Young or old, video game enthusiast or not, everyone knows who Pac-Man is. In addition to an impressively long list of video games, Pac-Man's resume includes cartoons, board games, cereal brands, lunchboxes, jigsaw puzzles, bedsheets, trading cards, toys, drinking glasses, and much, much more. He is arguably the most popular video game character ever created, more recognizeable than even Sonic or Mario.
It all started, according to legend, with a pizza. As the story goes, Namco developer Toru Iwatani, hungry and ready for lunch, decided to order an entire pizza for himself. After picking up the first slice, he looked at the rest of the pie and saw the star of his next creation there on the table. Iwatani has stated there was more to Pac-Man's development than that, but the story remains a favorite among fans.
Iwatani was also hoping to create a game that would appeal to more than just the young boys that made Space Invaders such a massive hit. So, instead of using a space theme, Iwatani developed a maze game. His intention was to catch more cerebral (read "older and/or female") gamers, in addition to the usual gaming crowd.
Once completed, Namco released Puck Man to Japanese arcades in 1979. Unfortunately, Japanese gamers hadn't yet had their fill of Space Invaders, so Puck Man didn't receive much notice, at least not at first. The next year, Namco granted U.S. company Midway a license to distribute the game in the States. Shortly thereafter, Midway debuted a slightly modified Pac-Man to American audiences. Like their Japanese counterparts, American executives paid little attention to Pac-Man, figuring other games like Rally X (coincidentally also a Namco release) would garner higher earnings. Once the American public got hold of Pac-Man, however, demand for the game skyrocketed, taking everyone, even Iwatani, by surprise. By the time the dust settled, Pac-Man had become the best selling arcade game of all time. The yellow, dot-munching maze dweller became so popular, he even had his own Top 40 hit, "Pac-Man Fever," performed by Buckner & Garcia.
Today, Pac-Man remains entrenched in both American and Japanese pop culture. While his more recent games don't get the same attention as those starring certain Italian plumbers or blue hedgehogs, there is no denying Pac-Man's legacy. Just like with those other characters, with each new generation of video game hardware, people still look forward to spending some time down in the maze.
So, why the name change? Midway, after acquiring permission to distribute Puck Man stateside, realized smart-alec vandals could scrape off part of the "P," turning "Puck" into a certain expletive. Pac-Man was deemed a safer bet. After Pac-Man became popular in the U.S., more so than it had in Japan, the name stuck. Now he's known as Pac-Man wherever he goes, even in the Japanese sequels to the original game.