Pinball Week: RIP Steve Kordek | Bleader

Pinball Week: RIP Steve Kordek

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It only feels right to start off Pinball Week by acknowledging the recent passing of pinball innovator Steve Kordek, without whom pinball as we know it may not exist. In 1948 Kordek was the first pinball designer to place a pair of flippers at the bottom of the playfield above the game's "drain." Before then pinball had evolved only marginally from its predecessor, bagatelle, and played less like modern pinball than another bagatelle descendant, pachinko, where players would have little to no control over the course of their ball once it left the plunger.

The addition of flippers to the game wasn't Kordek's idea—like many of history's great innovations it was stolen, from his competitors at Gottlieb, who had put six of them at the top of their Humpty Dumpty game. But his decision to place one single, high-powered pair at the bottom of his 1948 Triple Action machine for Genco immediately evolved pinball from a game of chance to a game of skill and technique. (Although the specter of its history as a gambling machine is why pinball was banned in cities across the country even after flippers came into the picture.)

He went on to design over a hundred games for Genco, Bally, and Williams, adding innovations like drop targets and multi-ball play that became standard across the industry. He was such a fan of the game that even after Williams shuttered its pinball division in 1999 to focus, in a somewhat ironic twist, on producing gambling machines, Kordek stayed on as an unpaid historian and continued to attend pinball conventions. As pinball historian Roger Sharpe acknowledges in Kordek's New York Times obituary, “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."

Kordek died at age 100 on February 19 at a hospice in Park Ridge due to complications following a fall last year. He's survived by three children, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and legions of pinball fanatics who may not even know what he did for them.

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