ROM. I figure that if anyone would be able to give me a lead on the origin of warning.da, it would be the creators of GD Workshop.
As a small aside, it's worth noting that within these SDK folders, there is a lot of additional documentation and guidance on other aspects of Dreamcast development (as you'd expect). while searching for all this nonsense online, I did come across the story of the mysterious HKT-11 Dev.Cas unit that was shown off on Twitter by Shane Battye back in August 2019. Included in the SDK documentation I've been poring over there are numerous references to that device, as well as the Sound Creator's Assistant Tools that run on it. I also found (now expired) eBay auctions for physical copies of documentation for Katana SDK R7...but both of those side quests constitute rabbit holes for another day.
Anyway, it was around this point that I wondered if it was even worth pursuing this fools errand of a quest. While the identity of the 'This is a Dreamcast disc' warning's originator may never be discovered, all is not lost. We still have the actual warning, preserved momentarily on all of those many thousands of GD-ROMs floating around in collections and on shelves across the globe. The voice isn't going anywhere. And in a way that's OK. She's locked in time, for now, always ready to spring forth from a speaker should you be inquisitive enough to try playing a Dreamcast game in a CD player. But for how long? Sure, there are copies of this message on YouTube and in countless other places online, but nothing lasts forever...and wouldn't you just like to know? Know the story of who this enigmatic woman is? Could she be a vocaloid? Unlikely as the technology didn't exist back in the late 1990s...and in any case, hiring a jobbing voice actor would be infinitely cheaper than trying to create artificial voices in many different languages, simply to tell idiots not to put their game discs in a stereo.

The real difficulty here is that her voice is all we have. Those few seconds. It's not like with the Barber where we had an entire series of TV and print adverts to work from to find his identity. We had the guy's face. But here...we have a few precious seconds of a vocal sample and nothing else. But there's more to this story. It doesn't end here.
As with the aforementioned Barber escapade, this is bigger than just me. It's a pointless task, granted, but I truly believe this is a mystery that can be solved by the coming together of the Dreamcast community. We did it once...we can do it again. Who is the Dreamcast warning woman? What's her story? Are there young adults out there now who have no idea that their mother is a Dreamcast legend? We need to find out who she is...or was.

To this end, I plan to widen the net through the great Dreamcast online community. I have asked several ex-Sega Europe people who worked on the Dreamcast project if they have any leads. I am going to post a link to the fantastic 'lost media' Reddit thread. And I call on you - you reading this. Can you help? We must find her. We must find the Voice of Dreamcast!

As ever, if there are any updates in the coming weeks or months, I'll be sure to update you on the findings. For now, the game is afoot!

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5 comments:

  1. These are some of my favorite articles. How great would it be if that person read this article and then contacted you?

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    Replies
    1. That's what I'm hoping. Either that or someone who knows something. I'm not holding my breath that anyone I've contacted will reply though. Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  2. That was such a fun article. Great job.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have a dream of the Dreamcast Disc lady saying "this is a Dreamcast Podcast" at the beginning of every DreamPod 🤩🤩🤩

    ReplyDelete