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Vulkan set to enable higher framerates on Mac

Valve are celebrating a big step in their push to improve gaming on non-Windows PCs after sponsoring an open-source release of software which lets devs use the zippy Vulkan graphics API on Macs. I won’t get too technical but: the MoltenVK tool runs the Vulkan API through Apple’s own Metal framework, bypassing Apple’s OpenGL drivers of ill repute. What do these acronyms actually mean for players? Valve’s own testing has seen the Mac version of Dota 2 run at framerates up to one-third faster with Vulkan than OpenGL. Obviously gains are situational and it mean nothings if developers don’t use the API, but it seems a firm foundation to lay. Congrats, Maccers.

A highly technical analogy: while OpenGL lets games communicate with graphics cards like a couple at a dinner party passively-aggressively arguing through another guest all “Could you please tell me dearest wife that it would be fantastic, just wonderful, if she could find the time in her BUSY SCHEDULE to pass me the bowl of green pixels…”, Vulkan is a little more free and willing to grab the green pixels itself. Please do not tell our hardware editor Katharine that I explained something highly technical using scenes from a middle-class BBC sitcom.

Jeremy Laird took a deeper look at Vulkan in 2016 but tbh I imagine he basically says exactly the same as me. Yup.

“We have been running substantial production loads through the Vulkan tools on Mac, including Dota 2 which is now running faster than the native OpenGL version,” Valve’s Pierre-Loup Griffais said in yesterday’s announcement. “These efforts are aimed toward reducing development and porting costs for any developer supporting multiple platforms.”

How much of a difference does Vulkan make? It varies from system to system, a graph from Valve’s Dota 2 experiments shows, but it all seems to be positive. Valve also share a video with a really good scenario for Dota 2’s Mac Vulkan support, at times peaking at over 50% faster than the OpenGL version:

This isn’t public yet, mind. Valve say they’ll officially add Vulkan support to Dota 2 on Mac “in the comings months”.

MoltenVK isn’t new software but creators The Brenwill Workshop did charge for it (starting at $248 for a single-user license), so Valve sponsoring the open-source release will get it into the hands of many more developers. Valve have also sponsored an SDK from LunarG. This is all is done together with the Vulkan lords of the Khronos Group and also brings Vulkan to iOS devices but look, let’s stop with the acronyms and abbreviations here.

What’s important for players is: it may now be easier for devs to make games which run well on Mac (though let’s bear in mind ‘easier’ is not the same as ‘easy’). Vulkan still isn’t supported by many games even on Windows, though it does have big-name support from Doom and Rust and Star Citizen is switching over too. More platform support should lead to more game support.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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