In a sombre week for gaming icons, including the news of Totalbiscuit’s death, it has emerged that Atari co-founder and video game pioneer, Ted Dabney, has died aged 81. Leonard Herman, video game historian, writer, and close friend of Dabney’s, reported the death yesterday via a Facebook post before it was widely circulated elsewhere online.
He said, ‘I just learned that my good friend, Ted Dabney, the co-founder of Atari, passed away at the age of 81. RIP dear friend. Your legacy will live on a long time!’ Dabney passed following a battle with esophageal cancer that was first diagnosed last year. He had chosen not to seek further medical help.
Dabney is arguably one of the forefathers of modern gaming having been incidental in the release of the first commercially available arcade game, Computer Space, in 1971. Instead of using a large, expensive computer to program, Dabney opted instead to create a video circuit consisting of logic circuits from the wiring found in standard television sets to cut costs.
He did so under the guise of a company called Syzygy Engineering in collaboration with another stalwart of video game history, Nolan Bushnell. The release lay the foundations for decades to come and set in motion the development of an art form we all love and cherish. His part in all of this cannot be overstated and his passing is sorrowful, but his legacy lives on every time we load up our PCs and consoles for a gaming session.
Syzygy later turned into Atari, the company behind the widely popular Pong. Pong was made using the very same board first developed for Computer Space, and Dabney was instrumental in much of the hands-on programming work for the massively popular title. Dabney left Atari in 1973 following disagreements with co-founder Bushnell, who surreptitiously patented Dabney’s video circuit behind his back among other slights.
After leaving Atari, Dabney worked for various companies such Fujitsu and Teledyne, while developing games notably destined for Bushnell’s ultimately failed chain of pizza restaurants. He finally decided to forgo involvement in the video game industry for a quieter life as a grocery store manager.