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Why Vulkan is the future of mobile gaming

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Vulkan is an application programming interface (API) which runs on lots of different platforms from desktop computers to small mobiles. If you don’t know, APIs are the backbone of software development: they are frameworks which mean that developers don’t have to reinvent code to do the same things over and over again. When an API runs on multiple platforms, it means you can port an application from one operating system to another much more quickly too.

Vulkan is an API designed to improve performance for games, replacing the older OpenGL and OpenGL ES standards. Created by the non-profit Khronos Group, it’s also designed from the ground up to support mobile, delivering high-quality graphics on limited hardware.

What’s so great about it?

It’s worth thinking about how games re developed at the moment if you want to understand this. OpenGL and OpenGL ES sound like the same thing – but in fact, they’re quite different, with OpenGL targeting desktop devices and OpenGL ES aimed at mobile. It’s not straightforward to take a desktop game built with OpenGL and simply port it to OpenGL ES to run on mobiles.

This is why in the past you’ve had game titles created for desktop computers which only appear in heavily cut-down versions on mobile – if they ever appear at all. Sometimes, you’ve even had “franchise” titles which bear no resemblance to their desktop compatriots other than a name.

With Vulkan, developers can – in theory – create an application on Windows (say) and port to Android a lot sooner. Yes, developers will have to make allowances for running on mobiles which have less memory and less graphics power, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near as drastic a rewrite as it is at the moment.

But it’s not just about efficiency of software development. Because Vulkan has been built with mobile in mind, it’s optimised to make the most of mobile processors. When Android Authority benchmarked Vulkan versus OpenGL ES last year, they found it tripled the frames per second delivered by their tests.

One word of caution though: not every phone is capable of supporting Vulkan. Look for a phone which has been built from the ground up for Vulkan support, and which combines the processor and graphics capabilities which make it possible to run with the memory to make the most of it, a screen which shows off Vulkan to its best, and a battery which lets you play for a long time without being tethered to wall. The Honor 8 Pro, for example, has been built from the ground up to make the most of Vulkan, delivering the performance you need with exceptional graphics.

Which games support Vulkan?

There’s already some great games out there written with support for Vulkan. Vainglory, the multiplayer online battle arena game which already has millions of players across the world and its own world championships, is one. For racing fans there’s Need for Speed: No Limits, while Heroes of Incredible Tales serves those after an online role player.

What’s more, there’s been a development which is likely to speed up the adoption of Vulkan considerably. Unity, the popular cross-platform game engine, has built support for Vulkan, meaning that games which have been created with Unity will be able to add the ability to render graphics using Vulkan.

Games created with Unity include huge hits like Crossy Road, Monument Valley, Lara Croft: Relic Run and many others. And all developers need to do to support Vulkan is enable it in their settings, giving them a big boost in graphics performance.

What’s the best platform to run Vulkan on?

Vulkan is a cross-platform API, but not every graphics processor supports it. On mobile, you need a recent graphics processor, such as the Mali-G71 used in the Honor 8 Pro. Mali-G71 was built expressly to run Vulkan at high speed but without producing either more heat or more power drain – two factors which are killers for high-performance mobile gaming. According to chip designers ARM, Mali-G71 delivers up to 20% better energy efficiency, 40% better performance and 20% greater memory bandwidth saving compared to  its predecessor, Mali-T880. Couple that with the performance of Vulkan itself, and it’s clear that we’re moving into an era when mobile games could be the match of anything in the PC world.

You want a phone that delivers great performance, over and over again. Check out the Honor 8 Pro

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