Vulkan API Support Arrives on macOS and iOS for Better Graphics in Games

BY Evan Selleck

Published 26 Feb 2018

Graphical prowess for games, even on mobile devices, is a must-have feature. Apple isn’t shy about boasting about this quality in games that are developed with its own API, Metal, but there are other, more industry-wide options out there.

The biggest, which Apple has shunned in favor of Metal over the years, is the cross-platform Vulkan GPU API. This is developed by the Khronos Group, which is a consortium that aims to bring cross-platform APIs and open standards to the graphics industry. And now it is finally coming to the macOS and iOS platforms, but not because Apple has finally decided to support it on its end:

“Today, that gap is being substantially filled, with the open source, royalty-free release of MoltenVK—a runtime for macOS and iOS that offers an almost complete subset of the Vulkan API implemented using Metal. Released under the Apache 2 license, MoltenVK will enable developers to build their Vulkan applications for Apple’s platforms, allowing for a single codebase to span Windows, Linux, Android, macOS, iOS, and more.”

The Vulkan GPU API is already a standard across the major platforms, including Android, Windows, Linux, and games consoles. It has been one of the more oft-requested elements for macOS and iOS game development over the years, but Apple hasn’t been keen on adopting it. Instead, Apple has nudged developers towards its own API, Metal (which is now on Metal 2).

As noted today by ArsTechncia, the benefits of using the new MoltenVK are already being discovered by companies like Valve, who is currently testing the mega-popular title Dota 2 on Mac with the new support. According to the report, Valve is seeing frame rates get bumped up to 50 percent better than what they have been seeing before using the Vulkan-in-Metal option:

“Valve is an early adopter of MoltenVK. The company has been testing MoltenVK for the macOS version of Dota 2, and indications are extremely promising: the Vulkan-on-Metal version of the game has frame rates as much as 50 percent higher than the version using Apple’s OpenGL stack. Apple’s OpenGL drivers have long been criticized, both for their poor performance and for Apple’s refusal to support the latest versions of the specification. The Dota 2 experience suggests that developers can reap big dividends by bypassing them.”

So while Apple is not officially supporting Vulkan (yet, maybe), the option is there now for developers that want to take advantage of it. And, based on Valve’s findings, it may result in some truly worthwhile gaming experiences on macOS and iOS.

Our Take

This is good news all around. Sure, it would be better if Apple were the ones announcing official support for Vulkan, but this option is apparently doing quite well for developers already. For the end user that also loves playing high-performance and graphics-intensive games on their Mac or iOS device, this is definitely good news. It will be fun to see which games take advantage of the new option moving forward, and how big the marketing is for that element.

[via ArsTechnica]