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From in-game races to festivals, here’s how Bungie keeps ‘Destiny’ feeling fresh

Bungie’s Destiny is rolling hard on special events to keep characters excited after the launch earlier this year of its Year Three expansion, Rise of Iron.

In October, there was the return of the “Festival of the Lost,” a Halloween-themed event full of masks, candy and special activities. This week, Destiny kicked off “The Dawning,” a three-week winter holiday event that marks the return of one of the game’s most divergent, limited-time activities: Sparrow racing.

Bungie first introduced its Sparrow Racing League minigame last year, but made a brief comeback earlier this month at Sony’s PlayStation Experience, ahead of its public return this week. Bungie has amped up the event significantly from last year, making it the centerpiece of the larger “Dawning” celebration, which includes new gear, new and returning exotic weapons, and a new scored cooperative mode for Destiny’s three-player Strike missions.

“We learned last year that Destiny could be something other than exclusively a shooter, which was a lot of fun for us.”

But Sparrow racing stands out among Destiny’s post-release offerings, because it is very different from the rest of the experience. It’s the one activity that never requires players to use weapons in Bungie’s shared world first-person shooter, and in that way it expands the Destiny experience beyond its original scope.

“Any time we can do something transformative like Sparrow Racing League, that introduces the player to a new type of action or changes up the social interactions in the game in a fun way, we love to do that,” Bungie Community Manager David “Deej” Dague told Digital Trends. “And we learned last year that Destiny could be something other than exclusively a shooter, which was a lot of fun for us.”

Bungie has spent the last three years honing Destiny, and the game has changed significantly in that time. Even its core systems, like how players level up their characters, for instance, have seen big overhauls to make the game less of a grind, especially for those at the highest levels of the game. Dague said the same was true with bringing back the Sparrow Racing League.

“Last year, if there was anything that we learned about Sparrow Racing League, it was that, yes, it was fun, but people wanted to keep their gear, people wanted to upgrade their gear,” he explained. “They always want Destiny to respect the time that they invest in it. They want Destiny to be rewarding. People want to participate in an activity that contributes to the evolution of their character.”

David "DeeJ" Dague
David “DeeJ” Dague, Bungie Community Manager

This year, racing rewards you with better, more upgradeable gear that will more viable in the rest of the game. The mode adds two new tracks that also incorporate some lessons from the last version of Sparrow Racing.

“The tracks we saw last year were sort of a very linear toboggan chute of action,” he said. “This time, we can kind of open up the pan a little bit. We can give people wider expanses where there are some variable pathways through those areas. New and interesting obstacles. Sparrow Racing is part of Destiny, which is an action game, so you know it’s going to be a battle as much as a race.”

Keeping players entertained

Coming up with new events and gameplay modes is something that’s always on the Destiny team’s collective mind. Dague said even from the conception of Destiny’s sparrow hoverbike vehicle, Bungie developers were asking themselves it would be fun to race.

“They always want Destiny to respect the time that they invest in it. They want Destiny to be rewarding.”

“Of course, when you take a look at the sparrow — when you have a craft that’s nimble and fast and it’s got a speed boost, the urge is always to race those things,” he said. “We saw our community even doing that just out in the wild, so we take so many cues from the players of the game. A lot of times it was sort of confirmed that some of our suspicions or some of our ideas about the game are correct. So we can say yeah, of course it would be fun to race sparrows. So when they started doing it themselves, we said to ourselves, there’s an appetite for this here.”

The Dawning is also a way for Bungie to look for new ways to entertain players. In addition to Sparrow Racing League, it adds a more competitive mode to Destiny’s cooperative missions, and drops lots of new loot for players to find.

The Destiny live team’s whole job is to keep players entertained over time and between expansions like the recent “Rise of Iron” expansion, and before that, “The Taken King,” but Bungie has said in the past that keeping the game fresh extends beyond just events that pop up at different times of year. “The Dawning” adds gameplay alterations in SRL and competitive strikes, but is also a sort of celebration, like “Festival of the Lost.” Dague said the goal isn’t always to simply add content, but to expand on the Destiny world, too. “The Dawning” is about getting another glimpse into how Bungie’s Destiny universe operates.

“It’s a festive celebration of survival and togetherness,” Dague explained. “It’s a thousand nations of refugees who have come together underneath the Traveler for safety, banding together and inventing culture with each other. It’s an interesting view into the world of Destiny, and how the people who live in that world celebrate.”

Exploring new Destiny ideas

As for what might be coming in the future, Bungie is keeping any other gameplay ideas like SRL under wraps — Dague said that, while it takes input from the Destiny community, Bungie also wants to give its developers the chance to surprise players when it rolls out new things. Given how huge the studio is, there’s plenty of possibility, especially with SRL proving that Destiny can be a bit more diverse than it has been in the past.

“Whenever somebody asks us, ‘Hey Bungie, have you ever thought about’ — the answer to that question is invariably yes,” he said. “We’ve got a very talented team with hundreds of developers, artists, experiential designers, and they think about how we can expand the boundaries of the world of Destiny and the player experience that fills that space all day long. Hundreds of us are thinking about what Destiny could be, what else could we do with Destiny. So it almost stands to reason that, yeah, we’ve thought about just about everything that we could do to this game. The question is: should we? And can we? And do we have the right time and resources to commit to those things, and are the players going to like it if we do.”

“Whenever somebody asks us, ‘Hey Bungie, have you ever thought about’ — the answer to that question is invariably yes.”

Another big question is whether, like “The Dawning,” gameplay additions, new events, or other live content fit within the scope of Destiny. Bungie wants to add new elements to Destiny, but while maintaining the feel that everything is all part of the same overall idea.

“We want to do things that definitely feel like they’re occurring in the world of Destiny,” he explained. “We don’t ever want to entertain the player in a way that makes them feel like they’re taking a step away from that world. So in terms of doing more things like Sparrow Racing, there’s no telling what the future may hold. The live team always has interesting ideas. We want to make sure that people still feel like this is the same character that they nurture and upgrade and customize throughout their own personal story arc in playing the game.”

With “The Dawning,” Bungie is looking to explore the ways player characters, or Guardians, would approach the idea of sport, and take time off from the game’s continual, never-ending war effort. It’s also solidifying that Destiny has more to offer than just new events about killing aliens — even if you do occasionally ram a baddie with your sparrow out on the track.

Destiny’s The Dawning event is live this week and runs until Jan. 3.

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