What is Vulkan and why do games need it?

When we talk about PC gaming graphics, the first thing that comes to mind is the long battle between NVIDIA and AMD, who aim to offer the best graphics cards every year.

But besides GPU, there is another very important component that can not only affect your computer’s performance but also ensure better graphics by intelligently using your computer’s resources.

GPU and graphics APIs, do you know what they mean?

We’re talking about graphical APIs, a set of instructions and routines used by developers to facilitate the programming of the most diverse types of applications, mainly in 3D.

Microsoft’s DirectX has long dominated, but recently a new competitor has entered the arena: Vulkan. We explain what this technology is, what it can do for your games, and how it can improve your GPU and CPU performance.

Doom runs at 60 fps with Vulkan API

The importance of APIs

Before we explain what Vulkan actually is, we need to understand the APIs. Also known as Application Programming Interfaces, these tools are like intermediaries that allow communication between different components of the computer, whether software or hardware.

We wrote a dedicated article about APIs to help you better understand what it is and how it works. A simple analogy would be to imagine the service of a restaurant. Customers arrive, consult the menu and place their order in the kitchen. If you were to do this directly, the result would be chaos with the chef being overwhelmed and everyone dissatisfied.

The waiter, an organizer and facilitator, enters the scene, shows customers the available options and takes orders in an orderly manner so that they are prepared, and returns as soon as possible with the prepared dish.

APIs serve both hardware and software components

This is how APIs work that take instructions, take them to their destination, and return them with the desired result. APIs can be requested from both hardware and software components.

We are constantly in contact with APIs without even realizing it. Imagine you are logging into or registering with a web service. As an alternative to the form, many offer a small button called “Log in with”, which uses your Facebook, Twitter or Google data, for example, to speed up the process.

Whoever makes this communication between the company’s database and the service is an API that mediates the process.

Why are graphics APIs special?

An API can be developed for different purposes. Some of them focus on greater practicality, providing programmers with rich features and instructions that can hamper some of the performance.

These are called high-level APIs because they are further removed from the hardware.

Others, like Vulkan, are referred to as low-level APIs, which are at a level closer to the hardware and offer highly specialized commands and resources that require more work from a development perspective, but on the other hand offer high performance, something essential for gaming.

The Talos Principle, one of the first great games to use Vulkan

What is Vulkan and how does it work?

Developed by Kronos Group in 2015, Vulkan is one of the newest graphics APIs on the market, specifically designed for graphics card-intensive 3D applications and games. The history of Vulkan began with Mantle, an AMD-proposed evolution of OpenGL that was released in 2013.

The goal was to keep PC and consoles under a single graphics architecture, co-created with DICE, developer of the Battlefield franchise.

Vulkan is considered a low-level interface and is an improvement over the Mantle model designed by AMD.

Its great advantage lies in its flexibility: the developer can choose how close to the lower layers he wants to go and has access to both more practical tools and complex high-performance functions.

One of the big benefits is reducing the number of draw calls, commands issued by the CPU for the GPU to render objects on screen, which can become a bottleneck as more and more of them are added to the scene.

The so-called overhead, i.e. the costs for operating the graphics card driver, is also lower with Vulkan, which relieves the CPU.

Understand the role of APIs and Vulkan

Vulkan’s influence on your games

One of the biggest highlights of new generations of graphics APIs, including Vulkan and DirectX 12, is their improved resource management. Contrary to what we’ve seen in previous generations (where it was common for the API to dump virtually all work on a few processor cores), there is now a more even distribution between CPU cores and threads.

Another benefit is the ability to offload part of the task stream from the processor to the graphics card whenever it’s available. Through this optimization alone, Vulkan is already able to generate performance gains for players.

Games produced with Vulkan can show a jump of 25% compared to others

Robert Hallock, AMD’s global head of technical marketing, believes games made with Vulkan in mind can leap up to 25% over those made with other solutions.

It should be noted that Vulkan was developed as a cross-platform API, with support for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android and iOS operating systems.

This simplifies the work of developers, who today have sufficient computing power for games in almost all formats. DirectX 12, on the other hand, was developed specifically for Windows and Xbox.

Concerned about the future and optimizing performance, Vulkan also has a number of features aimed at rendering virtual reality (VR) games and applications, including image adjustment commands, dragging distance between different perspectives, and more, which will also improve performance can increase in this scenario.

Which games are currently supported by Vulkan?

Given its flexibility, Vulkan has gained traction among game developers, offering a unified framework across PCs and consoles that saves time and ensures high performance.

Below are some of the games released with support for this graphics API:

  • Ashes of the Singularity
  • ballistic overkill
  • demise
  • Destiny 3 BFG
  • dota 2
  • F1 2017
  • Fortnite battle royale
  • Galaxy on Fire 3 – Manticore
  • Lineage 2 Revolution
  • crazy max
  • Need for Speed: No Limits
  • Nobody’s heaven
  • quake
  • quake 2
  • Quake II RTX
  • Quake III Arena
  • anger 2
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Roblox
  • Serious Sam VR: The First Encounter
  • Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope
  • Serious Sam VR: The Second Encounter
  • Strange Brigade
  • The wave 2
  • The Talos Principle
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
  • World War Z
  • X Rebirth VR Edition

Doom Eternal, which has a confirmed release for 2020, will also be part of the list of games supporting Vulkan. If you liked the topic and want to know more, take this opportunity to understand how DirectX, Microsoft’s main graphics API, works.

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Source(s): TechRadar, TechQuickie, PC Steps and AMD