Samuel ‘Ted' Dabney, the co-founder of Atari alongside Nolan Bushnell, has died at the age of 81. He had been suffering from cancer of the esophagus.
Dabney was one of the technical brains behind the electronics that went into Pong, one of the first arcade games based on a simply, two-dimensional form of tennis.
Dabney was born in San Francisco, California and attended John A O'Connell High School of Technology and San Mateo High School. Dabney claims that it was one of his maths teachers that piqued his interest in electronics and computing.
Enlisting in the US Marine Corps after work dried up, he took courses in electronics, leaving after three years supposedly to take a place at university, but instead using his electronics experience to look after Bank of America's Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting (ERMA), an automated banking book-keeping tool produced by General Electric.
Ted was my partner, co-founder, fellow dreamer and friend. I'll always cherish the time we spent together. RIP— Nolan K Bushnell (@NolanBushnell) May 26, 2018
After a year, he moved to Hewlett-Packard and then to tape and data storage company Ampex, where he met Bushnell. Together, they developed the idea of the arcade computer games machine. Their first was called Computer Space, inspired by the Spacewar! Game running on the Digital Equipment PDP-1 minicomputer at Stanford University.
Dabney created a motion system using a video circuit made up of cheap analog and digital components salvaged from a standard television to drastically cut costs, while Bushnell designed the cabinet with a company called Nutting Associates helping in the manufacturing.
Pong, the next game, was designed by another Ampex recruit, Al Alcorn, using the technique that Dabney had designed for Computer Space. For this, Dabney designed the coin-slot mechanism and oversaw manufacturing.
While Pong took off, Dabney felt side-lined in the company by Bushnell. Dabney's video-game circuitry was patented by Bushnell without his name on the patent, and he was excluded from high-level corporate meetings. Dabney therefore left the company in March 1973 and, while he did work with Bushnell subsequently, was wary of Bushnell, according to "The Untold Atari Story", published by Edge magazine in 2009.
he also worked for Raytheon, Fujitsu and a number of his own projects, including a quiz game used by Bushnell in his Pizza Time Theater pizza parlours, as well as the ticketing system.
After the failure of Pizza Time Theater - in which Dabney claims he lost $40,000 - Dabney didn't work with Bushnell again, although the pair remained friends.
Later on, he left the industry as well, moving to Saratoga and running a grocery store.
On hearing the news of his former business partner's death, Bushnell tweeted: "Ted was my partner, co-founder, fellow dreamer and friend. I'll always cherish the time we spent together. RIP".
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