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Ted Dabney, Atari Co-Founder and Video Game Industry Pioneer, Dies at 81

Atari co-founder Samuel “Ted” Dabney died on Saturday after a battle with cancer. He was 81.

An electrical engineer and former U.S. Marine from San Francisco, Calif., Dabney developed “Computer Space,” the world’s very first commercial video game, with Nolan Bushnell in 1970. The game was a failure upon release in 1971, but in June of the following year, the pair launched Pong, Atari’s smash arcade hit.

Although he left the company in 1973 after a falling out with Bushnell, Dabney made an indelible mark on the video-game industry. He famously built Atari’s earliest arcade machines from repurposed TV components, and played an instrumental role in shaping the unmistakable sound effects that defined the arcades of the ’70s and ’80s. Despite their differences, the pair collaborated on Pizza Time Theatre, which later became known as Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Dabney spent time at Raytheon and Fujitsu, and continued making games under the banner of his own Syzygy Game Company. He later owned and operated a grocery store and deli with his wife, Carolyn. Dabney was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017.

“Ted was my partner, co-founder, fellow dreamer, and friend,” Bushnell tweeted upon hearing the news. “I’ll always cherish the time we spent together.”

On Saturday morning, Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel, authors of the book “Atari Inc.,” paid tribute to Dabney in a Facebook post: “We’re at a loss. We just got word that our friend, one of the nicest, sweetest down-to-earth guys we knew, Atari co-founder Ted Dabney, has passed from his cancer. Thought he still had a bit more time. You always wish someone like him did.”

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