Game over: Atari cofounder Ted Dabney dies aged 81

Pong paddle goes dark

Atari cofounder and co-creator of the legendary Pong, Ted Dabney, has died aged 81 from esophageal cancer.

His death was announced yesterday in a brief Facebook post by games historian Leonard Herman, author of the video game history series Phoenix.

According to Eurogamer, Dabney was diagnosed with the cancer in late 2017, and declined treatment.

After a career that included stints at Hewlett-Packard and tape manufacturer Ampex, Dabney and another Ampex employee Nolan Bushnell founded a business called Syzygy. They could not incorporate under that name because another company used it, so they founded Atari.

After producing one game, Computer Space, Bushnell and Dabney hired another Ampex employee, Al Alcorn, and created Pong, the game that set Atari on the path to success. Dabney was in charge of Pong's manufacture while he remained at Atari

After disagreements with Bushnell, Dabney went to work for Raytheon, Fujitsu, and Teledyne before leaving tech industries completely.

In 2012, Dabney gave this interview [PDF] with the Computer History Museum, in which he related acquiring skills with electronics (through a brief enlistment with the Marines, a job at Bank of America, a brief job at Hewlett-Packard, and finally landing a role at Ampex in 1961, building products in the company's military business.

He also related a development cycle anybody in today's industry would envy. “A ping pong game is pretty simple ... in about three weeks, he [Al Alcorn] had it all done” (except, we note, the sound). ®

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