Pac-Man fever! That's what I have now that I've started work on the Pac-Man chapter in the book I'm currently writing with Bill Loguidice, the acclaimed collector and game historian. :) As usual, I started off by reading the wikipedia entry on the game, which this time was actually extremely detailed and helpful. One interesting thing about the wikipedia article is that it claims that the game designer, Toru Iwatani, was not inspired by a pizza as the old story goes. The article cites a book called Programmers at Work: Interviews, which I unfortunately do not own. If anyone does have this book or has thoughts on this matter, please let me know!
As I see it, there are at least three reasons why Pac-Man is an important game. First, it got the whole mascot and game character thing really rolling. Some sources claim Pac-Man is even better known than Mario, even today! I mean, before that you had stuff like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but I can't think of any truly memorable characters in those games. Second, it was big on the licensed merchandise. Now, I remember having a tape and book based on the game Asteroids back in the early 1980s, but obviously no game before Pac-Man attracted nearly as much licensing deals. Thirdly, Pac-Man is interesting from a modding and legal perspective, since there was that business with Ms. Pac-Man, which began as an unauthorized but commercially available mod from a third party. Of course, many people think Ms. Pac-Man is superior, so that naturally aroused Namco's concern.
There are also other fun things to talk about here. One is the infamously bad Pac-Man game for the Atari 2600, which some claim caused or at least helped to cause (along with E.T.) the videogame crash. I don't buy that myself, but would be interested to know what you think. There are also the tons of clones, which range from things like K.C. Munchkin to a Commodore clone I played where the Pac-Man had been replaced with a Commodore logo. I don't remember the name of this game, though, and can't seem to find it online.
I am also aware of some of the better remakes, updates, and so on for the game, including the celebrated one for Xbox Live that involved the original designer. If you have a favorite remake, let us know.
All in all, it's shaping up to be a fun chapter to research and write, but I'd love to hear from you. Chime in with your thoughts on one of the greatest games ever made!