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Inventor of the Modern Pinball Machine Dies At 100 89

Posted by timothy
from the he-made-it-to-the-bonus-round dept.
porsche911 writes with this excerpt from the New York Times: "Steve Kordek, who revolutionized the game of pinball in the 1940s by designing what became the standard two-flipper machine found in bars and penny arcades around the world, died on Sunday at a hospice in Park Ridge, Ill. He was 100. ... 'Steve's impact would be comparable to D. W. Griffith moving from silent films through talkies and color and CinemaScope and 3-D with computer-generated graphics,' [pinball historian Roger] Sharpe said. 'He moved through each era seamlessly.'"
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Inventor of the Modern Pinball Machine Dies At 100

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  • ***TILT*** (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:28PM (#39154717)

    ***TILT***

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You can't shake him alive. Sorry, game over.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      ***TILT***

      Wizard!

    • 1940s? According to this about article [about.com], Steve Kordek's contributions to the modern pinball machine didn't start until 1962.

      [...]

      Bumpers, Flippers, and Scoreboards
      The pinball bumper was invented in 1937. The bumper debuted in game called Bumper made by Bally Hoo.

      Harry Mabs invented the flipper in 1947. The flipper made its debut in a pinball game called Humpty Dumpty, made by D. Gottlieb & Company. Humpty Dumpty used six flippers, three on each side.

      Pinball machines during the early 50s began to use separate lights behind the glass scoreboard to show scores. The 50s also introduced the first two player games.

      Steve Kordek
      Steve Kordek invented the drop target in 1962, debuting in Vagabond, and multiballs in 1963, debuting in Beat the Clock. He is also credited with repositioning the flippers to the bottom of the pinball playing field.

      [...]

      • by djlemma (1053860)

        1940s? According to this about article [about.com], Steve Kordek's contributions to the modern pinball machine didn't start until 1962.

        TFA says that he made a game with the flippers at the bottom of the playing field in 1948. The about.com article didn't give a date for that, but TFA says it happened right after "Humpty Dumpty."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    He just wrapped around, to be reborn somewhere else...

    Goodbye, old friend.

  • by yog (19073) * on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:37PM (#39154791) Homepage Journal

    As a kid, I loved pinball machines. It was like a coming-of-age thing to go to the game parlor full of these beeping, ringing, singing gadgets and blow 4, 5, 6 quarters on these wonderful games of skill and chance and, er, gravity.

    Many kids today probably haven't had a chance to play a physical, mechanical pinball machine. It's a visceral, physical experience, different from the cute virtual pinball games available on most computers. Kind of like playing a real piano versus an electronic keyboard, only more so. There was the art of shaking the machine just enough not to get a tilt penalty. There was the knowledge of each machine's little quirks and peculiarities.

    Thank you Mr. Kordek for your contributions (note that he did not "invent" pinball machines; he invented the paddles, as the article explains). You changed the world, hopefully for the better!

    By the way, another interesting factoid in the article: in the late 40s, there were TWO DOZEN manufacturers of pinball machines just in the Chicago area alone. Them was the days for manufacturing in this country!

    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:45PM (#39154835) Homepage Journal
      When I was a kid, there were still a few arcades which had at least a few pinball games alongside the Street Fighter II's and NEo-Geos, and some of them were pretty bitchin,' like Funhouse [ipdb.org] and Slugfest [ipdb.org] which had backstories and were enhanced by digitized audio and scrolling LED screens.

      In the case of funhouse, for example, Rudy the dummy occasionally talks. If you hit him with his mouth closed, he says, "ow!" and one of the objectives is to hit the ball in his mouth while he's talking or snoring(part of the plot is the passage of time, and when it gets late, he goes to sleep and snores).
    • Such restraint you had!

      I just missed the Pinball Heydey, catching instead the early Arcade Heyday.

      Rule of Thumb was to take a $10 roll of quarters! Because EACH of 7 games needed attention!

      Worst spendings:
      A : against a Neo-Pro at Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat 1: $30.
      B: against Mushmanand Goron in Ataxx Circa 1993. $20
      C: Recreational games with friends of Mortal Kombat 3: $50
      D. beating Killer Instinct 1: $30

      Then I basically retired from video games.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        My friends and I weren't that rich, but we had a ritual of pooling our monies together, dividing it evenly amongst ourselves, and having nonstop Mortal Kombat II matches(I got so sick of the cheap assholes who always played as sub-zero - the same assholes who always played as Ken in Street Fighter II).

