Arcade gaming pioneer and Atari co-founder Samuel 'Ted' Dabney has died of cancer, aged 81, after opting not to receive treatment for the illness.
Following military training in electronics and a brief job with the Bank of America, Ted Dabney's career in electronic computing took off when he joined Ampex in 1961 and met colleague Nolan Bushnell in 1969. Together Bushnell and Dabney would form electronic entertainment company Syzygy, but a name clash with an existing company led to a last-minute switch to a name which will be familiar to all: Atari. With Dabney's electronics expertise and Bushnell's business acumen, the pair launched their first coin-operated video arcade machine - Computer Space, based on the Spacewar! mainframe game - though the complexity of the title's gameplay meant it was only moderately successful.
The technology developed by Dabney to power the Computer Space arcade machine would see considerably more success in Atari's follow-up title: Pong, a simplified game of tennis which proved so popular a test machine stopped working because its coin drawer had overflowed with quarters. Sadly, little of that success flowed back to Dabney: Bushnell, who has a tendency to forget his friend and colleague when discussing the founding of the company, and early employee Al Alcorn became the public faces of Atari, while Dabney would quit in 1973 - just two years after the company was founded - though would work with Bushnell again on other projects, including the family eatery and arcade hall combination concept which would later become the Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre franchise.
Sadly, even this led to acrimony: Despite early success, Chuck E. Cheese's folded with a significant loss in funds which led to Bushnell claiming he could not pay monies owed to Dabney - the final straw in the pair's partnership and friendship, and the catalyst for Dabney to close his Syzygy Game Company. After a ten-year stint at Teledyne, Dabney left the computer and electronics industry altogether to manage a grocery store and later deli with his wife, Carolyn.
Dabney was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer last year. Having opted not to receive treatment, he passed away from the illness on May 26th 2018, aged 81. Bushnell issued a brief statement following Dabney's death: 'Ted was my partner, co-founder, fellow dreamer and friend. I’ll always cherish the time we spent together. RIP.'
Image courtesy of Al Alcorn, via the Computer History Museum; Ted Dabney far left.
February 24 2020 | 12:00