If you have fond memories of playing Pac-Man on arcade machines in the 1980s or even on your smartphone much more recently, you'll be saddened to learn that the "father of Pac-Man", Masaya Nakamura, passed away earlier this month. But it's a good time to look back at the amazing legacy that he forged in the world of gaming.

Saying goodbye to a games industry legend

Nakamura, who founded the Japanese games giant Namco in 1955 before overseeing the release of the first version of Pac-Man in 1980, died on 22nd January, aged 91.

Bandai Namco, the successor to the independent company of Namco that existed until merging with another Japanese games developer, Bandai, in 2005, waited until Monday before breaking the news of Nakamura's death. This was to keep Nakamura's funeral and wake private.

The creation of Pac-Man

Nakamura was instrumental in Namco's impressive growth from humble origins. The company's earliest endeavours were a couple of mechanical horse rides on the roof of a department store. Back then, the company was called Nakamura Manufacturing; however, in the 1970s, the company started making arcade games and changed its name to Namco.

The biggest breakthrough in the company's history came when it released Pac-Man in 1980. Most of us are very familiar with the little yellow blob that moves around mazes while chomping bills and avoiding ghosts – and while it had no violence, the game remained sufficiently challenging to hook gamers who could often end up playing for hours.

If you've ever considered Pac-Man himself to bear an amusing similarity to the shape of a pizza with one slice removed - well, that's exactly what inspired the yellow one's now-iconic design. Pac-Man has appeared on a variety of merchandise and even a breakfast cereal - not a bad result for the game's designer, Namco engineer Toru Iwatani.

However, it was Nakamura who reportedly selected the word 'Pac' for Pac-Man's name. This word, 'pakku' in Japanese, is thought to refer to the sound Pac-Man makes when munching in-game.

A franchise that has long endured in popularity

While, as you might remember if you are old enough, Pac-Man was initially only playable on arcade machines, it became available on the Nintendo Family Computer home console and in the many years since, has been brought to phones, tablets and more modern PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

Going by an estimate, Pac-Man has been played 10 billion times. But how have the character and franchise kept such lasting appeal over the years and decades? "Pac-Man is a gamer friendly game with tons of cute characters and that's why it was loved for such a long time," Iwatani had previously remarked at a New York premiere of Pixels, a 2015 comedy adventure film in which Pac-Man featured heavily.

 

Nakamura's funeral and wake have already taken place and were understandably private, attended only by close relatives. It was for this reason that the announcement of Nakamura's passing was withheld for about a week, but Namco and Pac-Man fans will get to pay their respects at a more public event later. Nakamura had kept an honorary position at Bandai Namco until his death.