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What is Vulkan? Inside the future of gaming

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We take a look at the new Vulkan API which has the power to change gaming over the coming year.

The word Vulkan is a one you’ve probably heard said many times over the past few weeks. Everyone from from powerhouse PC players Nvidia, AMD and Valve, to mobile giants like Qualcomm and Samsung have been banging on about “Vulkan” being the saviour of gaming.

But, for anyone outside of development and engineering, understanding what Vulkan actually means for general consumers is a wee bit tricky.

Lucky for you, Trusted’s here to help.

Vulkan: What’s an API?

At its most basic level, Vulkan is a games-focused application program interface (API) specification based on AMD’s Mantle tech. It’s been developed by the Khronos Group – a do-gooder not for profit that’s determined to help developers make better games – and is designed to replace the more commonly used OpenGL and OpenGL ES standards.

For those that don’t know, APIs are the backbone of any big technology. They provide a framework of protocols, tools and routines that can be used by developers to create applications. An API also controls and decides how software and hardware communicate with each other.

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Vulkan

Vulkan: Why should I care?

Right now you’re probably wondering why you should care about something as obscure as an API specification, after all that’s a developer problem right? Normally I’d say you’re right, but in Vulkan’s case things are a little more complex.

Vulkan’s actually a key step for the games industry, and development as a whole, and has the potential to solve a bunch of problems for general consumers as well as developers.

For starters, let’s talk about OpenGL and OpenGL ES. These two APIs have been a headache for developers over the years. OpenGL is Khronos' previous desktop API, while OpenGL ES was the group’s mobile offering.

The separation between the mobile and desktop API made sense a few years ago, but in today’s interconnected world, where the worlds of mobile and desktop are increasingly intermingling, it's been a hassle for developers.

The schism meant developers had to adopt hybrid, or even separate development procedures when trying to create cross platform titles -- an issue that made coding for desktop and mobile environments a costly and time consuming experience.

Vulkan aims to change this by offering developers a suite of open-source, cross platform development materials that in theory work across multiple operating systems, including Windows 7 through 10, Linux, SteamOS, Tizen, and Android.

In theory, this will make it easier for developers to launch their wares across multiple platforms and create cross-ecosystem services. In short this means, with Vulkan, you could see more games appearing in more places in the very near future.

Related: Best Android games 2016

SteamOS

Vulkan: It’s not just about mobile

Mobile’s not the only area Vulkan’s set to help. Remember all the complaints you’ve been hearing about SteamOS not having modern games?

This is partially due to its API and issues between DirectX and OpenGL – SteamOS doesn’t support Microsoft’s DirectX which is why many PC games don’t work on it. With Vulkan these issues will be easy to avoid on future titles, meaning Linux gamers won’t be kept in the lurch quite so often.

The simplification could also improve games' performance by reducing bulky driver overheads that have hampered game performance. The fact the API offers developers more granular control over components is another factor that could help boost gaming performance.

Unlike many competing APIs, Vulkan lets developers take more control managing key things like memory allocation and generating GPU workloads in parallel – a feature that will let them get more power out of multithreaded systems.

The end result will be more power efficient and better looking games on everything from smartphones and tablets, to desktops and laptops and dedicated games consoles.

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Vulkan: Show me the games!

All this sounds great, but will ultimately mean nothing unless the developer community gets behind Vulkan and starts using it. Fortunately that seems to have already happened.

Since launching every tech company you can think of has started pushing developers to support Vulkan. Qualcomm announced it will make Vulkan support a key part of all its future mobile chips, and has even listed it as a key selling point for its latest Snapdragon 820 CPU at MWC. Samsung followed suit, claiming its latest Galaxy S7 is the first ever smartphone to support Vulkan mere hours later.

samsung mwcSamsung says its Galaxy S7 handset is the first phone to support Vulkan

AMD also confirmed it’ll support Vulkan in its CPUs and GPU’s. Nvidia’s also shown willing, having organised a “Vulkan Developer Day” to help gather support for the API earlier this year. Valve's also unsurprisingly on board, having been a proponent since Vulkan’s early days.

Hopefully this early support will carry through and, like our other favourite Vulcan, Vulkan will live long and prosper.

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