Samsung Embraces Vulkan As The Next-Gen Graphics API Is Poised To Reshape Mobile Gaming

Vainglory mobile game

After Apple adopted the Metal API for lower level graphics capabilities, Google and the Android OEMs, including Samsung, announced support for the open standard Vulkan graphics API. Samsung, together with its game developer partners, also unveiled how Vulkan improves the gaming experience on the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

Out With The Old, In With The New

OpenGL has often been criticized by game developers for being harder to support than Microsoft’s DirectX (Direct3D) graphics API. In part that was because it didn’t make much commercial sense to support OpenGL when Windows had over 90 percent market share, but it was also because it wasn’t as pleasant to develop games with it.

OpenGL ES, which targeted embedded systems, brought a much needed cleanup of the OpenGL specification. It made it easier for developers to work with the new API, and it also contained only graphics features that would not use too much power on mobile devices.

However, even the OpenGL ES layer represents too much overhead that impacts gaming performance in a significant way. This is why Apple created its own graphics API--to squeeze all the performance it can from the increasingly more impressive mobile hardware that it puts in its devices.

Android Going Vulkan

Google announced last year that it’s going to adopt the open Vulkan API, which all GPU makers will support, as well. This way, Android will become one of the multiple platforms on which Vulkan games will work, including Windows, Linux, and possibly even macOS (if Apple ends up adopting it, or if the GPU makers create Vulkan drivers for macOS). Then developers could write their games for Vulkan, knowing they would work on most platforms (with some additional user interface optimizations for each one).

Vulkan has better GPU and CPU performance compared to OpenGL ES, which can lead to more detailed games with better framerates and fewer hiccups. Mobile GPU makers can also write simpler drivers, which means games should have fewer problems across devices (especially on a platform such as Android, which has long been criticized for its fragmentation).

Samsung Promoting Vulkan Games

Samsung wants to promote the high performance of its flagship devices such as the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, and the support for Vulkan could lure in new customers.

Samsung isn’t just adopting and promoting Vulkan support for its devices; it’s also working with game developers to help them port their games to Vulkan and optimize them for its devices’ hardware. Samsung had already made available to Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge owners a “Galaxy Game Pack” of 40 games that’s available through the “Galaxy Apps” store.

“Samsung has been a great partner for us in importing our games to Vulkan,” said Tommy Krul, Chief Technology Officer at Super Evil Megacorp. “We actually had engineers from Samsung right here in our office helping us port Vainglory to Vulkan and really squeeze out all the performance we can,” he noted.

The makers of Vainglory also said that the Vulkan version of the game received a 30 percent increase in performance compared to the OpenGL ES version. That’s a significant difference that could probably increase in the future as both game developers and GPU makers better understand the Vulkan API and how to best take advantage of it.

Super Evil Megacorp also believes that lower latency is essential for its game, Vainglory, because it makes the game more competitive, which then allows the company to create tournaments, such as the one it held at E3 this year in partnership with Samsung.

“Microsecond fidelity on our devices is essential, because we need players to be able to perform at their max capacity,” said Stephan Sherman, Chief Creative Officer at Super Evil Megacorp. “It’s essential that they have a device that is going to be able to keep up with them. Vulkan and Samsung devices are built for performance. They’re built for lightning fast, blinding speed, that perfect alacrity between touch and action,” he added.

Vulkan’s lower-level access to the hardware is also a good match for VR games, which need both low latency and high framerates to provide a good enough VR experience on mobile. Samsung has already been selling Gear VR headsets, so it should be interested in using Vulkan to help developers make VR games, as well.

It’s also probably not a coincidence that Google’s Daydream VR platform for Android comes at the same time as the release of Android N, the first version of Android to officially support the Vulkan API.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
    "Super Evil Megacorp also believes that..."

  • sesam
    Vulkan needs to become the new de-facto graphics API standard. PC gaming has way too long been tied into DirectX and Windows. For consumers and developers Vulkan is a clear winner.

    For developers making their games multiplatform would be cheaper and easier. And consumers would not have to be tied to running the latest Windows version to play their games. Not only Linux users would benefit, but also those that would rather stay with an older version of Windows, yet get all the latest graphics features.

    Apple is bound to adopt Vulkan if the API gains momentum, because it would just be good for them. Microsoft however has nothing to gain, and they will not give up their iron grip of PC gaming without a fight. DirectX has historically been one of Microsofts ways to practically force PC gamers to upgrade to a new version of Windows.

    I would not be surprised if Microsoft will start handing out bags of money to developers, to make their games DX12 exclusive. Or release some of their previously Xbox exclusive games for DX12 only.
  • vaughn2k
    AMD made the right move to donate Vulkan API to Khronos group... Now I hpe AMD will gain a foothold into more mobile space..
  • Bloob
    Seeing how Android devices tend to lean towards multiple weak cores, Vulkan should be a great to avoid getting limited by the CPU.
  • hitman400
    It is great to adopt Vulkan finally. Unfortunately, mobile gaming still suffers from "mini-game" syndrome. A game like Witcher 3 is complete; mobile game takes all the mini games from console games and makes a full game out of it. Jousting for example. Same thing goes for productive apps. An app like photoshop which does it all is fragmented by multiple devs. There's an app for unique lights added to pictures, one for lens flare, one for mirroring images. It's starting to make me sick. Hopefully with Vulkan, devs finally start to think serious about mobile gaming instead of making prettier endless runners, tower defense, and city building games. Oh, and better Need for Speed games on mobile, or should I say linear ice skating racing games of their open-world counterparts on the PC.
  • captaincharisma
    yes cause a lot of people want to play a top games like witcher 3 on a 5 - 7" screen
  • sh4dow83
    I find it funny though how this article seems to imply that Vulkan is easier to handle than OpenFL...

    Not too long ago, I looked at code samples comparing how many lines it takes to render... I think a simple triangle. And holy crap was the Vulkan code bloated!

    But... in the end, I guess there will be libraries and engines that handle all those standard management overhead tasks anyway...
    And I also hope that it will become standard, remain open and that DirectX will finally die.
  • photonboy
    Vulkan isn't bloated. If some of the code you saw actually was, then I'm sure it won't be around for long.

    The entire point of Mantle was to start from scratch and make sure everything is efficient and easy to work with, though of course it takes YEARS and thousands of man hours to get the API, game engines and various plug-ins to work well together.

    Wikipedia gives a good overview:

    Khronos Group has a lot of info on Vulkan, OpenCL etc:
  • neblogai
    18194083 said:
    "Super Evil Megacorp also believes that..."


    I bet Microsoft and Apple are angry someone else is using that name