        The funniest quarter-wasting moment I've ever seen was my friend getting his ass kicked at Sengoku. [hardcoregaming101.net] The same samurai(not even a boss) kicked 5 dollars out of his ass, and he told me to get more quarters as
      • by Jonny_eh (765306)
        The pinball heyday was the same as the arcade heyday! Remember The Addams Family pinball? It came out in 92, and was the best selling pinball machine of all time. The 90's was fantastic for pinball! All the best machines (IMHO) are from that era. Unfortunately, as arcades got less popular, so did pinball. As time got tough for arcades, pinball unfortunately was the first to go since they were so expensive and difficult to maintain.
      • One of the nicest things about pinball is that once you get decent you can usually play several games on a single credit.

        Back when I played quite a bit I'd pay for a credit, play a couple games, and more often than not leave it with a credit when I was done--even on machines I wasn't familiar with. I wasn't even that good, just better than people who haven't taken the time to learn the basics of actually playing the game instead of just smacking the ball around at random.

        Pinball was easily one of the best

    • by Jonny_eh (765306)
      Small correction: As you stated, he didn't invent pinball (he wasn't THAT old), but he also didn't invent the flippers. What he did was put the two flippers at the bottom of the machine, and crank up the juice, so the ball can be flipped across the playfield to the top. Sounds insignificant, but it turned pinball from a pachinko style gambling device into a legitimate competitive game of skill.
    • by Vip (11172)

      Many kids today probably haven't had a chance to play a physical, mechanical pinball machine. It's a visceral, physical experience, different from the cute virtual pinball games available on most computers. Kind of like playing a real piano versus an electronic keyboard, only more so. There was the art of shaking the machine just enough not to get a tilt penalty. There was the knowledge of each machine's little quirks and peculiarities.

      My girlfriend has an old pinball machine in her house. She also teach piano. One of her students parents was late to picking him up, and so she said he could play the pinball machine. He jumped the first time it made a noise. Scared him good :-) He complained that the ball wasn't moving (essentially) linear, and it wasn't predictable. Not like in a video game at all. It made noises as the ball rolls around, and each hit of the flipper wasn't the same. And it was loud with no volume control! He defi

    • by Nehmo (757404)
      This thread is composed of old guys who had money to waste when they were kids, and they enjoy reminiscing. But glowing nostalgia shouldn't be the takeaway from reminiscing about pinball history. There is an important lesson in pricing. Pinball games companies never correctly figured out the price point. Sure, there were plenty of machines out there, but most sat idle most of the time. If the price had been lowered to, say, a dime, they would have been much more than 2.5 times more popular, and maintenance
      • by grahamwest (30174)

        I made pinball machines in the 1990s and I don't think you're exactly right. 2.5 times as many games would've been about 2.5 times the maintenance - time per paid credit would've stayed the same, so there would've been 2.5 times as much wear and tear. Also, games in good locations (which is where new games were mostly sold) would've had their earnings go down because they spent big blocks of time being played continuously so they would've need to pick up a lot more players in the slack times.

        Operators had l

  • what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Inigo Montoya (31674) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:41PM (#39154813) Journal

    Shouldn't he get a free game at 100?

  • Sad news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amarantine (1100187) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:48PM (#39154853)

    He outlived his creation... Pinball machines are almost nowhere to be found any more. Unfortunately those photoplay machines offered more variety in gameplay and less maintenance (not to mention way less floorspace), replacing pinballs almost worldwide.

    I find pinball machines (especially the later ones, from the solid state era) a perfect blending of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, art, and game.

    As a proud owner of an Addams Family machine, I can only think of Anjelica Huston's sampled voice saying "Rest in peace" after draining the final ball.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's one of my favorites-- the magnet that activates during multiball is supercool!

    • I think I read not too long ago that there is either zero or one companies left making pinball machines.
      • Re:Sad news... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JoeMerchant (803320) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:59PM (#39155249)

        Special When Lit: A Pinball Documentary

        available on Netflix watch it now.

