One of gaming’s earliest pioneers has left the world and the people he inspired to join his creations in the world of remembrance. Ted Dabney, the co-founder of Atari, passed away yesterday, May 26, after a short battle with esophageal cancer. He was diagnosed with the terminal disease in late 2017 and was given a few more months to live, but he opted not to seek medical treatment. He was 81.
Marty Goldberg, the administrator for the Atari Museum on Facebook, wrote, “At a loss. I just got word that my friend, one of the nicest, sweetest down to earth guys I knew, Atari cofounder Ted Dabney has passed from his cancer. Thought he still had a bit more time. You always wish someone like him did.”
Dabney was known as the “less remembered” father to video games, as the other co-founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, became much more famous for their creation and its commercial success in the 1970s. Bushnell said in a statement today that “Ted was my partner, cofounder, fellow dreamer and friend. I’ll always cherish the time we spent together. RIP.”
Ted Dabney was born in San Francisco in 1937, where he grew up fast, landing a job with the California Department of Transportation when he was still a teenager. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after working a few other odd jobs and, while there, studied electronics. After completing his studies to become an engineer, he was hired by Hewlett-Packard then left there to work for Ampex in 1961. He worked on military products at Ampex.
It was at Ampex when Dabney met Nolan Bushnell. They became quick friends, eventually leaving Ampex to create their own company, Syzygy, in 1971. Their first creation was a space combat, an arcade game called Computer Space, which had been based on Spacewar!. Their first product sold over 1,000 cabinets. The duo used this money to help fund the creation of Atari and, with it, Pong, in 1972. The rest is history; Pong became one of the defining titles of that generation, allowing other gaming companies, like Nintendo and Sega, to produce their own hit titles from the momentum Atari had started with Pong.
Dabney and Bushnell went on to work on Pizza Time Theater, the predecessor to Chuck E. Cheese’s, Catalyst Technologies, Syzygy Game Company, and Teledyne. Dabney eventually left the industry all-together and, from there, managed a grocery store then a deli. Atari and Pong may be very much in the past when it comes to video games of today, but, like Ted Dabney, they’ll always be remembered for the influence they had on the industry and the community as a whole. Rest in Peace Mr. Dabney.