Ted Dabney, who co-founded Atari and its predecessor Syzygy, has died at age 80.
Historian Leonard Herman, who told Dabney’s side of Atari’s story in a 2009 issue of Edge magazine, announced Dabney’s death via Facebook.
Ted Dabney was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2017 and was given 8 months to live. Subsequent to this diagnosis, Dabney opted not to receive treatment. Tributes from well-wishers and those wanting to commemorate Dabney’s extraordinary legacy are already appearing on social media.
Dabney was born in San Fransisco in 1937. He co-founded Syzygy Engineering with Nolan Bushnell in the early 1970s after the pair developed Computer Space, a coin-op title closely modeled on Spacewar! and the first commercially available coin-op title. Syzygy became Atari Inc. shortly afterward, and the company went on to produce classics of the arcade era such as Pong, Asteroids, Breakout and more, many of which were phenomenally successful for Atari. Some of the internals used to create Pong was based on Dabney’s video circuit created for Computer Space, which means Dabney was instrumental in creating what is arguably the company’s best-known and most successful game.
Ted Dabney would go on to depart Atari, shortly after a supposedly acrimonious split with long-time business partner Bushell. His presence in the gaming industry was greatly diminished after his Atari departure, and his role in creating Pong, as well as many other Atari games, would be somewhat shrouded in mystery until the late 2000s. Dabney appeared on retro gaming podcast Retro Gaming Roundup in 2010 (transcript here), shortly after his Edge magazine interview, and told his side of the story there; these two media appearances were the first time many had heard from him in decades. After this, Dabney would give sporadic interviews elsewhere, but his input into the gaming industry is largely focused around Atari in the 1970s, with a healthy dose of Chuck E. Cheese – both the restaurants themselves and some of the computer games there.
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