        • Except that netflix is tied to Windows Media Player and is thus unavailable.
          • Except that netflix is tied to Windows Media Player and is thus unavailable.

            ? I mostly "watch it now" on an iPad or PS3, if your digital media portal must be Linux based, maybe you want to use a WDTV Live?

      • by Fencepost (107992)
        I believe Stern Pinball is the only remaining one; they come out with a couple of different games each year. A couple of friends of mine have companies that sell and service machines (Chicagoland and California); I'm not sure how much is new ones vs. old but I've played a fair number of the newer machines and they're pretty nice (better in my opinion than the Pinball 2000 stuff that Williams was trying). The Simpsons Pinball Party and The Lord Of The Rings ones (both Stern) are pretty impressive still.
        • Re:Sad news... (Score:5, Informative)

          by physicsnerd (607860) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @11:38AM (#39158713)

          I believe Stern Pinball is the only remaining one; they come out with a couple of different games each year. A couple of friends of mine have companies that sell and service machines (Chicagoland and California); I'm not sure how much is new ones vs. old but I've played a fair number of the newer machines and they're pretty nice (better in my opinion than the Pinball 2000 stuff that Williams was trying). The Simpsons Pinball Party and The Lord Of The Rings ones (both Stern) are pretty impressive still.

          Stern Pinball [sternpinball.com] is the largest pinball manufacturer and produces about three new games a year. AC/DC [sternpinball.com] is Stern's latest release. While Stern has been around for a long time, several other companies have started up recently.

          Jersey Jack Pinball [jerseyjackpinball.com] is about to go into production of Wizard of Oz in mid march. They've put a lot into this game and it's looking amazing. It's a wide body game with a 26" LCD, dual upper playfields, tons of toys, and a whole lot more.

          Retro Pinball [retropinball.net] has begun shipping a reproduction of the Gottlieb's 1967 King of Diamonds built using modern technology.

          MarsaPlay's New Canasta [pinballnews.com] has been available in the Spanish market for a couple of years now.

          John Popadiuk is working on a couple of small run, custom pinball machines for the high end collector market. The two games are Magic Girl [pinballinventor.org] and Ben Heck's Zombie Adventureland [pinballinventor.org]

          Pinball appears to be making something of a comeback and it looks like 2012 could be one of the best years for pinball in a long time.

      • by grahamwest (30174)

        I think there are technically two. Jersey Jack Pinball and Stern Pinball, although I don't believe the former has put out their first game yet. In any case the market is the merest shadow of its heyday.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tagallag (866104)
      Pinball may not be dead yet according to this article. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/02/pinball_finds_resurgence_in_po.html [oregonlive.com]
    • by jaf1230 (696309)
      I am also a proud owner of an Addams Family pinball machine, though it needs some TLC. It's missing a ball and none of the solenoids powered up last time I turned it on. I am thrilled to own it, and to put the money and effort into restoring it to fully working condition.
      • Re:Sad news... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Amarantine (1100187) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @04:00AM (#39157011)

        Missing a ball should not be a problem... TAF should have 3 balls. Altough most games are designed pretty well so that balls should rarely get stuck, it is always possible. It can't be gone though, it should be somewhere, if not above the playing field then below it. Have you opened the machine?

        The good thing about pinball games is that as long as the playing field itself is in good condition, anything can be fixed or replaced. If none of the solenoids fire up, it sounds like a blown fuse.

        What I like about the later games, and only discovered after I owned my own TAF, is how clever the software and diagnostics are. If a switch on the playfield hasn't been hit in the last 50 games, it is considered broken. If it is stuck-on, it is considered broken too. Either way, the software is programmed to work around it, and still provide a playable game. If no switch is thrown during a game for x seconds, it assumes the ball is stuck somewhere, and fires all solenoids one by one, attempting to kick the ball somewhere. If a switch is flagged as broken, the display shows a small dot behind the credits counter ("Credits: 0." instead of "Credits: 0"), so operators can see at a glance if a machine needs service or not. Also, like many electrical devices in that era, they came with full electric diagrams. The electronic components are all before everything became SMD, so it's still possible to do basic circuit board repair yourself.

