Co-Founder of Atari Ted Dabney Passes Away at Age 81

On May 26, 2018, the video game world weeps for the passing of Ted Dabney.

Early Days of Ted Dabney

Samuel F. “Ted” Dabney was born on May 15, 1937. He was the co-founder of Atari, Inc. alongside Nolan Bushnell, and one of the creators of the first successful arcade gamePong.

In 1961, Dabney started working for Ampex’s military products department. In about 1969, Bushnell was hired by Ampex, and the two became good friends. During their time with Ampex, the two discussed the idea of a carnival-like pizza place with coin-operated machines.

Ted Dabney Enters Game Industry

In 1971, the two created a partnership and named it Syzygy. When they decided to incorporate, they discovered their name was already taken and thus, Atari, Inc. was born.

The first game they developed was “Computer Space”, influenced by the “Spacewar!” demo they saw at Stanford.

According to Wikipedia,Dabney created a motion system using a video circuit made up of cheap analog and digital components of a standard television set rather than acquire an expensive computer, while Bushnell designed its cabinet and worked with Nutting Associates to manufacture the game at scale.

Convinced by Bushnell, another Ampex employee, Al Alcorn joined the Atari team. Alcorn used Dabney’s video circuit concept to create one of the most well-known games in the world, Pong.

Dark Side of Pong

The success of Pong led to Dabney feeling overshadowed by Alcorn and Bushnell. Bushnell patented his video circuit idea without including Dabney on the patent. Bushnell assigned Dabney a lower-level position in Atari and did not include him in high-level meetings. In March 1973, Dabney had enough and left Atari.

Bushnell and Dabney Continue Work Together

Dabney did end up helping Bushnell with the predecessor of Chuck E. Cheese, Pizza Time Theatre as well as becoming an employee for Catalyst Technologies. He also did work for Raytheon and Fujitsu, as well as operating his own game development company, Syzygy Game Company.

Through Syzygy Game Company, Dabney developed games for the Pizza Time Theatre. This included an arcade quiz game based on science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, as well as the automated ticket number machine used for the prize tickets.

The Friendship Dissolves

Dabney and Bushnell’s friendship ended when Pizza Time Theatre went under and Bushnell did not pay Dabney what was owed to him. Dabney closed his Syzygy Game Company and went to work for Teledyne for about ten years before he left the industry.

Post Game Industry

Dabney moved on in life by managing a grocery store with his wife, Carolyn. In about 2006, he and his wife moved from California to some property he owned near Okanogan National Forest in Washington.

Dabney had been mostly forgotten until in 2009, a documentary was being filed about Nolen Bushnell, but Paramount Pictures had never approached Dabney for any input.

According to Wikipedia:

Dabney gave an interview with video game historian Leonard Herman in Edge that described his contributions towards Atari, and acknowledged that “I’m sure [Bushnell] had no desire to even acknowledged that I ever existed” and “He wouldn’t give me any credit even while I was still there“.

Dabney was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017 and opted against treatment. He died on May 26, 2018.

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