Part of the fun and games in the graphics sector over the next couple of years is the rise of low-level programming APIs. They're interesting because they allow developers to access hardware at a much lower level than before, reducing the amount of overheads and resulting in faster performance for you, the gamer. Nvidia and id software made a big deal of this at the GTX 1080 launch when they showed DOOM running using drivers for one of these fancy APIs — the open-source Vulkan.
But Vulkan's aiming for bigger and better things. And at their I/O annual conference today, Google announced that the next version of Android would also support the Vulkan API.
For a super-fast rundown, Vulkan is more or less positioning itself as a replacement for OpenGL. OpenGL will still exist in the future, but the idea is that most developers will end up supporting DirectX 12 or Vulkan first — with OpenGL hanging around for developers that specifically want it.
It sounds like big news for those playing on desktop PCs, but it's also super important for those who like to game on their mobiles too. Vulkan helped Epic Games showed off power of the Unreal Engine at the World Mobile Congress in February. It was only a tech demo, but it's bloody impressive. Here's the video again, in case you didn't catch it last time around.
That planet going supernova now makes me wonder what a fully-fledged port of Freelancer would be like on mobiles.
But I digress. The news here is that Android N — the final name of which will be crowdsourced, although Google has final say on what's submitted — will support Vulkan to ensure API parity with desktop machines. That's not massively useful on the surface for gamers, but it's a big plus for developers and should go some way towards making their lives a lot easier.
We're already seeing a lot of games ported from Android and iOS — which Vulkan supports, even though Apple has their own low-level API in Metal — to PC and vice versa. There's also the part where a lot of major franchises use older versions of their engines for the mobile market, such as the FIFA and NBA 2K games.
Vulkan has a lot of potential already, and the initial release has only been available for a few months. Google standardising support for is another big step in the exponential upward curve of mobile graphics — although as always, it'll take a little while before we start seeing some real show-stopping games that take advantage of its power.