Seen by many as the future of PC gaming, Vulkan is an open-source API that promises better graphics performance and easier multi-platform development.
Instead of having to develop their games using DirectX for Windows and then use OpenGL for Mac and Linux, developers could use Vulkan for all versions of their games. That would encourage multi-platform development and lead to more games for everyone.
Unfortunately, Apple decided to drop Vulkan and focus all its energy on the Metal API, effectively killing that dream.
Introducing Vulkan for Mac and iOS
That changes today, as The Khronos Group, the industry consortium behind OpenGL and Vulkan, announced that Vulkan is coming to Apple platforms.
Khronos members Valve, LunarG, and The Brenwill Workshop worked together to bring Vulkan to Apple platforms MacOS and iOS. This support comes in the shape of a collection of free and open-source applications, SDKs, and runtime libraries.
Of particular interest for MacOS developers is the MoltenVK library, which translates calls from Vulkan to Metal calls on macOS and iOS. MoltenVK will be free, with no fees or royalties required.
This comes right on time as Apple deprecates OpenGL for Mac and iOS…
What it means for developers
As a contributor to the initiative, Valve is leading the charge and used Vulkan to port Dota 2 for Mac, significantly improving performance (up to 50% faster than the native OpenGL drivers).
Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais believes this should greatly benefit developers:
These efforts are aimed toward reducing development and porting costs for any developer supporting multiple platforms.
According to Khronos President, Neil Trevett, developers will be able to bring their Vulkan-based applications to macOS and iOS with very little or no re-writing of the GPU compute and rendering functionality.
What it means for developers and gamers
Cheaper development and porting costs for developers could quickly translate into more games for MacOS and Linux.
One specific example is Dota 2’s new Vulkan version, which will be released in the coming months as a free update to provide improved performance.
Suddenly all games that use Vulkan became significantly easier to port to MacOS. Among the most famous ones are The Talos Principle, Wolfenstein 2, Star Citizen and Doom.
What will happen next? Will Vulkan replace Metal?
Vulkan won’t be replacing Metal anytime soon. Vulkan will be a thin runtime library sitting between the application and the Metal API. And the intention is to keep Vulkan as thin and light as possible and keep application performance as high as possible.
The list of games that support Metal for Mac keeps growing. It’s in our best interest that Metal continues to improve and win over more developers. But in parallel, have viable Vulkan support would equally be great for Mac gamers because it could entice developers that already use Vulkan but wouldn’t dream of adopting Metal to finally support MacOS.
Metal and Vulkan are mutually exclusive but complementary.
Next in line for Vulkan is DirectX12. If Vulkan works as advertised and encourages developers to use it instead of developing for Windows first (using DirectX12) and then porting to other platforms, Vulkan could significantly help grow multi-platform development and lead to more (and better) Mac and Linux games.