I started in late 2004 with ideas, and then full time on the game in May 2005.
No, I did not take a break during the 2.5 year development cycle- I couldn't afford to. Working full time on the game, I lived off of savings and small consulting jobs. Fear of becoming homeless is awesome motivation for sticking to a large project!
I think the project has close to 25,000 lines of code. Yes, I do recommend BlitzMax. It's not perfect, but it is refreshingly easier to use than C++.
I used as many free applications as possible (OpenOffice, GIMP, Blender) but I also bought a used copy of 3D Studio Max to help with some of the sprite rendering. Yes, everything is rendered to a sprite sheet and loaded into the game when needed.