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.