Epic Games explains why Vulkan API marks a new era for mobile developers

Unreal Diaries: Redefining visual quality with ProtoStar

At the recent Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2016 event at Mobile World Congress, Epic Games revealed ProtoStar, a real-time 3D experience made with Unreal Engine 4 technology and demonstrated on the new Samsung Galaxy S7. 

At the core of this cutting-edge demo is Vulkan API and a shared vision for the future of mobile graphics.

“The new industry-standard Vulkan API brings key elements of high-end console graphics technology to mobile devices, and Samsung is leading the way with the amazing new Galaxy S7,” said Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games. “As the first engine supporting Vulkan, Unreal Engine 4 provides a solid foundation for developers joining the mobile graphics revolution.”

While creative and technical teams from Epic Games, Qualcomm, Human Head Studios and Confetti were called upon to create the experience, the power of the Samsung Galaxy S7 played a part in bringing ProtoStar to life. When it came time to choosing an engine to showcase the device’s capability, Samsung looked to Epic to deliver its creative vision. 

“We thought about using really high-quality content and Unreal is really well known for its highest visual quality and tasking the GPU in the proper way,” said Tae-Yong Kim, VP for Samsung Electronics’ mobile communication business. “It was a pretty easy decision for us to use UE4 for our Vulkan demo.”

Unreal’s implementation of Vulkan API enables all developers, not just Epic, to create visually stunning, cross-platform 3D content that supports more draw calls, and more dynamic objects onscreen, with faster performance than ever before. 

“The idea behind Vulkan is a really robust increase in CPU performance that allows us to render more objects on the screen of the mobile device than we could in the past,” said Wyeth Johnson, lead technical artist at Epic.

ProtoStar introduces a slew of new UE4 rendering achievements on mobile, including dynamic planar reflections; full GPU particle support on mobile, including vector fields; temporal anti-aliasing (TAA); high-quality ASTC texture compression; full scene dynamic cascaded shadows; chromatic aberration; mobile dynamic light refraction; filmic tonemapping curve; improved mobile static reflections; high-quality mobile depth of field; and Vulkan API support with thousands of dynamic objects onscreen.

In addition, Vulkan in UE4 gives devs more control on mobile tile-based graphics processors, allowing for very thin and fast graphics drivers, with minimal overhead. Using Vulkan’s separate debug layer, developers can more thoroughly and easily inspect code and fix issues.

While the visuals and overall technical achievements of ProtoStar and Vulkan are worth being excited about, it’s the ability to empower new levels of cross-platform game creation that most excites the team at Epic. 

“This is a big bang moment we hope brings the new mobile paradigm to the industry,” said Johnson. “We view the deep integration of Vulkan into Unreal Engine 4 as the seed crystal that is going to echo through the industry and create a whole new level of capability for developers.”

Article originally published in Develop: March 2016 issue.

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