        Yes, I love my machine, and am sad they have just about disappeared. Stern is afaik the only manufacturer left, but I'm not a huge fan of their games, altough Lord of the Rings was pretty cool. If you're interested, visit the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, with over 150 working machines. Bring tons of quarters.

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          The electronic components are all before everything became SMD, so it's still possible to do basic circuit board repair yourself.

          Just as an aside, it's far easier to do SMD repairs than through-hole. You just need to get rid of that 200W soldering iron you use on those valve base lugs and car battery terminals.

          • No, it's not.

            And I say this as somebody who used to have to pull SO-8 chips off boards, clear out bits of metal in the cement beneath them * (board was not solder masked) and replace the same SO-8 parts back on the board.

            (*the bonehead assemblers would apply the cement on a whole grid of boards while someone at the next bench was clipping leads)

            A good iron is needed for any type of soldering. SMD was developed specifically for machine assembly methods. To claim that it's 'easier' to service is ludicrous.

            • by Gordonjcp (186804)

              I use a 2.5mm tip for most through-hole, and if I need to remove an IC I just cut the legs away. There's no point wasting time with them.

              I have no longer got the patience, eyesight or manual dexterity to cope with fiddly through-hole parts.

              For SMD ICs I use a 4mm tip. A little drop of flux on the pads, tack the chip down at one corner, then drag-solder and it's perfectly stuck in seconds.

    • Ever played Junk Yard?

      Great machine and there's an awesome Addams Family reference in one of its special modes.

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Last time I was at the local Dave and Busters they had 3 or 4 machines. Several of the arcades that I played at growing up dedicated floor space to a few machines but the decline of the mall arcade just sped up the decline of the pinball machine. I can't even remember the last time I ran across a coin-op game. Apparently one of the breweries one town over has some retro classics but I haven't made my way over to investigate yet.
  • TILT (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spencerian (465343) on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:49PM (#39154861) Homepage Journal

    Eventually, in the Game of Life, the flippers stop working, quarters won't take, and you just can't save your ball.

    Thanks for all the memories, good sir! May your gameplay in the afterlife have infinite credits and no more tilts!

  • Pinball Hall of Fame (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Good Reverend (84440) <michael@m i c h r i s .com> on Friday February 24, 2012 @07:50PM (#39154869) Homepage Journal

    Should you find yourself in Las Vegas (as I will this weekend), make sure you check out the Pinball Hall of Fame [pinballmuseum.org] - several hundred games from all eras, all playable (many for $0.25). It's an amazing place.

  • Nice score, good man! Wow, really! A one hundred!

  • by dgoldman (244241) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:56PM (#39155231)

    He was at each of the Chicago shows I got the chance to go to and was always willing to meet fans, shake hands and talk pinball.
    He was obviously in it for the love of the game.

    I am glad I got to meet him and speaking for all the pinheads out here I say he will be missed.

  • I worked with Steve (Score:5, Informative)

    by toastyman (23954) <toasty@dragondata.com> on Friday February 24, 2012 @09:47PM (#39155505) Homepage

    I worked at Williams/Bally/Midway/Atari/etc in the late 90's. I worked in the coin-op video game division, where Steve was across the street in the pinball division. Occasionally he'd swing by our building, and had a fondness for the game system I was working on, so he'd sit at the test machine outside my office and play for quite a while. He always had this knack for making what sounded like the simplest suggestion, yet it actually being a profound change that took it to the next generation.

    He'd walk into my office and say "You know, I like (game X) a lot. Have you thought about adding (feature Y)? It's probably a lot of work, but maybe worth it?" and an hour later we were smacking our foreheads as to why we hadn't thought of that ourselves. There's no doubt in my mind how he could look at something like a flipperless pinball machine and figure out how to take it to the next level. It's something I really wish I could do more often myself.

    He was a great guy, and one of the most patient people I've known. He'll be greatly missed.

  • Praise Kordek, killer of time, devourer of small change.

  • I've had the pleasure of sharing a drink with his son, Frank... on a few occasions, actually :)

    I had no idea this was his father, Frank was the priest for a short time at a church my family attended. He also performed the service at the funeral.

    Rest in piece mr Kordek.

    Satanclauz approves of your contribution to gaming.

  • Pinball > video games. Because you can actually play the game by beating the crap out of it.

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