Ted Dabney, Atari co-founder, has passed away
Atari's oft-forgotten pioneer leaves an important legacy.
Ted Dabney, one of the co-founders of the Atari Corporation, has passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 81, leaving behind an important legacy that sadly is not often remembered. Perhaps this is due to the relatively short time he spent inside the video game industry -- all of a few years. And yet he is undoubtedly one of video gaming's pioneers -- his design essentially being the framework of the arcade for decades to come.
Dabney was one of two co-founders of Atari -- the other of course being Nolan Bushnell. Having met at Ampex in 1969, they bonded over Bushnell's original idea for a pizza restaurant that would feature games and animatronics -- from there they would leave Ampex and form what would eventually become Atari, eventually taking another Amplex employee, Al Alcorn, along for the ride. This trio would be the ones who made Pong and blew the arcade doors wide open -- Dabney's part in the process being, in the main, a video circuit that had originally being used on their first game Computer Space, the coin-slot mechanism for the machine, and the manufacturing.
However, not long after Pong's success Dabney found himself gradually pushed out of the company in favour of Alcorn, and he chose to leave. A partnership with Nolan Bushnell would continue for a few years as part of the Syzygy Game Company, which made games for Bushnell's realised dream of "Pizza Time" restaurant and game theatres, but this would also end acrimoniously -- and from there, Dabney largely disappeared into obscurity.
These are the facts that will be repeated in the majority of obituaries, of course -- but what do we know about Ted Dabney after Atari and Syzygy? We know that, for the most part, he lived a quiet life managing a deli in California until retirement, but he stayed incredibly quiet until 2009, when he clearly felt that attempts were being made to completely cut his contribution out from Atari's legacy. After not being consulted for a proposed biopic on Nolan Bushnell, Dabney went to Edge Magazine for an interview which largely cleared up just how important his contributions were. From there, he would make intermittent appearances on podcasts and television segments discussing the history of Atari, and particularly the creation of Pong.
To be fair to the other two co-founders, after this they were no longer so quick to forget to acknowledge the importance of Ted Dabney's contributions to the early history of Atari -- for without them, where would they have been? One can hope that at least at the end, there was some sort of closure and annulment of past sour feeling, and in the end the tributes shown to Ted Dabney prove the importance of Atari's third man at the very genesis of video game history.