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Meet Vulkan, the powerful, platform-agnostic gaming tech taking aim at DirectX 12

Hayden Dingman | March 4, 2015
The times are a-changing, and the graphics technologies games have used for decades are changing right along. Khronos Group is throwing out nearly 25 years of OpenGL and starting fresh with a powerful new gaming-centric API, Vulkan (previously known as glNext or the "Next Generation OpenGL Initiative") that's built for the next generation of games.

"It will appeal to a different type of developer," says Trevett. "Game engine developers — people like Valve and Epic and Unity — their business depends on getting every last ounce of performance out of cross-platform applications. They want to invest the time and effort to use a tool like Vulkan to extract every ounce from the GPU."

OpenGL is dead. Long live OpenGL.

Which brings up something important: What happens to OpenGL? After all, Vulkan used to be called the "Next Generation OpenGL Initiative." It was pitched as a successor to OpenGL, plain and simple. Language like "It will appeal to a different type of developer," sounds more reserved.

"This is one of the key messages here," says Trevett. "Vulkan is nice and new and shiny, but of course it's just at the beginning of its development cycle. OpenGL, they're in their prime. They're enabling access to billions of devices. There's going to be business imperatives that we not just maintain those APIs — we evolve those APIs. For years, probably, to come. We're not abandoning OpenGL."

Got that? While DirectX, Mantle, and now Vulkan tend to get a lot of attention due to their roles in the gaming community, Trevett is quick to draw a line between gaming and other GPU uses — many of which have relied on OpenGL for years because it's a more general-use API.

On the other hand, "If we didn't have Vulkan, OpenGL would begin to look more and more out of date for the people who want this kind of functionality versus Mantle and DirectX 12," concedes Trevett.

Vulkan essentially invokes the have-your-cake-and-eat-it adage: Khronos can continue to support those who need a more padded graphics API with a long legacy while still courting game developers who need a more flexible, stripped-down solution.

If Vulkan wasn't created, then the open-standard graphics movement would be beaten into the ground by newer, more powerful technologies like DirectX 12. Steam Machines would be dead before they even got started.

My kingdom for a port

"It's never a perfect world," Trevett jokes, "and of course DirectX is going to be a significant API on Windows, no doubt."

OpenGL, despite its cross-platform abilities, has been battling against DirectX for years now, and that's undoubtedly going to continue with Vulkan. On the other hand, there's good news for Linux gamers who are starting to see more and more big-name games on their open-source operating systems of choice with the promise of Steam Machines hanging in the air: "Porting between Vulkan and DirectX 12 we suspect won't be too hard," says Trevett.

"Porting from DirectX 12 to Vulkan will be easier than porting from DirectX 12 to OpenGL," he continues. "DirectX 12 and Vulkan and Mantle are going to be similar in the next generation. We're all solving the same problem in a similar kind of way."

 

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