STEVE'S BIOGRAPHY

BIOGRAPHY

 

Steve Ritchie has been called “The King of Pinball” and “The King of Flow”. His pinball designs often impart great speed to the ball utilizing shot-based flow patterns mixed with target-based geometry. He always adds unique devices and gadgetry that provide excitement and fun. 

 

Steve has sold more pinball machines than any other pinball designer. His machines are often complex systems and have always broken new ground in terms of innovation, with spectacular execution. People all over the world play and collect Steve’s pinball machines.

 

Steven Scott Ritchie was born on February 13, 1950 in San Francisco. He grew up playing pinball because his father loved to play them, and often took him to Playland at the Beach in San Francisco to play at 4-7 years old. At 8, he was playing the pinball machines at Seabowl in Pacifica, CA while his parents bowled in a league.

 

Steve grew up playing pinball machines every chance he got. At age 11, he was voted most likely to be a “mad scientist in a toy factory” by his teachers and classmates. Mechanical devices fascinated him, and he tore apart gasoline engines and electrical devices to see what made them work. He also built some of the first electronic kits available while learning all about the latest technology.

 

During his high school years, he was making devices and learning electronics, a very new field at the time.

 

After high school, he spent 4 years in the US Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician including 13 months in Vietnam during 1969-70. He also spent 18 months serving on the elite Air-Cushioned Vehicle Unit (hovercraft) stationed underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at Fort Point. Steve lived some great adventures and experienced some heartbreaking maritime incidents and difficult rescues on the Pacific Ocean, in the San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes, and finally a 90-day stint in Barrow, Alaska with the hovercraft unit.

 

Steve received an Honorable Discharge in 1972 and was decorated with 8 medals at the time of his departure.

Steve has been a musician all his life, playing the harmonica and Hawaiian steel guitar but really began to play in earnest when he started playing the standard guitar at the age of 13 in 1963 when he first heard The Beatles. His music would prove to be a valuable tool in the making of pinball machines. 

Steve was always playing in bands, even throughout his time in the Coast Guard. 

 

Steve dropped in and out of college and decided to try a career in music. After 2 years of little money and struggling to get by, he began looking for “real” work. After hearing about Nolan Bushnell and Atari, he interviewed at the Atari offices in Los Gatos CA. Steve became employee #50 of Atari in 1974. His first duties were to develop a universal pc board testing unit, and burn-in ovens for massive quantities of video game pc boards.

 

After a year of this work, Steve was asked to join the newly-formed Pinball Division as employee #2. Employee # 1 was Bob Jonesee, an engineer Atari hired away from Williams Electronics in Chicago. Bob taught Steve how to build prototype pinball playfields. Bob designed the Atarians, and Steve was assigned to get the prototype built and working.

 

Steve was promoted to Supervisor of the Pinball Prototype Lab, as more employees were being added every week. Steve began a pinball design at home in secrecy, and it would take him one year to draw in his spare time only.

 

When the drawing was finished, he presented the drawing to Nolan Bushnell and asked if he could develop a game around it. Nolan said yes, and the game became Airborne Avenger. From that day on, Steve worked at a drafting table or CAD computer program designing and leading his pinball design team. Airborne Avenger was programmed by Eugene Jarvis, and a relationship that has lasted nearly 35 years was formed. Airborne Avenger was both Steve’s and Eugene’s first full-on project with all the responsibilities that came with the job of getting the game manufactured.

 

Steve and Eugene won an in-house design contest and the prize was the right to a Superman license. They began work on Superman as Steve went through 4 whitewood prototypes, struggling and searching for a new style of pinball machine.

 

Nearing the end of the Superman design cycle, Steve got an offer from Mike Stroll, the young and charismatic president of Williams Electronics Games. Steve accepted the offer and packed his young family and belongings for a new life in Chicago.

 

Williams was a “real” pinball company with a long history of successful games, but the market was in a bit of a lull with some of the machines they were manufacturing. Steve drew FLASH on a napkin on the flight to Chicago, and set to work immediately.

 

The engineering department managers at Williams were skeptical and not always open to the new way Steve wanted to design and build pinball machines. After Flash was prototyped, it was a different story and Steve and the crew rushed the game into production. FLASH became his largest selling game of all, and broke the production record at Williams, pulling the company up by the bootstraps. It took about a year for Williams to manufacture and ship the nearly 20,000 units.

 

Steve went on to make many great games at Williams, and the design crew that Williams attracted was a phenomenally talented group, eventually becoming the most powerful pinball company of all time.

