Destiny’s Sparrows – agile, zippy hoverbikes that players use as high-speed ground transports between missions – aren’t just tools to speed up traversal around Bungie’s sci-fi worlds.
The vehicles gave rise to one of the most popular limited time events ever to grace Destiny, the Sparrow Racing League. First appearing in December 2015, it offered a diversion from the core shooting and exploration, instead allowing players to zoom around in speedy, aggressive drag races across alien landscapes. Fans loved it – and the event is finally making a comeback.
Following the next expansion, Rise of Iron, Sparrow Racing League will return for a new tournament this holiday season. WIRED speaks with Destiny’s head of events Jerry Hook, on bringing the mode back, building to player expectations, and whether Sparrow Racing will ever become a permanent fixture of the game.
WIRED: Why do you think fans reacted so positively to a racing mode in a shooting game?
Jerry Hook: I think first and foremost, it’s very unique to Destiny. We’re obviously a fantastic action game, and the racing created this very unique element for a lot of players. The big thing that we saw from the first event was, a whole bunch of players who’d never done general PvP activities came back into the game just to do [Sparrow Racing].
I think one of the funniest reactions I got afterwards was to one of the quotes in Game Informer – “some people didn’t like racing”. There was a huge volume of people that were like “tell those guys to be quiet, we love racing, this is amazing!”
There’s a lot of excitement around being able to race in this fantasy world that we’ve created, that players want to continue to come back to. I realise that as a team we do have to feed those other players who may not like racing, but there’s definitely a huge volume of excitement around Sparrow Racing League coming back. Obviously the snowfields of the Plaguelands [Rise of Iron’s new setting] and what we’re adding will help with that as well.
Does having a non-shooter mode help keep players who don’t or can’t pour hundreds of hours into Destiny’s wider world engaged?
I think there is a sense of that, the excitement of everyone starting fresh and starting new at the same starting gate, so to speak. Also, I think our players tend to play everything within the game itself, and so doing SRL [the first time] was because it was an activity that everyone started from the get-go, it was something that we hadn’t had in Destiny before, and we felt it was something – from our team’s perspective – where we were able to bring this new style of play into the universe.
It worked really well on the fantasy scale; jumping on top of the skiffs and seeing all these guys on the track, where it’s not just racing but you’re hitting and avoiding the Taken and the Fallen – you don’t get to play many racing games that have that kind of flair to it.
If Sparrow Racing remains so popular, why not make it a permanent fixture within the game, rather than a seasonal model?
That’s a great question! We always struggle with how much to constantly keep in the game, and how our players will have to spread themselves out.
One of the things that the events allow us to do is create these giant moments. We listen to our players – most of what we’ve been trying to do is listen to feedback and the top ten lists Reddit brings to play, or what players bring into the forums. If there’s this huge outcry to make it permanent, we’ll definitely look at that. Right now, we just love how it feels – a key moment that is very exciting for players during our winter holidays.
How do you determine the right time to add seasonal events, like Sparrow Racing?
Right now it’s mostly about trying to get into a regular cadence. What you’ve seen us trying to do over the last couple of years was us trying to get our feet wet with what the community can consume and how fast it can consume it; how much they ask for change. We’re dealing with a very engaged audience that wants more and more all the time, so for us to figure out the timing is us trying to understand those regular beats.
What I think we’ve landed on with [launching an event] every single quarter is a time in which players can go do other things, and know there’s something coming back. We’re going to get better at communicating upfront; at letting players know what’s coming. What we saw with our latest announcement – of what’s coming with Festival of the Lost; that SRL’s coming back in the winter event – was there was a huge bit of feedback of “great, can we have this next, or this next, or this next”. That helps us feel and meet player needs in the coming months.
Given Destiny events tend to follow developments in the game’s ongoing storyline, how do you work in line with the narrative?
What we try to do is tie the stories into how we play. So the Rise of Iron story, like the Taken King story, was moved forward. What fans saw, in the April event, was the Taken story with Malok – that was our last event for the Taken King storyline. So Rise of Iron will now move forward and set that story for the next few events we come up with. We try to be holistic, which we’re still trying to get better at, but I think our fans are responding well.
I think the interesting thing about our players base is that they keep asking us to do more and more – and not just content and story, that’s one of the things we’re trying to address with Rise of Iron.
That appetite means we have this rolling list of items that the community is asking for and another that our team is wanting to do. We try to prioritise those together, and help make sure that they’re represented, find easy wins between the two. I think what you’ll see [in Rise of Iron] is us trying to address those [beats]. If there were some misses from a story perspective, you’ll see that in Rise.
Destiny: Rise of Iron launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 20. Sparrow Racing League returns in December