Namco - 1980
Generation: 2 but is still going stong in various forms to this day.
Machine: Arcade, and many others
The first megastar of video games, Pac-Man was originally called Puck-Man in Japan. Because of the comedy potential that this name offered the wags and jokers of America (and English speaking countries as a whole) the game was re-christened as Pac-Man. It didn't matter though; No matter where you were on Earth, it was just not possible to dislike (or avoid) the little yellow disc that represented Pac-man. The game was ingeniously straightforward: you had to move Pac-Man around a 2D maze and make him eat all of the little pellets that lined the floor. Trying to stop you were four colourful ghosts (Known in Japan as Akabei, Pinky, Aosuke, and Guzuta) who would attempt to chase you and kill you with a single touch. It wasn't all bad though; in each corner of the maze was a special pellet that enabled our hero to eat the ghosts for a limited time. A nice little feature is that Pac-Man travels around 20 percent slower when he's eating pellets, so if you're being chased by a ghost you ought to head towards a spot that you've already cleared for extra speed.
Along with surviving, you could get extra points by eating the fruit that occasionally appeared. If you managed to clear the screen of pellets, you would be treated to a little animation. Then the maze would reappear, complete with pellets, but this time you had faster ghosts to deal with. The game was (and is) incredibly appealing, with both Pac-Man and his adversaries having a terrific amount of character. The colours all worked really well together, and the sound effects and music are still amongst the most evocative ever produced. Across the world, Pac-Man was a gigantic hit and remains the most popular arcade game in history. Like Centipede, Pac-Man was exceedingly popular with female players and it was only a matter of time until Pac-Man was presented with a female companion, Ms. Pac-man. This game became a hit in itself, and is considered to be the pinnacle of the Pac-man series. Along with the funky new character, various changes were made to the gameplay; for example, the ghosts were more cunning and there were different mazes to contend with...
Pac-man is still a great little game, but it's most important contribution to the video games industry was that it taught games designers that memorable characters are crucial to the success of a game. Apart from the fact that vast amounts of money can be made from licensing a video game character, it is important that a player can relate and identify with the thing that they are interacting with. Pac-Man transcended that which he was: a few pixels and a splash of yellow. He was much more than that. People loved that little guy.
Bubbaray 19 Oct '02
Pac-Man at the Dot Eaters - Arcade history site with great Pac-Man info including gameplay videos.
Wikipedia's Pac-Man page - Lots of great information.