 

Steve’s games include:

 

· Airborne Avenger   (1977 Atari)

· Superman  (1979 Atari)

· Flash  (1979 Williams)

· Stellar Wars  (1979 Williams)

· Firepower  (1980 Williams)

· Defender (Co-concept with E. Jarvis) (1980 Williams)

· Black Knight  (1980 Williams)

· Hyperball  (1981 Williams)

· Devastator (1983 Williams Video Game)

· High Speed  (1985 Williams)

· F-14 Tomcat  (1987 Williams)

· Black Knight 2000  (1989 Williams)

· Rollergames  (1990 Williams)

· Terminator 2: Judgment Day  (1991 Williams)

· The Getaway: High Speed II (1992 Williams)

· Star Trek: The Next Generation (1993 Williams)

· No Fear: Dangerous Sports (1995 Williams)

· Mermaid’s Gold (1997 WMS Slot Machine)

· California Speed (1998 Atari Video Game)

· Mean Streak (2000 Atari Video Game)

· The Vault (2001 Slot Machine)

· Holeshot Raceway (2002 Coastal Amusements)

· Corvette Dragster (2005 Coastal Amusements)

· Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003 Stern)

· Elvis (2004 Stern)

· World Poker Tour (2006 Stern)

· Spider-Man (2007 Stern)

· Avatar (2008 Stern) 

 

Steve has contributed many original “firsts” to pinball design:

· First flash lamp seen in a pinball. (Flash)

· First continuous background sound. (Flash)

· First all-transparent-insert playfield. (Firepower)

· First Lane Change.[1] (Firepower)

· First use of the word multiball. (Firepower)

· First electronic multiball game.1 (Firepower)

· First “Lock” as used in multiball.1 (Firepower)

· First faceted inserts. (Black Knight)

· First multi-level pinball machine. (Black Knight)

· First metal ramps connecting playfield levels. (Black Knight)

· First talking pinball with interchangeable vocabulary. (Firepower)

· First magnet used to save a ball from draining. (Black Knight)

· First alpha-numeric display communicating rules.[2] (High Speed)

· First full-sized dot matrix display. (Terminator 2)

· First machine to auto-adjust the replay scores.2 (High Speed)

· First integrated pinball package. (High Speed)

· First designer to compose a complete musical score. (High Speed)

· First rotating light back box topper. (High Speed)

· First vertical ball launching module. (F-14 Tom Cat)

· First automatic ball saver. (F-14 Tomcat)

· First 4-(or more) wire wireform tubes. (High Speed)

· First dual diverter device. (High Speed)

· First “Kick Big” and wireform tube arrangement. (High Speed)

· First Wizard Mode. 2 (High Speed)

· First game with a cannon ball launcher. (Terminator 2)

· First pinball video mode.[3] (Terminator 2) 

· First “smart” under-playfield loading system.3 (Star Trek: TNG)

· First gun grip on a pinball machine. (Terminator 2)

· First game with a lifting upper playfield for cleaning. (BK2K)

· First pin-in-slot playfield mounting mechanism. (F-14 Tomcat)

· First tall-boy cabinet to encase multi-level games. (Black Knight)

· First smooth flowing “bottom” ball motion on to flippers. (Flash)

· First “Jagov” kicker. (F-14 Tomcat)

· First designer to use his own voice in a pinball machine. (Firepower)

· First linear magnetic ball accelerator.[4] (The Getaway) 

 

Steve is quick to add that no one person creates a pinball machine. All Steve’s pinball machines are collaborations of the best ideas provided by himself and his team member during the time of development. He considers himself lucky to have worked with some of the best pinball people in the world and, indeed, some of the best gamesmen of all time.

 

He has been lucky to have worked with Eugene Jarvis, Larry De Mar, Dwight Sullivan, Greg Freres, Lyman Sheats, Keith Johnson, Kevin O’Connor, Ray Tanzer, Doug Watson, Pat Lawlor, Joe Joos, Steve Kordek, Mark Ritchie, George Gomez, Johnny Jung, Ed Boon, Paul Hughes, Andy Witek, Adam Rhine, Rodger Sharpe, Ken Fedesna, Tony Kraemer, Barry and Sheridan Oursler, Phillis Rosenthal, and many, many others.

 

Steve has also developed video games, and some of the gaps in his pinball timeline reflect the time spent making them at his own company, King Video Design (contracted to Williams) and at Atari Games. His first video game was the groundbreaking Devastator, the world’s first 68,000 microprocessor coin operated game. The entire video game business crashed horribly as Devastator was released to be built by Williams in 1982; few were made. Video game sales were nearly non-existent until a recovery in the video game business in 1984.

 

Steve designed and produced California Speed, a very financially successful driving video game at Atari.  Steve then designed and led his team to build Mean Streak, a video action driving game which was never manufactured due to the fact that Atari (then owned by WMS), discontinued manufacturing all coin-op amusement games, instead focusing on slot machine production.

 

Steve has also created redemption games; one in production today is Corvette Dragster, produced by Coastal Amusements.

 

In 2001, Steve began Steve Ritchie Productions/SRP, and was contracted to Stern Pinball Inc. to design 8 pinball machines. His Stern machines reflect Steve’s continuing passion to create pinball designs to the best of his ability, to this day.

 

Steve and his supportive wife of 37 years Dianna live in Hollister, California and have two grown children, Christian and Margaret Ann.



1 With Eugene Jarvis

2 With Larry De Mar

[3] With Dwight Sullivan

[4] With Wally Smolucha and Don Hassler


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