Atari co-founder Ted Dabney has passed away at age 81.
The news was revealed via a Facebook post from video game historian Leonard Herman. He described Dabney as a dear friend, but he did not elaborate on the circumstances of his death. However, Dabney had reportedly been suffering from esophageal cancer and elected to forgo treatment.
Dabney had previously worked for Bank of America and Hewlett-Packard before joining Ampex in 1961. There, he worked on early models of video imagery products that were similar to the first machines used for arcade video games. That’s also where he met Nolan Bushnell. It was Bushnell who had the vision of creating a carnival-like pizza parlor complete with animatronic amusements and technological games. Dabney and Bushnell formed a partnership under the name of Syzygy and set-out to create a game similar to the revolutionary 1962 title, Spacewar.
The pair eventually changed the name of the company to Atari Inc. after discovering that there was a corporation conflict with the Syzygy name. Together, they created the highly-successful 1971 arcade title, Computer Space. More importantly, Dabney’s work on Computer Space was partially used as the technical basis for the next Atari game, Pong.
You may be wondering why you’ve probably heard of the name Nolan Bushnell but not Ted Dabney. Well, that’s because Dabney left the company in 1973 not long after the release of Pong. There are some conflicting stories regarding what happened, but Dabney had previously stated during an interview that Bushnell forced him out of the business somewhat by threatening to transfer Dabney’s assets to another company and leave him with nothing.
Dabney lived a relatively quiet life after that. He worked in technology for a while, but he eventually purchased and operated a grocery store alongside his wife. His name isn’t regularly invoked when talking about the great figures in gaming history, but his technological developments helped form the foundation of the entire industry.