R.I.P. STEVE KORDEK
Date: 19th February, 2012
'Legendary' is a word often used as hyperbole, but if there is one man in the pinball world to whom the word must surely apply it is Steve Kordek, who died today at the age of 100.
Starting with a chance encounter, sheltering from the rain and being offered a job at the Genco pinball factory, Steve's break came when he stood in for Harvey Heiss and designed his first solo game, Triple Action.
Steve's conservative design teachings led him to use only two flippers, but he chose to place them at the bottom of the playfield. That decision proved to be hugely popular and before long all the other pinball companies had copied him and that became the de-facto position for flippers to the present day.
But Steve will be remembered for far more than just that design decision, because a prolific and highly successful career followed, designing over 100 different layouts and selling more than 200,000 games over a 56-year period.
It would be easy to imagine someone with so many years and so many games to their credit becoming blasé or disillusioned with the industry to which they gave so much, but not Steve. His excitement, enthusiasm and experience rubbed off on those he worked alongside, making him a mentor and figurehead for all who followed in his footsteps, both at Williams and throughout the pinball business.
The affection in which he was held was demonstrated last month when friends and family gathered to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Steve had been ill since a suffered a broken hip when he was blown over by strong winds outside Pinball Expo in 2010 - the show which he always made a special effort to attend - and had been in a wheelchair since coming out of hospital.
Despite that, his indomitable spirit ensured he continued to have, just as he always described his career in pinball, "One heck of a time!".
I've been playing pinball for over 30 years now. I don’t remember exactly when I found out that pinball machines were not ‘regularly manufactured’ products. It was just the opposite; they were all designed in the greatest detail, by real people.
By men, in most cases, whose business cards showed job titles like ‘Pinball Designer’.
When I really understood that, I immediately realised the commonalities between Twilight Zone and The Addams Family, and between Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness. Those pinball machines were designed by the very same people; to be specific, by Pat Lawlor and Brian Eddy. When you play a pinball machine, you just feel the magic hand of the designer. The best, funniest or most creative designer simply doesn’t exist because it’s all about a matter of taste... and you know what that’s like: you simply can’t argue taste.
From a commercial perspective, Pat Lawlor might be seen as the most successful Designer ever, as his The Addams Family is still generating a lot of cash in coin-operated situations. Even after 20 years!
Steve Ritchie seem to own the patent on creating the ultimate rapid-playing machines. John Popadiuk knows how to turn universal themes into ingenious machines.
There’s no single Designer who stands out in my favourites list, but there is certainly one who is recognized as the most legendary: Steve Kordek. Steve passed away last week (Feb 19, 2012), at the age of one hundred years.
Almost eighty(!) years ago, Kordek, being a youngster aged 20, walked through the doors of Genco Manufacturing. Just after the second world war - in 1947 to be precise - Kordek invented something very simple but revolutionary at the same time. This is the set of items which we, being the ‘die hard pinball players’, enjoy daily.
Even after almost 80 years, Kordek found out that you just needed 2 flippers in a pinball machine, and those had to be positioned at the bottom of the playfield.
It sounds so simple, and in fact it is. But there was only one person who invented this, and that man is called Steve Kordek.
In the many years after his innovation with the flippers, Kordek changed the world of pinball in an inimitable way.
Those lucky readers who have been able to play a Williams’ Vagabond once, will know that this was the first machine with true drop targets. These were also invented by Kordek.
Kordek’s name can be found on over 100 pinball machines; this is a number which will never be matched by any other pinball designer. Certainly not in these days, when only 3 or 4 new titles are launched yearly.
When you’ve been involved in the creation of such an enormous number of machines, making your selection of all time favourites seems quite impossible. But, from an unusual perspective, 1976 was one of the most successful years for Steve. In that year, both Space Mission and Grand Prix were launched. More than 10,000 machines were manufactured of each title.
Seven Up was a special machine as well, not only because Pat Lawlor once confessed to it being his all time favourite, but because of the theme, the backglass and the gameplay.
Vacation America from 2002 was the last machine Kordek worked on. This wasn’t a commercial project, but one designed for ‘Home Use Only’.
Since Kordek passed away, there’s one image carved in my memory: Kordek staying in the Williams’ manufacturing hall, holding the body of the very last Star Wars Episode One Pinball 2000 machine.
The pinball division closing its doors: this image being a striking metaphor for the pinball industry slowly passing away.
Fortunately it never went that far, and until his very last days Kordek was involved with everything happening in the pinball industry. Every single year he visited Pinball Expo in Chicago. No matter what happened, Kordek always came by to talk about pinball and about the history of pinball. There was simply one reason for doing so: he was the living conscience of pinball, and had created his own legacy in the industry.
As Steve turned 100, a great birthday movie was created. You can still watch it on YouTube. In this movie, Larry DeMar reviews Steve’s life, telling anecdotes and showing images.
Steve takes care of the peroration himself: ‘I just keep hoping, each and everyone of you. Each and every one of you, know how to remember what it means to enjoy and play great pingame... it is so important, so important; thank you.’
I think that line says it all.
© Pinball News 2012