Russian SD titled key art

Russian Subway Dogs – Making a Game about the Mutts of the Moscow Metro


  • The real-world inspiration behind Russian Subway Dogs.
  • The basics of being a stray.
  • Simulation is our secret sauce.

Russian… Subway… What?

Our game Russian Subway Dogs is out today on Xbox One! It’s a single screen arcade game inspired by the real-life stray dogs of the Moscow Metro. I’m going to share how we ended up creating a game with such an unusual theme, and the novel approach we took to add depth, humor and variety to its classic score chasing gameplay.

The seeds of the idea started around a decade ago when I read an article online about a handful of strays that had learned to navigate Moscow’s maze-like subway system. If you’re not familiar with these clever canines, they really do make a daily commute to downtown Moscow, scavenge for food from passing pedestrians, and then return home to the quiet suburbs each night to sleep. One of these dogs was so beloved they even built a memorial statue in his honor!

Russian SD screenshot

While reading up on these strays I also discovered the incredible architecture of the city’s subway stations. These aren’t just simple tiled hallways in flat colors. Styles range from a church-like station, complete with stained glass windows, to a super modern Mondrian-inspired design of intersecting lines and rectangles.  

The dogs were cute and clever, and the Soviet-era subway stations were grand and palatial (seriously look them up). I knew we had to make this game!

Russian SD subway station

Eat ‘em up Gameplay

So, adorable animals? Check! Beautiful backgrounds? Check! But how does it play?

As the titular Subway Dog you run back and forth along each subway platform trying to keep yourself fed. A stamina bar acts as a combination hunger and life meter, constantly draining while you scramble for food to refill it. Trains pull up to the station, regularly unloading commuters eating and drinking a variety of tasty snacks and beverages for you to steal. A quick bark behind them is all it takes to have them tossing up their food for you to snatch from the air.

Of course, you’ll have some competition, as those trains also bring in rival strays and a ridiculous array of subway wildlife. Everything from subway pigeons, to subway bears will be after your food, losing you points and potential stamina if they snag any snacks.

Russian SD interior

You clear out this competition with the aid of some very volatile vodka. Carried by random passengers, these bottles of booze create a fiery explosion when they hit the ground. Time your mighty barks just right and you can bounce the bottles around in the air. This is a crucial skill, since vodka explosions will cook wildlife and toast food, creating more filling and higher scoring meals! 

Juggling multipliers and air catching combos allows skilled players to turn a minor meal, worth a few dozen points, into a fancy feast, worth thousands. It’s high risk / high reward because if a rival dog grabs a valuable meal those points will be subtracted from your score, netting negative points. Ouch!

Russian SD atrium

Systemic Simulation is Our Secret Sauce!

This basic eat’em up gameplay forms the foundation for Russian Subway Dogs‘ truly unique addition to the arcade genre: systemic simulation. This goes by other fancy names like “multiplicative design”, “chemistry engines” or just plain “emergent gameplay” but what it boils down to is that all the parts in the game interact with every other part in a way that feels something like the real world, or at least a fun cartoon logic version of the real world.

In Russian Subway Dogs this means that any fire source will cook food and melt snow. Snow cools cooked food or can freeze a flopping fish creating a block of ice that can be sent skittering across the stage. The same power-up that lets you bark fire can be eaten by a rival dog, giving it firebarks instead, and of course, those fire barks also cook food! You can also feed bears before cooking them, fattening them up to produce higher quality meats or feed them chocolate (toxic to dogs) producing poisonous meat. Almost everything in the game has multiple uses and interactions!

The result is there are tons of secret tricks to discover and exploit. Every mix of food, people and wildlife on the platform holds its own strategic possibilities and interesting split-second decisions to make.

Russian SD screenshot

We Brought Guests!

Russian Subway Dogs includes two different play modes:

Endless is a modern take on the classic score chasing experience. Compete for the top spot on the online leaderboard, while surviving as long as you can. It borrows some modern procedural tricks and auto balancing to keep every session fresh, unique and challenging.

Campaign has you traveling from station to station with hand crafted challenges and over 100 unique sub-missions from your feline friend, The Proletaricat, such as beating a level while sticking to a vegetarian diet, or cooking a “Bear-B-Q”.

Throughout Campaign you will unlock over a dozen playable critters including several from your favorite indie games such as Rad Shiba and Nacho from VA-11 Hall-A, Horror from Nuclear Throne, Uay Chivo from Guacamelee! and more.

Whether you’re a dog lover, a cat lover or a… whatever-Nidhogg-is lover, I hope you’ll grab a subway pass and take a ride with us!

Xbox Live

Russian Subway Dogs

Spooky Squid Games Inc.

A fast-paced arcade game inspired by the real-life stray dogs of the Moscow metro. Take your orders from the Proletaricat while stealing food, juggling vodka, cooking bears, and more! Features both a lengthy campaign and pick-up-and-play arcade mode. A new game from Spooky Squid Games, creators of the cult classic platforming slash ‘em up They Bleed Pixels.